Dreaming of a Singapore Without Private Tuition

By Terence Ang

A Singapore without tuition — what might that look like? Could it ever become a reality?

To understand whether we could ever eliminate tuition requires us to first understand the forces driving tuition. We did an in-depth article previously analyzing the major factors in detail. It would be repetitive to discuss the main factors at length, but simply put it boils down to narrow paths to success and a rigid standardized testing structure. To eliminate the tuition culture requires us to dream of a radically different approach to education.

1. We Need to Weaken the Correlation between Good Grades and Success

There is an entrenched mindset that “scholars” will always lead more comfortable lives by landing better jobs. This has to change before people will be willing to spend less on tuition to guarantee A’s. We need a fundamental shift in the way people can achieve success that goes beyond salary and status. We need more non-linear routes to success. We need to build a society where artists, sportsmen, chefs and entrepreneurs have access to resources that can help them succeed in their respective fields. We need to value skills and craftsmanship over paper qualifications that at times say little to nothing about how a person would fare at work. The value of using a piece of paper to signal one’s working capabilities is dramatically diminishing in a rapidly changing economic landscape. We need to adjust to this new world economic order to keep up with the times, but more importantly to allow people to be willing to compromise on grades and spend their time on developing other skills. The obsession over maximizing every point and every grade would not ease until the negative consequences of poor grades, both imaginary and real, gradually diminish.

2. We Need to Undermine the Value of Standardized Answers

The reason why the tuition industry thrives is because the value of its output is highly tangible and measurable — pay top dollar for a good tutor and more often than not you can be assured of good grades that set you on the path for academic and career success. A good tutor is thus defined as one that knows the syllabus well, familiar with the exam format and has a slew of tips and tricks for gaming the tests — ask any parent and they will tell you these are what they look for in tutors they hire. But what if we undermine their “skill-set”? What if teaching model answers and mastering marking schemes no longer work? If we can move away from a rigid testing structure, then this necessarily undermines the work of tutors. No one will pay for tutors if the correlation between getting a tutor and getting As weaken. This requires a seismic shift in how we test our students, but not entirely impossible especially with the technology available today. Standardized testing is done in a way that is meant to be easy to administer across a large student population. Practically speaking, grading students without a marking scheme would require substantial manpower and man-hours. Answers are standardized so that they are easily compared and easily marked. However it is undeniable that standardization robs many students of their deserved grades simply because they do not present answers in the “correct format”. On the other hand, there are students who do not earn extra credit and recognition for producing excellence beyond what is expected. Technology could simplify the test marking process to accommodate greater variety in questions and answers that can better gauge students’ abilities, rather than simply reduce their efforts into letters and numbers. Developing dynamic testing systems that train problem solving skills and application of knowledge over regurgitation of knowledge makes it difficult to tutor your way to As. This would then mark the beginning of the end of tuition.

3. We Need to Truly Live Up to the Notion of Education

When we as a society start to embrace being educated rather than being test-takers, then we can start putting the culture of tutoring behind us. This has to start from the very top, from the government and policy-makers who will shape our approach to education. Companies have to get in on the act, and realign themselves with a transforming educational landscape. The truth is the education model that we know today is somewhat of a relic, an outdated system that has barely shifted from the decades past. We just keep making tests more difficult and adding more and more content at a younger age, thinking that this improves the quality of our human capital. The attempts to integrate technology into the classroom are peripheral at best, which is a great shame considering the potential of truly revolutionizing how we conduct classes and helping our kids learn. Breeding a generation of truly curious kids who are taught how to learn, rather than to merely learn what is being fed to them would help us become a truly educated population; discerning, analytical and able to put vast amounts of knowledge to an unlimited array of uses. When that time comes, tutoring might still exist, but not to spoon-feed answers. Tutors would be mentors who illuminate and guide students how to learn and think for themselves, and this is a model of tuition that we can find ourselves getting behind.


Will this dream scenario ever materialize? As with all other dream scenarios the chances are probably slim, at least in the short term. The good news is that with all the government initiatives that are being introduced, we probably have a good chance of realizing this in the next few decades. But until then, better make sure you hire a solid tutor to get your money’s worth.

This post was first published over at Medium on 2 July 2017. It is reproduced with permission.


Tuition teachers are NOT the enemy. Bad teachers will be bad teachers, whether in the school system or not.

Adjunct teacher explains why kids need tuition in Singapore

The tuition industry is supported by parentocracy.