Interview With Singapore Press Holdings On Economics Tuition

Question: Why was Economics Cafe Learning Centre set up?

Answer: Economics Cafe Learning Centre, which was set up by the Director and the Principal Economics Tutor Mr. Edmund Quek in 2011, is an MOE-registered leading economics tuition centre in Singapore which specialises in Singapore-Cambridge GCE ‘A’ Level Economics tuition. Mr. Edmund Quek set up Economics Cafe Learning Centre with the objective of cultivating students’ interest in economics as he believed this would not only help them excel in the examination, it would also provide them with the thinking skills which would enable them excel in their future endeavours including their careers. Furthermore, Mr. Edmund Quek is aware that there are some students from needy families who are less privileged than their peers, despite the economic prosperity of Singapore. To put these students on an equal footing to compete with their more privileged peers, he set up Economics Cafe Learning Centre to provide them with free or subsidised economics tuition so long as they could justify their need for financial assistance. Generally, these students are under the Financial Assistance Scheme or whose parents are under the Public Assistance Scheme. Thus far, there have been over 60 beneficiaries from this financially-aided economics tuition scheme. Many of them are currently reading economics at university and hence improving their financial conditions in the future. As stated in our mission statement, Economics Cafe Learning Centre seeks to provide quality education in economics to students, cultivate their interest and help them achieve excellence in the subject, regardless of their financial status.

Question: How many students does Economics Cafe Learning Centre have, what do you think are the reasons why students come to the economics tuition centre and does the centre guarantee improvement or distinction?

Answer: Economics Cafe Learning Centre currently has over 200 students. This is a marked increase from about 60 students in 2011 and we expect the enrolment to increase by about between 15 and 20 per cent per year over the next 5 years. Students come to our centre mainly for our Principal Economics Tutor. The Principal Economics Tutor of Economics Cafe Learning Centre is Mr. Edmund Quek who is a highly experienced and well sought after economics tutor in Singapore. Mr. Edmund Quek holds a Master’s Degree in Economics (MSSc) from the National University of Singapore (NUS). He has also obtained a distinction in Macroeconomics (EC6102) and Microeconomics (EC6101) at the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) level. These academic achievements make him the most highly qualified economics tutor in Singapore. Over the last two decades, Mr. Edmund Quek has taught over three thousand students on a tuition basis. Nearly every year, he helps over 75 per cent of the students in his economics tuition classes obtain a distinction in the Singapore-Cambridge GCE ‘A’ Level Economics examination. We promise improvement in students’ results, and thus far, we have not once failed to deliver on the promise. We, however, do not guarantee distinction. This is because students differ substantially in terms of standard, intelligence, commitment, and above all, diligence. Therefore, guaranteeing distinction is unrealistic and this is especially true in view of the fact that a significant number of students seek help in economics at the eleventh hour. Nevertheless, as stated earlier, we help over 75 per cent of our students obtain a distinction in the Singapore-Cambridge GCE ‘A’ Level Economics examination nearly every year, with most of the remaining students scoring a B. In some years, the distinction rate hit as high as 90 per cent. Many of our former students were awarded prestigious scholarships to read economics at prestigious universities which include Cambridge University, Stanford University, Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania and University of California, Berkeley.

Question: Based on your observations, what are economics tuition service providers doing differently? Also, you are seeing more top students who still require economics tuition and what are their reasons?

Answer: Due to the large increase in the number of economics tuition service providers over the last decade, competition in the economics tuition industry has increased substantially. Therefore, economics tuition service providers are spending more on marketing such as Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) in order to capture a large share of the market pie. For example, there is a so-called super economics tutor who appears frequently in the media. He spends tens of thousands of dollars on marketing his economics tuition services every year. However, in terms of teaching methodology, economics tuition service providers generally are not doing anything differently, at least not significantly, despite the dramatic change in the economics tuition landscape such as having students with a wider range of standards and expectations.

Yes, there are increasingly more top students who take economics tuition. In the past, students who took economics tuition were generally those who were struggling to cope with the subject in school. Today, there are increasingly more students who take economics tuition not because they are struggling to cope with the subject in school, but because they hope that the additional hours in the smaller class and greater individual attention in tuition with a good economics tutor will give them a greater edge in the competitive education system in Singapore. These students, who generally have a good understanding the economic concepts that are taught in school, seek to achieve a higher level of understanding of the concepts in tuition in order to increase their ability to apply the concepts.

