Tuesday, January 03, 2006

More Tuition Tales

A couple of days ago, I blogged on the "tuition" phenomena among school going children in Malaysia who, according to the New Straits Times, spend some RM4 billion in fees annually(!)

The issue has also received many letters from concerned parties to the newspaper. And some of these letters do raise interesting questions.

J.D. Lovrenciear of Semenyih argued that:
If the one-hour tuition sessions attended three times a week can produce excellent grades, then there must be reason to believe that there is gross neglect or a totally inefficient teaching system at work in schools.
As highlighted in my earlier post, there appears to be a major conflict of interest with many many teachers earning extra income by conducting tuition classes at their home. These conflict of interests often leads to the teachers specifically limiting their scope of teaching in school so as to provide the extra "value-added" in the tuition classes, to make their classes more attractive.

In a subsequent article, the NST published two view points in the debate over the necessity of tuition classes.

M.C. Cheah, Maths tuition teacher with 30 years experience argued that tuition is a "must". Some of the arguments are possibly valid, for example:
Too many teachers these days are not doing what they are supposed to be doing in school. Don’t get me wrong. There are still good teachers in school but a big portion these days act irresponsibly. To them, dedication is about punctuality and teaching what is in the textbooks, rather than preparing students as best as they can.
If the teachers are not up to mark in teaching their respective subjects, and we know such teachers exist in our education system, then one can argue to it might be helpful to engage a tuition teacher (probably from another school) who is able to teach the subject better.

However, there were also arguments which are quite sad - clear cases of misdirected objectives of an education such as:
Knowledge by itself is of no use, unless that knowledge can be applied to answering exam questions. You cannot compare the quality and level of school exams to public exams. School exams are full-dress rehearsals. A lot of teachers don’t understand that. They set questions that do not resemble the real thing.
Ewww... I don't know what to say to that! That is just such a sad view of education!

On the other hand, Chuah Lip Peng, a father of two argued that "tuition is mostly a waste of time. It gives children an excuse not to pay attention in class. Tuition then becomes something to fall back on."

He also argued that it's important for parents to enforce discipline. The parents must help them by constantly reminding them to study.
See, children are like clay, you must mould them when fresh, and teach them by example.
I'm not sure if nagging them to study on a daily basis is the right approach to take, but I do agree to a certain extent that there is the element of truth in the fact that tuition becomes some form of crutch for students.

Personally, I took tuition classes during my primary school - partly because everyone takes them in my class. I think I enjoyed my time in these classes as it became more of a meeting point for friends after school, then the actual lessons themselves. Although, I must say that I remember sitting for a test with the exact same questions distributed in tuition class the day before!

However, once I entered secondary school in Singapore, tuition did not become an option because teachers in school don't conduct classes at "home" and most of my friends weren't taking them. In addition, being away from home means I didn't need the excuse of "tuition" to get together with friends. Did my grades suffer? Not really, but we definitely had more capable, enthusiastic and hardworking teachers in general in school. That helps :-)

On a separate note, I can't believe that someone attempted to get into the Malaysian Book of Records by having the longest number of hours spent non-stop providing tuition classes! Yes, A. Elanthevan, 42, "created history" by teaching Bahasa Melayu non-stop to 333 students over 88 hours. Read the NST report.
Elanthevan, who has been giving tuition for 20 years, said the team checked on him four times a day as he was suffering from high blood pressure.

"My doctor actually advised me against doing this, but I was determined to show my love for teaching," he said.
Anyway, thanks to a post by Jeff Ooi, I now know that there is now a tuition online matchmaking service available in Malaysia today. For those interested in becoming tuition teachers or seeking them, you may pay TuitionHamster a visit.
Tuitionhamster.com is a project by Timothy Tiam, a Penang-born currently studying in London. During the summer of 2005, he and two other got together to start up the website to provide free matching service for students and tuition teachers in Malaysia. The noble thing is, the project is funded out of money the trio earn from internships and part-time jobs. Today, the website is 5 months old and about 150 teachers have signed up.
OK, I guess that's sufficient tales on tuition in a post. Happy "tuitioning". :-)


clk said...

We are merely preparing students to ace in exams; not in knowledge gathering.

It's self learning we should be emphasising not teaching!

Anonymous said...

"Knowledge by itself is of no use, unless that knowledge can be applied to answering exam questions."

With this kind of thinking with our teachers, no wonder graduates nowadays are not "street smart". These exams had trained our future generations to be so "DEAD" and "SQUARE".

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't say tuition is a waste of time and money. If a student is weak and can't catch up in class maybe tuition is good for him/her. With 40 over students in the class, the teacher may not be able to give individual attention.

It is very important that parents try to find the time to monitor their children studies. Just spend with them, half an hour a day to go over their homework. Only allow them to play computer games and watch tv during the weekend.

My son never went for tuition and he scored 10As.

