Teaching in Singapore: Is It Better to Be an MOE Teacher or a Private Tuition Teacher?

teaching in singapore MOE tuition teacher

On the face of it, MOE teachers seem to have it good. Decent pay AND long holidays? Sign us up!

Yet everyone has that ex-teacher friend who quit to give tuition full-time. And if you’ve got friends who teach, it’s likely you’ve heard countless rants about the unreasonable workload and frustrating bureaucracy they face.

And while the authorities are tight-lipped about the attrition rate of teachers and MOE scholarship bond breakers, many in the industry harbour dreams of leaving for good.

Is it better to be an MOE teacher or a private tuition teacher? We compare salary, workload and other important factors.

MOE teacher salary vs tuition teacher salary

In Singapore, teachers are quite highly paid. According to salary benchmarking website payscale.com, secondary school teachers receive annual salaries of $70,782, or about $5,900 a month. Primary school teachers earn just a little bit less: $68,314 a year, or about $5,700 a month.

Tutors, on the other hand, are usually self-employed and charge by the hour. They don’t receive CPF contributions and bonuses.

The hourly pay range can be huge. On the higher end of the scale, there are ex-MOE tutors who specialise in difficult subjects at higher levels, who can bring in as much as $100 per hour.

But non-superstar freelance primary and secondary school tutors realistically earn $25 to $50 per hour.

There are full-time tuition teacher positions in established tuition centres like The Learning Lab or Math Vision Enrichment Centre that start off on a pay that’s closer to $3,000 a month. Bonuses are not guaranteed though.

Considering CPF contributions and performance bonuses, full-time MOE teachers in Singapore do end up having stable annual salaries that’s very respectable. Tutors usually only work during school terms and get 10 months’ of salary, while MOE teachers get almost 15, considering bonuses.

How much do you need to work to earn MOE teacher’s salary?

To get an annual salary that is comparable to an MOE teacher — benchmarked at $68,314 — an experienced freelance tuition teacher who earns $40/hour will have to put in about 142 hours of work a month.

That works out to almost 36 hours of work per week, nearly on par with a full time office job. It also means being on the hunt for students perpetually and working on weekends and public holidays.

That’s not to say it’s not impossible to earn more as a private tutor. If you are more specialised and have a bit of reputation, you can charge more. To multiply your time, you could even set up small group tuition classes in your own home where you can earn from not just 1 student each time but 4 to 5 without having to travel.

In all, it sounds like private tuition isn’t really all that lucrative unless you’re one of those hotshot ex-Raffles physics tutors in super high demand. So… why are some MOE teachers going into the tuition profession, then?

MOE teachers have poor work-life balance 

Almost every teacher I’ve spoken with has complained about poor work-life balance and the fact that they’re ridiculously overloaded with administrative tasks. I don’t think I know a single MOE teacher who doesn’t bring work home in the evenings and on weekends.

Teachers are usually at school by 7am, but just because they start earlier than office workers doesn’t mean they end earlier. Most leave no earlier than 5pm (some even stay till 8pm when they have responsibilities like guard duty), and many continue to work late into the night at home, marking homework and tests. Then there are the weekly CCA duties which take place in the afternoons and evenings after school, or even on weekends.

Penelope, a 32-year-old teacher in a government school, sounds disgruntled when she says, “The reason so many MOE teachers are leaving is so obvious that I don’t understand why MOE doesn’t address this once and for all. We are bogged down by so many tasks that we are unable to focus on teaching.”

“Many of us chalk up 12/13 hours of work every day, and sometimes we work on weekends,” she adds.

Taylor, a 32-year-old teacher in a government-aided school, concurs. “I only spend about 40% of my time at work teaching. I think they should ease the admin load to ensure more teachers remain in the profession. Teachers are so tired out from all the admin and miscellaneous duties that it’s hard to enjoy the core of our work.”

Incidentally, both Penelope and Taylor, who are married with kids, took close to a year of no-pay leave to look after their children. Both thought they would not be able to cope with the demands of looking after a newborn and teaching at the same time.

