One type of tuition does NOT have to go
Posted March 9, 2015on:
Tuition means different things to different people.
Mention tuition in the USA and people might think about university tuition fees and classes in the lecture-tutorial system.
Mention tuition in Singapore you might get an assortment of answers.
A minority might suggest that tuition is the shadow schooling system that contributes to high test scores. I know of at least one international testing group that has started asking survey questions about the extent of tuition. If that group shares what they find, we might have some evidence to back up that claim.
Ask parents and they might say that tuition is a lifeline for their kids to catch up, stay at the top, or fulfill some other academic agenda.
Ask our politicians about tuition, and as of last week, you have this collective response.
That headline hints at the dependence on and mindset towards tuition, not tuition per se.
So what is tuition? It means different things to different people even in our context.
In that tuition continuum, there is tuition that is:
- nannying (keeping kids occupied, possibly with just busy work)
- remediation (coaching for learners who cannot keep up with the curricular race or the demands of schooling)
- extra (kiasu type: repeating what happens in school and even providing content in advance)
- ensuring As (kiasi type: for kids who are already ahead but what to keep up with the best in the chase for grades)
There are probably other categories and the ones I listed above are not mutually exclusive. For example, a parent might desire tuition to nanny and ensure As.
The last two categories are part of enrichment tuition that blights our social landscape as tuition centres in malls all over Singapore.
Enrichment tuition is probably what is being addressed at the highest levels of our country. After all, this is the type of tuition that emphasizes the academic chase largely for grades and glory instead of the pursuit of meaningful learning.
Meaningful learning that focuses on the individual talents and pitfalls. This is learning that stresses long term mindsets, values, and skills. It is learning that makes a better person and one that contributes meaningfully to community.
Contrary to what enrichment tuition agencies say on their brochures and websites, I have not come across any evidence that enrichment tuition contributes to meaningful learning. However, not all tuition is bad. In its original form, tuition once stood for personalized coaching and testing that supplemented school effort.
Why is remedial tuition necessary?
Schools tend to rely on one-size-fits-all approaches because they follow the industrial model. Kids that do not fit fall through the gaps. The more fortunate ones have parents who pay for remedial tuition as a safety net.
In theory there should not be a safety net. We would like to think that schools should be able to meet the needs of every learner. That ideal is not what happens in practice. Kids are different; school wants to treat them all the same. Learning is messy; teachers are not taught to embrace it.
If you study systems as I do, you can attribute schooling problems to tests that do not evolve with the times. If school is a factory, then tests are quality control (QC). QC determines everything else: What the inputs or raw materials are, who the staff and machine cogs are, what the overall process are, what the supporting processes are. If QC bleeps because it detects something wrong, every other component in the system jumps and changes to diffuse that alarm.
Our tests and QC are not going away or going to be redesigned any time soon. We lack the moral courage to make the changes.
In the meantime, a few ex-teachers and non-teachers coach, individualize, and even innovate because of they love their academic subject and/or the learner. This is the sort of tuition that should not go away because it is learner-focused and may also teach schools a thing or two if schools decide to redesign themselves.