Anonymous said...

blame it on the over-controlling parents who thinks that money = everything. they feel that by paying hundreds every month, their kids "must" be able to perform well.

i've known some students whom their parents force them to go multiple different tuition of the same subject. crazy! what's more ironic, that although they do score well, they are usually not sociable and does not have critical thinking skills, and hence not being groomed to be really successful people. btw, success in my definition is people who are book and street smart. it's saddenning to see some kids who score straight As, are not even able to converse in a social gathering properly.

oh well, kiasu-ism is a culture here. and i see it moving from one generation to another.

Anonymous said...

A lot of teenagers go for tuition classes because they got better and more accurate exam tips.

Teachers should stop all kinds of tips stuff. Because then the exams results do not reflect the students' actual intelligence.

I scored A because I got better tips. Not my real intelligence. I was lucky.

No wonder nowadays there are so many straight A's. Are they really that intelligent? or are they lucky?

Maybe better to use the US system... to judge based on weekly assignment, exams, and extra-curricular activities rather than a final exams.

Ching said...

Tuition now is becoming a trend. It's something like peer pressure for parents and students, fuelled by kiasu-nism. When the parents see others send their children to tuition, they also follow. Students also the same, would demand to go to tuition when their schoolmates are having tuition. *Actually not many are 'forced' to tuition.

Though it may benefit those who perform poorly, tuition is very unnecessary. I managed to enter medicine without any tuition. *Straight As in SPM except Pendidikan Moral of course(I got a C..haha..hey,I didn't receive any tips).

Students should have more free time to explore themselves and the world. This is how they will grow to be critical, creative and daring. A lot of my Malaysian coursemates (the super smart straight As students) can hardly talk nor communicate their ideas (let alone to think on their own feet). They shy away from public speaking, talk in the softest voice possible, giggle and try to look funny when put on the spot. Is this the type of students that we want?

I am happy that I come from a slack school in a small town, no pressure to study at all. Had a very enjoyable time lepaking and occasionally ponteng class. But also plenty of time to explore myself, to understand my weakness and strength.

I think parents and students should start, give it a try. Gradually step out of this cage of tuition classes, spread their wings and fly into the jungle.

Anonymous said...

While I agree with observations made above, I would like to relate my much more enjoyable, fruitful and, unfortunately, rare ''tuition'' experience during my lower forms.

My dad, along with a half dozen or so of his friends/acquaintances with kids in the same form as me, rounded us up and recruited a math teacher from my high school (no conflict of interest since he taught the upper forms) to give us weekly tuition in math in English, using the Singapore (GCE O-level) math syllabus. For the couple of years when this was going on, the math tuition was probably the most intellectually interesting ''highlight'' event of the week for me. And looking back, I am convinced that the heavenly bodies must have lined up properly for us to pull it off.

(1) We (the kids) are endowed with incredibly wise and caring parents. My dad and another parent in the group, in particular, were grocers in the local wet market, although they catered more to the ''higher-end'' clientele of teachers, doctors, etc. in our small town (hint: don't sell cheap, low quality produce). So tips on educating the kids were passed down to our parents and experimented on us (eg., I am pretty sure that our household was the only one in the neighborhood/kampung that owned three sets of encyclopedias and subscribed to all three major dailies: Berita Harian, NST and Nanyang Siang Pau). And watching where the kids of their customers ended up after SPM/STPM, our parents had the foresight to insist on us paying attention on improving our English skills---''or end up in pasar, like us'', to quote my dad.

(2) One of my dad's client was the math tutor, who was---and still is :)---equally wise and caring. He also had the misfortune of watching, over the 20 to 30 years of his teaching career, how the standard of education had slipped, how promotions were increasingly based on race or on political connections, worsening discipline problem, etc. Despite---and perhaps because of---all that, he agreed to take on the tuition project when our parents brought up the idea, went on to prepare a weekly teaching plan and got a half dozen kids fired up on trigonometry and algebra (I don't think we got to calculus).

(3) Not to toot our own horns, but us kids were probably on the top 10% (maybe even top 5%) in our respective schools. I can't speak for most of the kids in the group, but for the couple that I still stay in touch with, we were certainly bored to death during our regular school hours.

Which leads to the main point of this comment. Most prior commentators acknowledge that tuition may be appropriate for weaker students to catch up. But it may also, in some rare circumstances (try lining up elements 1 through 3 above on any given Sunday), be a form of ''enrichment course'' for more talented students seeking more academic challenge than the schools can provide, therefore filling the gap totally unaddressed by the Malaysian education system then or now. (I am pleased to read on this blog about the opening-up of some spots in MRSM and other residential schools for non-Malays and availability of extra-curricular academic courses there, but what about those who fail in their application to these institutions? Or those who choose not to apply so as to stay with their families?)

ps.: The tuition ended in the middle of my Form 3 year. All the kids in the group went overseas (including Singapore) for higher ed. I think only one---not me---is back in Malaysia now.