Singapore—A new poll commissioned by The Straits Times (ST) has shown that more than half of the students who are enrolled in tuition lessons begin to do so around the same time they start primary school.

The poll, which was conducted among 323 pupils, showed that 85 percent of the respondents began tuition before they entered the upper primary level, with maths being the number one subject for additional lessons. It was conducted in November to determine the tuition habits of students on the primary grades. 

The results of the Household Expenditure Survey, which was published last July, showed that Singaporean families spent around S$1.4 billion in 2018 for tuition lessons. In 2004, this figure was only at S$650 million.

ST reports the director of SIM Global Education’s academic division, Dr Timothy Chan, as saying how hard it is to persuade parents that grades are not everything.

“As long as academic performance remains one of a few key factors in deciding a child’s options in the next stage of education, parents will try, within their means, to improve their child’s performance,” he said.

Kelvin Seah, an economics lecturer with the National University of Singapore, remarked that the tuition lessons for very young children at present today would have been seldom seen two decades ago.

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Younger and younger children seem to be getting additional tutorial classes, with one tuition center’s youngest pupil being all of three years old.

At the heart of the matter may be the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), which many parents may believe determines their child’s future. Some believe that with early tuition, parents are trying to prepare their children to manage the PSLE well. 

“Parents would not want to put themselves and their children in a stressful situation during the upper primary school years when their children are falling behind their peers,” said Janice Janice Chuah, founder of Concept Math Education Centre.

The survey also showed that the more financially able a family is, the more willing they are to spend on extra lessons.

Around 75 percent of the families surveyed who have a montly income of S$10,000 and more allot over S$500 for extra lessons monthly. In comparison, for families with less than S$5,000 in monthly income, under 25 percent spend that much.

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The survey also seemed to show that parents are less than completely satisfied with the results of extra tuition, saying they see “no improvement” and “did not see desired results”.

However, among the parents who say the money they spend on tuition is not worth it, almost half have said that they continue to spend for additional classes.

Dr Seah said, “Of course, most parents would like their children to learn in a less competitive environment. Despite this, no one wants to be the first mover. If a parent makes the first move and begins to emphasise less on her child’s academic performance, other parents who continue to stress academic performance will gain at her expense.”

Dr Chan sounded a warning note for parents to not overburden their children. ”Intense study pressures can result in… stress overload. Parents need to understand that a child needs a more balanced life. Sometimes, extra work just won’t work.” -/TISG

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