One in 10 teachers with the Ministry of Education (MOE) currently give private tuition, according to Education Minister Ong Ye Kung in a parliamentary reply on Monday (Oct. 7).
Ong was responding to questions about the ongoing S$1.4 billion-sized obsession Singaporeans have with private tuition by Members of Parliament Lim Biow Chuan and Seah Kian Peng.
Lim asked the minister if there are studies on students' reliance on tuition and what the ministry plans to do to reduce it.
Seah asked if the MOE is concerned about Singaporeans' preoccupation with private tuition and whether the ministry allows its teachers to provide the service.
Practice of teachers providing paid tuition "not prevalent"
According to Ong, the practice of teachers providing paid tuition is not prevalent.
"Nevertheless, this is a matter that MOE continues to monitor closely, as we would be concerned if our teachers are distracted from their core responsibility to support their students in our schools, especially those who are in need of more support from our teachers," he added.
Ong also said that the public sector has existing guidelines on public servants participating in outside activities that might give rise to potential conflicts of interest, or situations where approvals are needed to ensure proper conduct.
The minister said MOE will review their guidelines and regulations for teachers who are giving paid private tuition to ensure that they remain focused on their core duties and their students in the schools they work in — in particular those who need more support and attention from their teachers.
Excessive tuition can be detrimental
On the subject of private tuition, Ong said that it is important to distinguish the reasons people have for going for tuition. Some children are genuinely in need of extra help:
"We recognise that tuition can benefit students who are genuinely in need of more dedicated help in coping with their studies. This is why some of our schools have partnerships with volunteers and Self-Help Groups that provide affordable academic support. We also know that, at heart, many parents send their children for tuition out of care and concern for their child. They worry whether their children can cope with their studies, and about examinations."
However, for those who are coping well academically, Ong said private tuition is not only unnecessary, but can even be detrimental.
"Excessive reliance on tuition can diminish the ability for independent learning, deprive students of opportunities to develop self-management skills and promote unhealthy competition."
This, writes Ong, can lead to a pervasive tuition culture with an excessive focus on academic grades as well as a narrow mindset that academic grades are the only way to succeed in life, which, according to Ong, runs counter to MOE's philosophy of holistic education and lifelong learning.
To address the excessive focus on academic grades, Ong listed several policy changes MOE has made so far, under its Learn for Life movement:
- Expanding the number of Direct School Admission places in schools
- Reducing school-based assessments
- Implementing changes to the PSLE scoring system in two years' time
- Rolling out full subject-based banding in secondary schools by 2024
And also evolving the curriculum to become "more inquiry-based, more experiential".
Ong pointed out that MOE also provides resources for students who need additional help, like learning support programmes for English and Mathematics, smaller class sizes, and school partnerships with external self-help groups.
"Reducing an over-reliance on tuition is not something that MOE can do alone. It requires the support of parents and the wider community," said Ong, who urged people to change their mindset to one that embraces a holistic education and understanding that there are different pathways for children to realise their full potential.
"Together with parents, we can shift the culture to one where our children have the self-confidence and support from their families, schools and peers to manage their learning, instead of turning to tuition as the default option whenever they feel they need help," he added.
Top image via Eduaid.sg