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Education, Singapore

Theresa Tan
Sunday, Nov 9, 2014
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tuition

Education, Singapore

$1 billion spent on tuition in one year

The Straits Times | Theresa Tan | Sunday, Nov 9, 2014

A pupil working on a revision paper in Mind Stretcher Learning Centre’s Gifted Education Programme (GEP) prep class.

Singapore's tuition industry is now worth more than a billion dollars.

The latest Household Expenditure Survey found that families spent $1.1 billion a year on tuition - almost double the $650 million spent a decade ago and a third more than the $820 million spent just five years ago.

The Department of Statistics, which polled more than 11,000 households between October 2012 and September last year, released the latest survey in September.

The average household spending on tuition rose from $54.70 a month 10 years ago, to $79.90 in the latest survey.

The department told The Sunday Times that along with spending more, there were also more households in the latest study - 1.2 million compared with 993,000 a decade ago.

Associate Professor Jason Tan of the National Institute of Education noted that tuition is no longer meant only to help weak or failing students pass their exams.

"Tuition has morphed into this huge industry to keep one's child ahead of the rest," said Prof Tan, who is doing a study on the perception of tuition. "Many tutors teach ahead of the school curriculum, so that the child has a competitive edge. Even students in the Gifted Education Programme have tuition."

He pointed to tuition programmes that have sprouted up to cater to students of varying abilities and for different purposes. These include classes to help pupils get into the Gifted Education Programme and courses to prepare students for entrance tests and interviews for the Direct School Admission scheme, which allows schools to accept students not just based on academic ability, but also on their talent in sports and the arts.

Given the growing size of the tuition industry and the numerous players ranging from fast-growing chains of tuition centres to one-man operations, the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore has begun auditing tuition centre bosses and private tutors. It has found under-declaration of income to be a "common problem".

A growing number of tuition agencies attest to Singapore's ever- expanding demand for tuition.

There are 850 tuition centres and enrichment centres registered with the Education Ministry now, up from 800 last year and about 700 in 2012.

And some of these centres have expanded into chains.

Mind Stretcher Learning Centre, for example, grew to have 21 branches in just 12 years and now has at least 10,000 students, said co-founder Alvin Kuek.

He said the amount spent on tuition has grown in the past decade as tutors are also commanding higher salaries now - up to 50 per cent more - given the intense competition in the market for tutors. Hence, fees have gone up.

Mind Stretcher charges an average of $150 a month for group tuition in one primary school subject.

This is up from about $90 when the centre was started 12 years ago.

Manager Eddy Tan, 50, spends $1,800 per month on tuition for his three children, aged between 11 and 16.

He said: "My children asked for tuition as they felt they could not catch up in school. They said their teachers teach too fast.

"Everyone I see has tuition. So if you don't give your children tuition, they may lose out. It's the kiasu mentality."

theresat@sph.com.sg


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