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The national debate about tuition was reignited in Parliament on Sept 16, when Senior Minister of State for Education and Law Indranee Rajah, in her reply to Nominated MP Janice Koh, said that “our education system is run on the basis that tuition is not necessary”.

Straits Times journalist Chua MuiHoong declared in a subsequent column that, contrary to the comments made by MsIndranee, parents who spend a significant portion of their household income on tuition “clearly think that tuition isn’t unnecessary”.

Ranking of schools

The first is the way the heavy emphasis on meritocracy has found its way into policies such as the ranking of schools and streaming of students. Unlike the Finnish government, which pursues neither streaming nor ranking of schools during the first 10 years of education, our Government has enthusiastically adopted such policies.

This has inevitably resulted in huge strains and stresses, making our students, parents, teachers, heads of departments and principals “kiasu” in more ways than one.

When he was Education Minister, Deputy Prime Minister TharmanShanmugaratnam managed to convince the Cabinet to shift from ranking to banding of schools. It was an important reform, which eventually led to the dismantling of the public ranking of schools last year by Education Minister HengSweeKeat.

Problem of mass education

The second issue to be addressed when considering the popularity of tuition arises from the inherent problems of mass education. These are the quality of teachers, class sizes, and the automatic promotion of failed students. These problems are faced by almost every government as it tries to educate young citizens.


It is difficult to attract the best to go into the teaching profession. As MrHeng said last year at the MOE Workplan Seminar, more than 20 per cent of our teachers have less than five years of experience and are “still finding their feet”. This, of course, does not mean that the remaining 80 per cent of teachers are very good. In Singapore, a graduate can become a teacher in just one year by enrolling in a postgraduate Diploma in Education programme at the National Institute of Education.

Role of tuition

The purpose of tuition can be defined as identifying the learning gaps of a child in a subject, and providing the necessary (individualised) instruction to minimise or eliminate those gaps.