To hire a tutor or not depends on the prevailing situation

Is private tuition ultimately a need or a want? The debate on this issue has carried on for the longest while, and there will probably be no satisfactory conclusion in the foreseeable future as long as Singapore's obsession with academic success remains unabated - proponents and opponents will both be seen trying their hardest to dismantle one another's beliefs.

Then again, once in a while, a voice advocating a more calibrated approach towards the hiring of tutor(s) emerges, such as this netizen who goes by the online handle Hercules . He relates personal experiences with his nephew and grand niece, imploring folks to consider individual circumstances carefully and not simply rush into making decisions which may impede a child's potential to mature independently on his/her own:

"I have a 14 years old nephew (studying in Secondary 2 this year) who in my assessment is 'smart' (can pick up things rather quickly). I previously set a target of 260 for his PSLE T-Score (he achieved more than 260 marks in all for his preliminary examinations without attending any tuition classes), however he blew it in the end with a 228 because he grew over-confident an complacent (started to play and play after knowing he did well for his prelims). This lad was under my direct care from from the age of 1 to 12.

He was reluctantly posted to a neighbourhood secondary school. Never bothered to put any effort into his studies, but simply played and played. In Secondary 1, he failed 4 subjects at the end of the year.

Naturally both my brother and his wife consulted me on whether we should consider hiring tutors for him. I informed them tuition was not an effective remedy as his poor results happened not because he didn't understood what was being taught in school, but rather because he simply did not give two hoots about things. I asked them to be patient, advising them to adopt a 'wait and see' approach. Give him another year to prove himself.

I had a few good talks with him to buck up after he brought his report book to 'see me', explaining to him that if he started attending tuition, those tuition hours would eat into his leisure time (mainly spent on sports with friends; he was also talent scouted to join the national team). I said I will decide on whether to enroll him in tuition classes by the end of Secondary 2. If such a need actually arose, careful planning and discussion about how many tutors to engage, etc would have to be undertaken . I knew he disliked the idea of seeking tuition very much as he previously told me how he viewed some of his friends burdened with attending multiple tuition lessons per week as 'poor things' having absolutely 'no lives'.

He just showed me his end of year secondary 2 examination results: 4As, 2Bs, and 1C; and his parents were obviously pleased that he finally came to his senses. He proved to me that he was not that 'stupid' to want to trade his personal leisure hours with tuition lessons.

Bottom line: whether to engage tutors or not depends largely on the prevailing situation. For my nephew's case, if I had proceeded to do so immediately at the beginning of the year for him, I might have missed out entirely on the golden opportunity of allowing him to mature by himself (by tossing him a clutch he doesn't need and might have therefore provided a basis for rebellion). If he could subsequently maintain this level of diligence, I'd say a minimum of 5As and 2Bs are within his reach quite easily."

"Next up: my grand niece who is studying in Primary 1.

She has yet to turn 7 this year - rather timid, mildly dyslexic, and possibly suffering from ADD in my personal assessment.

As her mum is a non-Chinese, this in a way makes learning Chinese very difficult for her.

She has a very short attention span of about 20 minutes, after which she will start to daydream and offer nonsensical answers.

My nephew discussed with me about engaging tutors for her. I advised him to put the idea on hold, since she would probably switch off less than halfway into a tutoring session and internalize less than 50% of what was being taught.

I believe kids like her would instead benefit from more parental support

Currently I am spending about 3 hours with her on weekdays, alternating between intermittent 20 minute-blocks of serious coaching and playing during this while. Apparently she learns best in such an arrangement.

Now she is entering a period of exams (I view all formats of assessments as exams regardless how her school chooses to label them). I am eager to discover how she is going to endure 60-minute papers with her concentration span of merely 20 minutes.

I am presently still monitoring her progress closely and making adjustments accordingly. There are no quick fixes available."

Thank you Hercules for granting me permission to share these lovely posts of yours.


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