You can compare the hours. As a tuition teacher, you probably can earn decently if you put in 40 hours a week. Time is quite flexible and within your control. MOE teachers may work up to 13 hours a day, which over the course of 5 working days, easily add up to 65 hours.

Tuition has better money in terms of hours worked

While the salaries that MOE teachers earn are largely considered to be decent, the general consensus is that they may not be worth the long hours.

Taylor says, “The market rate for tuition is $70 per hour if you’re an MOE teacher. But I’ve friends who are charging $80 to $90 per hour. That’s very, very good money. Some famous teachers conduct group tuition sessions and earn at least $10,000 a month.”

Penelope says, “Some of the advantages of tuition are the flexibility of time, being able to focus on teaching without being bogged down by other duties and tasks, especially class management, and being able to exercise control over which students I want to help. I have a soft spot for the weaker students. And of course, you earn an hourly rate that’s much higher than an MOE teacher’s.”

Even so, there are some downsides to tuition that keep teachers in the profession.

“Tutoring hours are mostly on weekday evenings or weekends. If you have a family, this is when your kids are home, yet you are out teaching,” says Taylor.

Penelope has similar concerns. “As with any other job, there is a downside to being a full-time private tutor. You sacrifice weekday evenings and weekends if you want to maintain a decent income, and you also lack interaction with adults.”

MOE teacher vs private tuition teacher: So, which is better?

Penelope has made up her mind to quit her job and become a full-time tutor some time in the next few years. She is merely biding her time.

For someone who became a teacher because she thought it would be a meaningful job, it was a tough decision for her to make.

She says, “I think MOE really has to reconsider our workload. It really is too much. They can keep upping our salary and dishing out bonuses, but when teachers are not happy and healthy, they will leave.”

For Taylor, things look a little rosier.

“It sounds cheesy but I think I know that I am making a difference in the lives of my students, not just academically but holistically, and I get opportunities to do so in school where I see the students for the whole day, and even for CCAs, unlike at tuition where I see them only for 2 hours a week and the parent hires me simply to see their grades improve,” she says.

In addition, she admits the stability and perks are a draw. “Unlike tuition where students can cancel on you and your income varies, you get a fixed pay every month. We get bonuses in March, June and December, medical and dental benefits, as well as allowances depending on our appointment in school.”

“At the end of the day, I simply enjoy teaching,” she admits.

“But if I continue with MOE, I will probably take long-term leave again depending on which season of my life I am in, such as during the child-bearing years.”

(Names have been changed to protect the identity of respondents.)

How to become a teacher in Singapore

To become an MOE teacher in Singapore, going by the MOE route, you must have a university degree, diploma, ‘A’ levels certificate or an IB diploma.

If you are still completing your tertiary studies, MOE recommends that you apply during your final year, preferably at the start, via Careers@Gov.

Degree holders can go on to take their Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) at NIE, which spans between 16 months and 2 years. The intake for the PGDE occurs in December. You will be able to choose your teaching subjects.

Diploma holders must go on to either study 2 more years to get their Diploma in Education (DipEd) or 4 more years for the Bachelor of Arts/Science in Education.

The PDGE and DipEd programmes are fully paid for by the MOE, but teachers must fulfil a teaching bond.

To become a tuition teacher, you don’t necessarily need to be trained in education. You can go through tuition agencies or word of mouth to get students. However to make it a career, you’d want to make a name of yourself by collecting student testimonials that prove your ability to resurrect an ‘F’ to an ‘A’.

Are MOE teachers allowed to moonlight?

According to a 2019 discussion in Parliament, about 1 in 10 MOE teachers do moonlight as private tutors.

And it’s not against the rules either. Under current MOE rules, MOE teachers can give up to 6 hours of private tuition a week. Although there was a review proposed in 2013, this doesn’t seem to have changed.

In fact, MOE teachers have an incentive to do so because they can charge more than students who give part-time tuition, because they are updated with the latest syllabi and are trained to teach. Of course, with gruelling work hours, we’re not sure how many MOE teachers are insane enough to take on more work.

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This article was originally written in 2016 and has been updated with the latest salaries in 2021.