Tuition has ballooned to an S$1.4b industry in Singapore. Should we be concerned?

17 September, 2019

Photo: ‘A mother and her child buying new books’ from SRN’s SG Photobank

According to the Household Expenditure Survey (HES) in 2017/18, Singapore households spent S$1.4 billion on tuition, up from S$1.1 billion in 2012/13. The tuition industry has expanded over the years, with an increase of tuition and enrichment centres from 700 in 2012 to more than 950 today. In an editorial in the Straits Times, Dr Kelvin Seah Kah Cheng (NUS Department of Economics) outlines the tuition landscape in Singapore, and discusses the implications of such trends.

Dr Seah disagrees with those who see the growth of the tuition industry as an indication that government reforms have failed at reducing the emphasis on academic grades in education. He thinks that it is unrealistic to expect a decline in tuition expenditure due to the announcement of upcoming changes. Effects will likely only surface when the reforms are actually implemented, such as when changes to the Primary School Leaving Examinations and secondary school streaming system begins in 2021 or 2024 respectively.

In the meantime, tuition remains the dominant strategy for parents to ensure their children’s competitiveness in the education system, even more so when average real incomes of households have been increasing. Importantly, the 2017/18 HES revealed that higher-income families are spending more on tuition than lower-income ones. Dr Seah points out that since higher-quality tutors are likely to charge more, the implication is that economically advantaged students may be receiving higher-quality tuition than economically disadvantaged ones. He finds it somewhat worrying that income inequalities have a chance of translating to educational inequalities, especially if ineffective tutors are impeding the academic progress of students from lower-income families.

To get the most bang for the buck, especially for economically disadvantaged students, students and parents should learn how to select suitable tutors by evaluating their track records, qualifications, and effectiveness. Dr Seah concludes that empowering students to make informed choices will benefit them more than relying on tuition fees as a barometer for tutor quality.

Read the article here.