Scheme introduced by popular tuition centre levies sky high prices on extra lessons

By Mrs Koh

I am a parent and my P6 child attends tuition at The Learning Lab (TLL). TLL started a scheme this end May/ June that forces parents to pay for extra "PSLE Preparation Workshops"- 16 extra hours per subject.

Parents have to pay for these workshops if they want their children to continue tuition with this tuition chain. The other choice is to withdraw completely from tuition. This creates extra financial burden on families and more stress for P6 children.

Private equity firm Advent International bought TLL, a chain of tuition centres in Singapore for $300 million+, according to Fortune:

TLL had its new CEO Dave Ellison in August 2016. As part of restructuring, 2 centres were closed down. This year, in the current centres, classes with smaller student numbers were closed and the students were reassigned to other classes with larger numbers on other dates. This affected the schedules of families.

TLL CEO Dave Ellison, who previously spent his entire career in British Council (Linkedin), introduced this new scheme this year. In March, I received the information about the “preparation workshops”. There would be two 4 hour workshops per subject, in addition to the weekly regular TLL tuition classes and the extra classes conducted by the school. These extra 8 hours of workshops are bundled with the regular tuition classes in term 3 and parents have to pay extra. In term 4 in September, there will be another 8 extra hours per subject.

I called and asked the company. I was told that parents are not given the choice to decline these extra sessions. The only alternative is to withdraw entirely from tuition this month, 3 months before the high-stakes national Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE).

The PSLE for primary 6 students begin in August (Oral) and September (Written). The company and its management are exploiting the anxiety of parents and students in Singapore to make them pay extra for these “preparation workshops”.

I received the invoice at the end of April. The cost of the holiday workshops was sneakily packaged together with the regular lessons. Some parents may not even be aware of the cost of these extra hours.

Shouldn’t this preparation be already included in the regular weekly tuition, and not a few months before the PSLE? Each 2 hour session per subject per week already costs $95, excluding 7% tax.

In this scheme of "preparation workshops" for the next few months, there would be a total of 16 extra hours per subject for each student. 8 hours ($380) in June and another 8 hours ($380) later. It will cost families extra $760, in addition to the usual fees. A significant number of students who have tuition in 2 or 3 subjects would have to undergo 32 extra hours ($1520) or 48 extra hours ($2280). Parents are compelled to pay for these extra hours if they would like the child to continue with the regular weekly tuition. They cannot opt out of these extra hours, unless they withdraw completely.

In addition to the added financial strain, the children will be overloaded with these extra hours. I am worried about the negative impact of these added hours on the children who are already facing the stress of the examinations and increased workload. Some children who are over-stressed and they may underperform. I am even more worried about over-stressed children who may take drastic actions that affect their well-being and lives. There have been past cases of suicides linked to academic stress and parental pressure.

The PISA report already indicates that students in Singapore have the highest score in the world for school work anxiety. All these extra hours by TLL will only aggravate the stress.

This new scheme by the CEO Dave Ellison may earn the private equity firm and company more than $1 million in revenue but it is unethical to exploit parents’ and students’ anxiety and force them to pay extra, without giving them a choice to decide if they want the extra hours. This scheme also creates stress and problems for families and children.

As a parent, I am worried and upset about the impact of this CEO's scheme and excessive focus on profit, at the expense of children’s well-being. I hope by raising this issue it can help create awareness of the educational issues and held put a stop to these detrimental practices. Thank you.


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