Schools' failure the fuel for tutor industry

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 May, 2012, 12:00am


One of the most disgraceful aspects of local education is the private tutoring industry. As far as I know, no one has tried to gauge the size of this industry, whose revenue surely runs into the billions. Its rapid expansion can mean only one thing: local schools, collectively, are doing a lousy job teaching our children. Why else do parents need to send children to sit hours in tutoring schools after spending half a day in normal school? This is tantamount to child abuse.

I don't deny there are many individual good schools. But the system as a whole is failing. It is because teachers, for whatever reason, can't properly pass on instructions during normal class time that shadow education has become necessary. This fact is borne out by a new survey by Professor Mark Bray, head of comparative education studies at the University of Hong Kong and former director of Unesco's International Institute for Educational Planning.

He surveyed 1,720 secondary school pupils in Forms Three and Six at 16 schools and found that 54 per cent of Form Three pupils have tutors. This rises to an astonishing 72 per cent for Form Six pupils. Bray observes that this creates class inequality. Wealthy families can hire private tutors for different subjects. Children from low-income families have to make do with inferior tutorial schools. It also becomes an escalating cycle: if you know your classmates are getting extra help, you are pressured to do the same. Otherwise, you might be at an academic disadvantage.

From my own experience as a parent, most local teachers, especially those from elite schools, feel absolutely no shame in seeing their pupils attend extra classes, going through the same material they have just been taught. In fact, many teachers even think it is the parents' fault if they fail to send their children to private tutoring or fail to tutor the children themselves.

While local schools are nominally free or subsidised, most families end up spending a small fortune on private tutoring. No wonder so many parents are switching to international schools, where the pressure is much less intense, with a more positive outcome.