The Factors Which Have Contributed To The Tuition Industry Boom In Singapore

On 9 November 2014, Ms Theresa Tan shared in her article published in the Sunday Times that Singapore’s tuition industry was then worth more than $1 billion, according to the Household Expenditure Survey findings released in 2014. Some families were even reported to spend thousands of dollars per month on tuition classes for their children, including economics tuition, making tuition top the list of their household expenditures. So what has contributed to the tuition industry boom in Singapore, including economics tuition? I have summarised below the main factors that I think give rise to the prosperous tuition business today:

A Culture Of Valuing Education

Singapore has developed a culture of valuing education. It is very common for parents here to send their children to kindergartens to receive proper pre-school education at an age as young as 2 years old. Many children have learned English, Chinese, and Mathematics up to P1 level and basic Science before they enter the primary school. Many parents even sign up their children for extra classes like abacus, as well as speech and drama when they are in kindergarten. There are also many parents who send their children for economics tuition even before they go to junior college.

The Singapore government is a long-time advocate of happy learning. The education here in Singapore focuses very much on the application of knowledge and the development of analytical skills. However, the Singapore society has become accustomed to using grades as a proxy of students’ academic success. As a result, school teachers and parents alike encourage students to take up private tuition to complement their learning in school in order to improve their grades. This has led to a large increase in the number of tuition providers, particularly economics tuition providers.

This culture of valuing education is even reflected in the hiring of talents. In the job application forms of all government agencies as well as some private organisations, applicants are required to fill in their academic results from undergraduate level to A-Level and O-Level examinations. It is widely acknowledged that scholars with flying marks tend to enjoy a better start in their career upon graduation, especially in the public sector.

Kiasu Spirit

Singaporeans are known for their Kiasu spirit – fear of lagging behind. It is especially true when it comes to their children’s education. According to an ST poll in 2015, 7 out of 10 parents send their children for tuition. Since everyone else is doing it, parents fear if they do not, their children will lose out in the stiff competition with their peers.

Take my friend, a single parent who earns a monthly income of approximately $4,000 for example. She sends her two boys in junior college for weekly group economics tuition and make special arrangements with their economics tutor for extra private lessons before major examinations. She is fortunate as the economics tutor of her children offers lessons at subsidised rate for students from financially needy families. Otherwise, she would have to spend a larger proportion of her take-home pay on her sons’ tuition and would have little financial resources left to meet the family’s other needs. This friend of mine is just one of the hundreds of thousands of kiasu parents in Singapore, who would try their best to provide their children with the best possible education.

Highly Competitive Environment

Singapore has a highly competitive environment. Parents tend to compare their children’s results with those of their peers from primary school all the way to junior college. School teachers also compare the overall performance of their classes with those of other teachers. The same applies to competition among schools. The stiff competition among schools, teachers and parents has prompted them to resort to external help from private tutors. In fact, many private tutors in the market are former school teachers. They are very familiar with the school syllabus and are able to customise their teaching based on each student’s individual strengths and weaknesses. This also holds true for those economics tutors offering group economics tuition. I know a successful economics tutor who offers bridging class for free to newly joined students. By doing this, the economics tutor makes sure that the new student is on the same or comparable level with the existing students in the same class and therefore will be progressing well together with the rest of the students.

Singapore Is Not Alone

I am glad to note that the craze for tuition is not a unique phenomenon in Singapore. In other Asian countries like Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and China, the total turnover of tuition business is much higher. South Korea for example has a tuition industry worth $20 billion per year. China triples the number due to its large population.

Is It Worth Your Investment?

Yes. It is a lot of money spent on tuition. But the million dollar question here is whether it is worth your investment. I think the answer really depends on whether you have chosen the right tutor. A tutor of a high quality will help your children improve a great deal. Please refer to my other article “How To Find The Right Tutor For Economics Tuition” for more details. Only by making the right choice that you can ensure a worthy investment in tuition.

Linda Geng

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