Role And Pros And Cons Of Private Tutoring in Singapore


Tuition is a global phenomenon, says Professor Mark Bray, 61, of the University of Hong Kong. He shares his views on the "shadow education system" he has researched for over 20 years. Between 2006 and 2010, he worked in Paris as director of Unesco's International Institute for Educational Planning.

WHY do people turn to private tuition and is Singapore unique that so many students rely on it? Singapore is not unique, says Professor Mark Bray. The tuition problem is particularly acute in East Asian countries and territories that have strong Confucian traditions for learning, diligence and effort, he says. These territories include South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. China, with its burgeoning tuition sector, is swiftly joining these ranks. These East Asian territories are highly globalised and competitive. They stress a need for workers to remain ahead in skills and for students to acquire skills relevant to the global economy. Some publicize their performance in global education rankings, spurring more competition, he observes. Noticeably, tuition is prevalent in systems which are examination-based. In Singapore, there are tough examinations at the end of primary education and it also streams students largely according to academic ability, says Prof Bray. Such a system adds to parents' anxiety and they turn to the tuition market to give their children the extra push in mathematics, science and languages.

Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah recently said that tuition is unnecessary for students who are doing well, while weak students are helped through existing school programmes. Is this the right approach? Prof Bray admits that the Singapore education system is a good one that has delivered high quality output. "In that sense, I can understand that the minister might feel frustrated that the tendency to go to tutors might imply that it is not a good education system when indeed it is. "But Singaporean parents, like those in many other cultures, are competitive, seeking what they perceive to be the best for their children in a competitive system, and thus are trying to add more even though the school system is already delivering much that is already very good," he says. Singapore, he stresses, must acknowledge the shadow education system and tackle it early. "Once habits, structures and social expectations become entrenched, it'll be difficult to steer or stem its growth," he warns. But if parents are willing to spend the money on tuition, what is the problem? Tuition can worsen existing inequality, believes Prof Bray. Leaving private tuition to market forces threatens a society's social fabric. "The shadow system maintains and exacerbates inequalities," he says. His research shows the shadow system widening the rich-poor gap and allowing wealthier families to find and pay for good-quality tuition. Poorer families find themselves being forced to buy tutoring in order to remain in the race to do well in school, he adds.

In Prof Bray's opinion, the work by Mendaki and Sinda – the Malay and Indian self-help groups – is a good example of how community bodies are working with the Government to improve students' grades and reduce the social inequality problem. -- Adapted from “Tuition can worsen existing inequality” by M. Nirmala in The Straits Timespage A20, dated 1/10/2013.

There has been much discussion in the Singapore Parliament and public sphere with regards to the phenomenon of private tuition in Singapore. Many issues in relation to this phenomenon have cropped up in the discussions. The two articles provided reflect the debate regarding this issue of private tuition in Singapore.

In about 750 words, write a synthesis essay on Private tuition in Singapore. You will need to narrow this broad topic.


The question belongs to Sociology and it discusses about private tutoring industry in Singapore. Private tutoring has been a growing industry and it has been estimated that it is a multi-million dollar industry and will soon become a billion dollar industry. The pros and cons of private tutoring have been discussed in the solution.

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