Does tuition really help kids do better in exams?


Parents spend hundreds of dollars each month sending their kids to private tuition classes in the hopes that it will improve their grades, but a recent study by Dr Kelvin Seah Kah Cheng suggests that the investment may not be worth it.

Dr Seah’s research showed that tuition might actually harm a child’s academic performance. This analysis was derived from data from the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) test, which also took into account differences, like age, gender, home language, material possessions and parent’s employment status. 

The economics lecturer’s research, which he detailed in an opinion piece for The Straits Times yesterday, comes on the back of news that Singapore teens ranked No. 1 for mathematics, science and reading in last year’s Pisa test.

Two psychologists have backed the analysis by a National University of Singapore (NUS) don which showed that tuition could be detrimental to a child’s academic performance.

Ms Sheena Jebal, principal counselling psychologist at NuLife Care and Counselling Services, agreed with Dr Seah’s analysis.

She told The New Paper: “Children already have to deal with a full curriculum load and tuition adds to that pressure. They cannot have a life with these back-to-back lessons, and they will end up performing worse.

“It’s like if you feed someone who is full, keep feeding them and they will actually vomit.”


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Clinical psychologist Carol Balhetchet shared the same sentiments, saying that parents here tend to go “overboard” with tuition for their children.

“A little bit of tuition can be good for the child if he is not faring as well as his peers,” said Dr Balhetchet, senior director for youth services for Singapore Children’s Society.

“But there is a need to moderate it and not pack the child with tuition till it becomes a boiling pot of stress. It can have the reverse effect.”

Miss Shirley Lam, a 26-year-old compliance analyst, attended tuition for math and science when she was preparing for her O levels 10 years ago.

Rather than instilling confidence, Miss Lam said that tuition “added no value”. After graduating from secondary school, she never took up tuition again.

“It was redundant to go through the same curriculum twice because it added stress and was additional time and work,” said Miss Lam, who attained the Best in Psychology award when she graduated from NUS three years ago.

“Tuition did the opposite of helping and when I had no tuition in JC (junior college) and NUS, I was much happier being more independent in my learning.”


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But those in the industry told TNP that tuition can help if carried out right.

A spokesman for The Learning Lab (TLL) said that its classes avoid a “drill-and-grill” approach and instead help students develop a “love of learning”.

“Our curriculum is designed to not only educate but help students cultivate a genuine interest and curiosity in the subject,” said the spokesman.

“We encourage active learning, and both our classrooms and lessons are designed with the intention of creating a conducive environment in which ideas can be generated and knowledge can be shared.”

Freelance tutor Syamsul Mydin, 26, said tuition presents an opportunity for students to address misunderstandings in the curriculum.

Said Mr Syamsul, who has been tutoring for five years: “Tuition is a controlled environment where they can feel safe to ask and clarify doubts that school might gloss over.

“Some students have different learning speeds, so if properly administered with their best interests, tuition can actually help them perform better.”


This article was originally published in The New Paper.