Question: Are your lessons to students on wealth management free and are they incorporated into the regular economics tuition classes?

Answer: My lessons to students on wealth management are free as they are incorporated into the regular economics tuition classes. As interest rates on savings are lower than inflation rates in Singapore, the real value of savings will fall over time. This basically means that the same amount of savings will allow individuals to buy only a smaller amount of goods and services over time. Therefore, in order to help my students increase or at least preserve the real value of their wealth in the future, I teach them how to invest in bonds which offer higher returns than savings. Although bonds are a riskier investment than savings, they are still a safe investment compared to stocks. For example, I explain to them why bond prices tend to vary inversely with interest rates, how to ascertain the financial strength of a company through the profit and loss statement and the balance sheet if they want to invest in corporate bonds instead of government bonds, the meanings of the different credit ratings given by the different credit rating agencies such as Standard and Poor, etc. In addition to bonds, I teach my students how to invest in real estate investment trusts (REITs) which generally offer even higher returns than bonds. Although REITS are a type of stocks, the prices are more stable than other types of stocks particularly penny stocks. For example, I explain to them why it is good to invest in a REIT with a re-investment scheme such as Cambridge Industrial Trust if they want to build up a retirement fund. In addition to bonds and REITs, I teach my students the basic principles and fundaments of investment in the foreign exchange market which will also help them better manage their wealth.

Question: How does your centre stand out from the rest in helping students (clarify doubts, identify questions likely to appear etc).

Answer: Rote learning is a memorisation technique based on repetition. The idea is that one will be able to quickly recall the meaning of the material the more one repeats it. Unlike some economics tuition providers which advocate rote learning, we discourage rote learning for economics. Economics is a social science which deals with human behavior and therefore it is far too complex for rote learning to stand the slightest chance of mastering the subject. As opposed to rote learning, we advocate meaningful learning. Meaningful learning refers to a way of learning where the new knowledge to acquire is related to existing knowledge. Within the cognitive theory of learning, based on the theory of human information processing, there are three core processes of learning which include how knowledge is developed, how new knowledge is integrated into an existing cognitive system, and how knowledge becomes automatic. Meaning learning will take a student much further than rote learning.

In order to excel in the Singapore-Cambridge GCE ‘A’ Level Economics examination, it is important for students to know the current economic issues and events. Unlike many economics tuition providers which focus mainly on textbook content, we provide students with a lot of latest relevant news articles to help them keep abreast of times. These news articles will not only serve to stimulate the students’ interest in economics, they will also provide useful information that the students can use in the examination. This helps them better apply the economic concepts that they learn in essay writing and case study analysis.

We teach students the skill of concise writing. This is an area which is neglected by many economics tuition providers. Given the examination time constraint in the Singapore-Cambridge GCE ‘A’ Level Economics examination, the ability to write concisely is of great importance as failure to do so may cost you the distinction, even if you have a good mastery of the subject. Unfortunately, this skill is not much emphasised in many schools which explains why many of the students who sit for the Singapore-Cambridge GCE ‘A’ Level Economics examination each year fail to finish their papers.

We possess a large question bank and we go through the questions with the students by dissecting the questions which requires breaking them up into their component parts (i.e. analysis) and then putting them back together (i.e. synthesis). This process enhances the students’ understanding of how the questions are answered in the ways they are answered. As a result, the students are able to understand and remember the answers better. Some economics tuition providers go through questions with their students without imparting to them the thinking skills of analysis and synthesis which limits their understanding of the answers to the questions. The case study paper requires a great deal of practice to excel in. We give the students in our economics tuition classes a lot of case study questions to practise. We work through the questions with the students with reference to the answer schemes given by the examiners. More importantly, we value-add by improving on the answers, some of them substantially, particularly the evaluations in which some economics teachers and economics tuition providers seem to have difficulty in providing. We teach the students in our economics tuition classes the skills to answer case study questions such as drawing reference to the extracts and data and the appropriate use of supplementary knowledge. The students are also taught the skills of interpreting and describing economic data. In addition, we highlight to the students in our economics tuition classes the common economic misconceptions made by economics students such as confusion about the difference between ‘change’ and ‘rate of change’. This is another area which is neglected by some economics tuition providers. The avoidance of these common economic misconceptions can improve the grade in the examination substantially.

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Economics Tuition Singapore @ Economics Cafe
Principal Economics Tutor: Mr. Edmund Quek