Parents Are Now Going For Tuition—Is This a Good Idea?

By Joanne Poh

The life of a kiasu parent is tough. From doing community service to get their kids into their primary school of choice to spending their retirement money on tuition classes for their kids, the kiasu parents thought they had it all covered. But now some have gone one step further and started going for tuition themselves. Now, this sounds totally insane at first glance. But upon closer inspection it does seem to make some sense.

Why is it happening?

Harder syllabi: The overloaded syllabi and the fact that kids are facing increasingly intense competition are nothing new. Singapore has won the dubious honour not only of having a billion dollar tuition industry but also of having kids who spend the third most time on homework in the world. The upshot is that the average child has to cope with a much tougher syllabus than their parents did. Parents are agog at the Einstein-worthy math problems their kids are made to solve, being unable to help themselves. The only way they can help a clueless kid is to find out how to solve those problems themselves, first.

More intense competition: Kiasuism has always prevailed in Singapore, but in the last decade or so things have spiralled out of control. Back when I was in school, sure, there were kids who had tuition in every subject. But most of us didn’t, and still managed to survive. These days, it sounds like the competition has gotten a lot more intense, and parents are freaking out about it.

Where can you get tuition for grownups?

If you’re sick of feeling helpless whenever Junior runs to you with a math or science question, you might be thinking of signing yourself up for some tuition, too. Tuition for parents is still a new concept, and as such there aren’t too many places that run formal courses. In addition, as many tutors are self-employed and operate informally, many might be open to teaching parents but don’t advertise their services.

Benjamin, a 32-year-old freelance tuition teacher with more than 10 years of experience, says, “You can get a normal tuition teacher to teach you as a parent, but be prepared to pay more.”

Here are some options already out there on the market.

• Genius Young Minds – $700 for an 8 hour workshop

• Learning Out of the Box – $30 per 1.5 hour workshop on a particular topic

• Private tutors – Arrangements are flexible and tutors can travel to your home, but rates tend to be at least $60 an hour and in many cases much more.

Unlike the tuition classes your own children attend, tuition for parents when organised for a centre tends to be workshop-style or more intensive. This means you can end up sitting there for a full day of 8 hours or so as the teacher gives you a crash course on problem solving methods. Alternatively, you can choose to attend workshops or private lessons lessons on select topics.

Benjamin says, “Tuition for kids places emphasis on making sure the kids get enough practice, and clarifying doubts they may have brought with them from school. Teaching parents is very different as it’s about giving them an overview of the types of methods the schools want kids to use when solving problems. It’s much more intensive than a regular tuition session and also requires a lot of effort on the part of the tutor. Also, underqualified tuition teachers sometimes get away with teaching younger students. But only a tutor who knows his stuff would dare to teach parents.”

Is tuition for parents a good idea?

Learning how to do your kids’ schoolwork might not be such a bad idea, if you’re doing it so you can offer guidance where it’s needed—and not so you can end up doing your kids’ homework for him. While tuition for parents isn’t cheap, if you plan to compensate by teaching your kid on your own instead and cutting down on the amount of paid tuition he or she has to attend, it could well be worth the money.

Besides, there is some merit to teaching your kid on your own instead of hiring someone to do it for you. Other than not having to worry that the tutor is secretly spending the entire lesson playing with your kid instead of teaching, you also get to squeeze in some bonding time with your child—that is, so long as you don’t teach with the cane in one hand.

When is it a bad idea?

When parents attend tuition sessions so they can ensure their kid doesn’t fall behind at school, they are reinforcing the idea that the education system cannot work for kids if they are not given external help. It is this mindset that landed us in this awful state of affairs in the first place and turned Singapore into a place where kids don’t get to have a childhood. If your kid is doing alright at school, you might want to resist the urge to get too obsessive.

In addition, unless you’re prepared to spend a bit of extra time reading textbooks and practising math problems on your own, attending one workshop might not be enough to turn you into a primary school math expert. If you still can’t handle the syllabus despite having attended an expensive workshop, imparting your half-baked knowledge to your kid might end up doing more harm than good..

This article was first published over at MoneySmart blog on 15 January 2015. It is reproduced with permission.

About The Author (Joanne Poh)

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.


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