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How to Make Sure You’re Getting Your Money’s Worth When Hiring a Tutor For Your Child

Joanne Poh

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If you’re a Singaporean parent, there’s a 70% chance you’ll be enrolling your kid in tuition at some point in their lives. However, despite such high tuition enrolment rates, only one third of parents report a noticeable improvement in their child’s grades. Clearly, a lot of kids are going for tuition even though it’s not helping.

As someone who used to moonlight as a private tutor myself and has numerous friends who are full-time tutors and MOE teachers, I can vouch for the fact that tuition isn’t always effective. Sometimes the problem lies with incompetent or unsuitable tutors, while other times the child is just too tired or inattentive to absorb anything. Here are four ways to ensure your child is benefitting.

 

Check if the tutor really has mastery of the subject

The bar for becoming a private tutor is set painfully low. Virtually anyone with an O level certificate can get a job teaching kids at primary and secondary level. But asking your tutor to produce his paper qualifications is rarely useful.

I have a friend who didn’t do well for his A levels but is now a star tutor in O level physics and math. Having been in the game for close to ten years, he is so familiar with the syllabus that he already knows how to solve a question within two seconds of scanning it. On the other hand, despite getting an A1 in O level E Math, I would never dare to teach it.

You want to sit in on a lesson or two and see if the teacher is able to answer your student’s questions with ease, especially when it comes to math and science subjects. Check if the tutor is overly reliant on the answers in the back of the book and if he is able to correct your child’s work accurately. I’ve seen assessment books marked by tutors who appeared not to have been able to get decent PSLE grades themselves.

Another thing to assess is the tutor’s familiarity with the MOE syllabus. Cheryl, a 31-year-old teacher with the MOE, says,

“Some tutors might not be familiar with the new syllabi from MOE and hence might be unable to guide the students accordingly. Assessment books do not necessarily follow the exact format. And even if they do, a typical tutor might not understand the intent behind the syllabus changes and hence be unable to direct the students to answer the questions to meet the expectations of the examiners.”

 

Make sure your child is actually learning during the lesson

Tutors are hired to teach your kid, not to be disciplinarians or scream at him—that’s your job. Based on my previous tuition experience, I noticed that some kids were determined not to learn anything. This wasn’t always their fault. Some of them were truly overloaded with classes and extracurricular activities. If you don’t think you could sit at a desk and study for 12 hours a day, it’s unrealistic to expect your kid to do so.

Sit in on a few sessions to check if your child is using his smartphone during lessons, staring into space or failing to complete his homework.

 

Make sure your child has time for self-study outside of tuition

Tuition does not remove the need for self-study. If your child is spending all his hours in tuition sessions and doesn’t have time to revise his work, his grades may not see improvement.

Cheryl says, “Many parents and kids begin to see tuition as their extra study time, and not put in any more hours of individual study after that. Without a certain amount of self study and internalisation of information, there’s no way a student can improve. In order to help their kids improve, parents can’t just spam their schedule with lots of tuition.”

 

Ensure your child is doing his tuition homework before, and not during, tuition

Most tutors will assign homework, which will then be corrected and discussed in the next lesson. However, kids who don’t do their homework usually end up doing all of it during the tuition session. This also means that the teacher gets to sit back and twiddle his thumbs as an hour goes by and the kid is still scrambling to finish what he should have done in his spare time.

If this is happening during your kid’s tuition sessions, don’t expect him to learn much. If one hour is spent trying to complete unfinished homework, the teacher only has 30 to 60 minutes to actually teach.

Benjamin, a 33-year-old full-time tutor, has this to say about kids who don’t do their homework: “I usually scold them for not doing their work because it’s a waste of their time and mine. I teach in groups and those who don’t do their homework are slowing down everyone else in the class because they are not able to follow the lesson. If a kid repeatedly fails to do his homework, I will tell him not to come anymore.”

Do you think you’re getting your money’s worth by sending your kid for tuition? Tell us why or why not 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.