Education

Tuition inflation in Singapore: Where Should Your Child Go for Classes?

tuition singapore

Joanne Poh

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Junior comes home from school one day with a less-than-satisfactory grade on his primary 1 math paper, and like any Singaporean parent, you freak out and curse yourself for not having put him in tuition while he was in kindergarten.

As you desperately call up your other parent friends, make inquiries at your neighbourhood tuition centre and take to Google in search of tuition agencies, you realise tuition costs a lot more than it used to when you were a student.

Tuition, like all things, is subject to inflation. Let’s just say there’s a reason Singapore’s tuition industry is worth $1 billion. Here’s a guide to your options.

 

Private tuition (individual)

In theory, private tuition on a one-to-one basis costs the most per hour. The tutor will be travelling to your place, and for the duration of the 1.5 to 2 hour lesson, will be earning money only from your kid. Therefore, be prepared to pay fairly high hourly rates.

As of 2016, a current or former MOE teacher charges at least $70/hour for secondary school students and $50/hour for primary students.

Graduates and undergrads usually charge less. Prices vary depending on their confidence level and how in-demand a particular subject is.

For instance, a graduate might charge $60 an hour to teach JC-level General Paper, $50/hour for O level subjects and $35/hour for primary school subjects.

Undergrads charge considerably less and their rates vary, probably because they have more time and can’t afford to be as picky. However, you’re still looking at minimum of $20 to $30 an hour for primary school kids.

As the tutor has to travel to your place, he might hike up his fees or ask you to pay for transportation if you live far from his home.

 

Private tuition (group)

Some enterprising private tutors conduct group tuition lessons in their homes. The students get to pay less per hour, while the tutor earns more, so it’s a win-win situation. If you’re afraid your child won’t get enough attention, stick to small groups of 5 or fewer.

If your kid has a group of friends with whom he wants to have tuition, you might be able to hire a private tutor to travel to one of their homes. This is still relatively rare, though.

The rates for classes will depend on the reputation of the tutor, the number of kids in each class and the level of the students.

However, in general you can expect to pay, at the very least, $25 an hour for secondary school students and $15 an hour for primary school students.

Do note that once good tutors have gained a good reputation or enough students, they tend to start hiking up their prices, especially if they’re already oversubscribed.

For classes in small groups of no more than 3 or 4, you can expect to pay up to $50 an hour for group classes at O and A level, or $35 an hour for primary school classes. During exam time, tutors may hike up their fees for new students who want to attend crash courses, and paying up to $100 per hour is not unheard of.

Do note that you’re unlikely to find the kind of bargain basement prices undergrad tutors charge, because most tutors who conduct group classes are graduates or ex-MOE teachers who now do it for a living.

 

Small tuition centres

If you’ve ever explored the heartlands around your estate, chances are you’ll already have spotted a couple of tuition centres, usually located in dimly lit older buildings.

These centres usually have one or no more than a few branches. While some claim to have devised their own special methodology, to be very frank many of them do little more than provide hired teachers with assessment books.

It can be tempting to think that just because your friend’s kid had good results at X Education Centre in Sengkang, you can just sign your own kid up for classes at X Education Centre’s Bukit Batok branch.

In practice, many tuition centres do little more than provide their hired teachers with a place to teach. Others (such as those set up jointly by a group of tutors) may have a more elaborate system. The quality is thus very dependent on the individual teacher and centre.

Classes at tuition centres also tend to be larger and you might see up to 15 or 20 students squeezed into one session. You’re usually looking at paying about $25 to $40 per hour for secondary school students and about $15 to $25 an hour for primary school students, although there are many centres charging more. As mercenary as it sounds, rent plays a big factor in how much you’ll be charged, so avoid going to Orchard Road for tuition if you live in Tampines.

 

Big tuition chains

We’ve all heard rumours of those tuition centres that only accept gifted students and practically require kids to audition to get in. These centres have slick ads and a website that looks way more professional than your own employer’s probably.

A few centres like The Learning Lab and Kumon make their teachers undergo training in their specific methodology, and if you think a particular teaching method works better for your kid, signing them up at these places might be a better idea than hiring a random undergrad.

Other centres employ teachers of wildly differing quality. While they have some “Star Tutors” who have purportedly made a name for themselves in the tuition industry, some of their tutors are undergrads on a holiday job.

Fees can vary wildly depending on the centre. For instance, The Learning Lab charges $360 to $390 a month for each subject depending on their level plus a one-time registration fee of $63. Kumon charges $140 per month per subject and a one-time $40 registration fee, but is targeted at pre-school and primary school children.

Tuition chains can be quite misleading in that you think you’re paying for a brand name, when in actual fact the centre is a franchise that’s not being run in the way proprietors claim. Never be seduced by what the website says. Have your kid evaluate the quality of classes or, in the case of younger students, sit in on a class or two yourself.

 

What to do?

As much as kiasu parents might like to think that if they have the money to spend, they should be able to buy their kids’ results, that’s rarely the case in the tuition industry.

There are many factors that come into play, of which the quality of teaching is just one. Some kids need one-on-one attention they can’t get in group classes—even the best teacher on earth has a limited amount of time with each student in a group setting.

It’s also worthwhile taking your kid’s schedule into account. Kids need a certain amount of time for self-study to reinforce what they’ve learnt, and obviously they won’t be performing at their peak if they’re always tired due to lack of sleep or a packed schedule. No amount of tuition can solve that problem.

Do your kids attend tuition classes after school? Share your tips and experiences in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.