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Tuition Generally Asian?

Posted on: June 3, 2016

What was your reaction to this tweet?

I had a couple of reactions.

One was to simply tweet “OMG”, but that would have been underwhelming.

Another reaction was too long to tweet. All the ad needed was at least four more guys spouting “hip” tuition platitudes. Then the ad would look like the parody K-pop boy band group by Ryan Higa and Wong Fu Productions, Boys generally Asian (BgA).

Video source

My main reaction resulted this blog-based reflection: It is a sign of the times. The advertisement is a reminder of the battle to claim the minds and pockets of Singaporean parents.

Before I describe on that battleground, I need to point out how the sand is shifting under our feet.

The tenure of our previous Minister for Education has seen the better-late-than-never emphasis on character and values. While our MOE has never backed down on the academic chase for good grades, it took an informed and enlightened leader to start that journey.

Now even a cursory glance at media reports and a casual Google search will reveal Singapore’s overall stance on schooling and education. For example, just this week there was the rhetoric that our current schooling model will be “hopelessly outdated” in 20 years and how our children should learn from productive failure.

Boys (and girls) generally east Asian place a premium on academic results because of parental pressure. This stems from the belief that good grades make for better opportunities.

However, what some local research [example 1] [example 2] has revealed is that these opportunities are more available to some and less to others.

We have data to challenge our notion of meritocracy because social mobility is challenged by social gaps [news article].

One symptom of this social gap issue is the K-pop or Hong Kong style advertisements for tuition. To understand why this is the case, you need to play a reductionist numbers game.

You need the points to make the grade and you need them fast and formulaic, never mind if you do not actually learn anything of value. The service costs money, and the better and faster you want it, the more it will cost. Some can pay up. Others shut up.

Thankfully a our society tries not to leave any child behind. Self-help groups also offer tuition programmes. One example is Mendaki’s remedial tuition schemes. However, these cannot compete with the commercialisation of remedial and enrichment tuition.

On the surface, self-help tuition looks like a rusty bicycle while a well-known agency looks like a shiny Tesla. Both have teachers that want to help. Both share the same curricula but could have widely differing strategies and salaries. In the open market, tuition teachers and centres can try the latest strategies and technologies. The traditional groups tend do what they are only comfortable with.

Our mainstream schools cannot compete with commercial tuition agencies because they operate by a different model. The schools plod along with large class sizes, take part in curricula races with siloed subject areas, and are averse to risk. Enrichment classes by tuition agencies can afford to have more optimal student:teacher ratios, be more focused, and try whatever works.

This makes me wonder why we do not take advantage of what each does better than the other. If we insist on the overall model of content delivery and assessment by exams, then why not let tuition agencies be the classroom environment and schools the testing and grading one?

Perhaps that is too big a fantasy. So here is something more realistic: Schools could waste less time.

School authorities could start by studying how much time is wasted. They could measure how much time a child spends actually learning Fitbit-style during classes. They might be surprised how much time is wasted waiting for things to happen.

They could also analyse curricula and schedules for ineffective practices. One poor use of curriculum time is linear-independent design. This is where, say, ten academic areas operate independently instead of leveraging on where they naturally overlap. Imagine a vacation planning project that has language, mathematics, science, and values-education elements.

Now imagine teachers saying that is too much trouble to do even though wider world problems are multidisciplinary and have no clear solutions.

Another poor use of curriculum time is how much of it becomes “supplementary” lessons after school and during school vacations. This time is not for remediation; it is for normal classes held outside class time because class time was lost because of bad planning and implementation.

Now imagine school administrators getting defensive and citing interruptions due to public holidays, school events, and the need to do more things with the same amount of time.

Rise above all this and you might realise that the problem is the school bubble. Teachers and school operate in a world where the consequences of what they do are not immediate, so the urgency to change is not there. They do not take ownership of problems and blame everything outside that bubble.

Like it or not, schools have problems that originate within the bubble. We can do without excuses.

There is one thing good about the spikey hair on the tutors coiffured like K-pop stars. If more ads like the one @mrbrown highlighted appear in our collective consciousness, perhaps the spikes will pop that bubble.

1 Response to "Tuition Generally Asian?"

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