Too much tuition

Why do middle-class parents who did not go to tuition during their own school years now overload their children with tuitions, giving them undue pressures?  Chong Sheau Ching wonders where  do the pressures come from -- our increasingly competitive society, our kiasu attitude, the education system, materialism or teachers?

Too much pressure?

On the fourth day of PMR this year, a friend called me, “Do you know there are already 60 cases of suicide among PMR students by today?  Don’t pressure your daughter to study too much for her SPM!”

The number was shocking, and the information was passed quietly among the parents who have children who will be sitting for SPM in December. Even if this is a rumor, we all know that the truth is not far behind. In the past few months, two top students I know committed suicide, one passed away.  Everyone who knew them was shocked over the incidences. They couldn’t deal with parental pressures to achieve “A’ in all exams, and they were told that they would have no future if they didn’t get scholarship to universities. So when school exams came, one panicked and did very badly while the other one was so worried about the government exams that he preferred to ‘finish’ his life before exams came.

There were also a few whom I knew over the last two years, who broke down crying in school, shivering in front of their classmates because they were so worried about facing their parents with their school results. And these were children who were bright and hardworking. All of them have to go to daily tuitions! One tuition class for one subject in the KL area for one month is about Rm200.  If one goes to five tuitions for 5 subjects, it is already Rm1000! No wonder parents complain that they need to work harder to earn more for their children’s future and they have no time to talk to their children! 

I remember at my daughter’s Standard One PTA ( Parents Teachers Association) meeting in a Chinese primary school, I was surprised to find that only a handful of parents did not want more homework for their children while majority of the parents wanted the teachers to give more homework. “This school has low standard cos’ there is not enough homework, “a mother dismissed the principal’s suggestion of giving ‘moderate amount’ of homework.

I was even more surprised to find that my child was one of very few who did not have  tuition! The other children had been working on private tutors’ writing assignments and rote memorizing vocabulary daily. Only then I realized why the unofficial passing mark in my daughter’s class was ‘75’ instead of ‘50’!  I was advised to send my daughter for tuition because she did not pass the ‘75’ mark, she ‘failed’ all her subjects.   I argued that a child must be given time to grow at her own pace, not force into a mould.  This is what I learnt at the end of the meeting, “Conform to the system or you are a loser.”

A small talk with some of the parents after the PTA revealed that they themselves did not do well during their own school days. They pressure their children to do well because they believe that high academic performance is the only way to get good–paying jobs, and a good life. “My children know that if they want money when they grow up, they better study very hard,’ declared a mother.
I went home feeling like a square peg in a round hole.

Many parents have spoken to me over the past few weeks about the increasing pressure to send children for tuition. They felt that the academic pressure in our educational system is not working out as it is not able to build good characters, instead it churns out children who are followers. “I send my children for tuition so that they are not the last ones in class” was the most cited reason.  

Florence T, like most parents, didn't go for any tuition until she was in Form 3, and that was only for BM subject.  She believes that art and music tuitions are alright because schools do not provide enough classes on these subjects.  “When parents send their children for tuition in almost every subject, the children have no life. They should be playing in the park and running around like what I used to do for fun!” 

Some parents believed that they are successful in their careers despite the fact that they did not have tuitions during their school days. Reader Pauline wrote, “I did not go to any tuition until Form 5 as my parents thought that it would help me to get the paper qualification.  I was not an A student.  I graduated from university in a field I love (initially with much objection from my parents) and not the one chosen by my parents.”

Another parent proudly declared, “I did not go to university but I am doing very well!  I never had a tuition class until my STPM years and even then, I had basketball games during my SPM exams. But I got 5A's in my Form 5 exams.” 

MC’s parents emphasized the importance of good education to their children but they did not pressure them to excel.  Nevertheless, MC had performed well academically, fuelled by her ambition to be famous someday. “I now realise that it is abnormal to have a string of As in my report card or examination certificates, nor does it make me a better person.  Even though I am a qualified professional, I do not consider myself as successful as entrepeneurs who have made it through sweat and tears without university degrees or professional qualification. 

“These are the people who should be admired for their perseverance, discipline and hard work.  These are qualities in a person that parents should inculcate first and foremost in their children instead of sending them for more academic tuitions.

“Perhaps our "educated" peers should take a second look at the standards they have set for their children. Does a doctor warrant a higher social status and more respect than a hawker even if the doctor is not competent?

“Wouldn't time spend at the tuition centres be better spent at home where parents  cultivate social values and character in their children?  Is it right for parents to pass on parental responsibilities to teachers in school?  We can’t expect tuition teachers to teach values and build characters.”

Desmond from Kedah believes that parental kiasu attitude contributes to tuition pressures. He sees children getting back from afternoon school at 7.15, then rushing for dinner and bathing before they are packed off to tuition at 7.45. He doesn’t think that such exhausted mind will learn any thing.

“What about exercise and health?  Perhaps parents hope that by the time their children become doctors or rocket scientists, the world would have invented a way to keep the brain working without the need of cumbersome exercises. 

“My wife has been conducting martial arts classes in our neighborhood community center for over 10 years. She gets more and more frustrated with ‘crazy’ parents. Recently, a parent drew a timetable for her son to get a black-belt as he must excel in everything. Even the martial art classes were to be cramped between tuition classes.  The Standard 3 student had slacked slightly in his results so he is given more tuitions. When the child couldn’t cope, the parent asked for a few months off from the martial art classes in order to get his 
A's back!”

Lum knew many friends who set gruelling schedules for their children that include endless tuitions, piano lessons, ballet classes, drawing classes, mental arithmatic, computer lessons and martial art.  These children do not have a break during weekends. “Whether the child is genuinely keen on learning so much is a different matter as most parents send their children to these classes so they are not seen as ‘out-dated’ and they don’t want to lose face. Pathetic it may seem, but a lot of parents use their children's academic performance as a conversation topic. They actually hide behind their children's back - pushing them hard for their own fulfillment.”
Is this tuition mania the fault of parents? 

Several parents who wrote in also complained that tuition classes are gimmicks for teachers to earn extra money. Children who do not go to some teachers’ private tuitions do badly in exams because the exam content are not in the textbooks, instead the teachers teach the content only in their tuitions.  And these content are harder than those in the textbook!

I am reminded of young family members did not do well in their primary school exams until the parents sent them to teachers’ private tuitions to ‘learn the exam questions.’  Children whose parents complained about the tuitions were punished or purposely neglected in class until all the parents learnt this hard fact -- Don’t you dare to complain. 

My parents who are retired teachers feel that some young teachers are different from those in the old days. Making more money is more important to them than enjoying the satisfaction of seeing children learning and growing with values.

A story from the Internet goes like this, “Children are like kites. You spend years trying to get them off the ground….. Finally, they are airborne. They need more string and you keep letting it out…..The kite becomes more distant, and you know it won’t be long before that beautiful creature will snap the lifeline that binds you together and will soar as meant to soar…free and alone.
Only then do you know that you have done your job.”

Have we- parents and teachers - done our best when we burden children with tuitions instead of grooming them to fly like kites?

By Chong Sheau Ching


  1. Hi Ching Ching,

    Enjoyed reading your article. Totally agreed with you. I don’t believe in coaching or tuitions. My 3 kids are doing well on their own merits. Fiona, my eldest who is turning 19 in June 2014, is now studying at University of Technology, Sydney. Terry, my second child who is 17, is in his final year at Sydney Boys High School, which is a selective high school whereby the students have to sit for the Selective High School Tests to be admitted into the school. Lastly, Nicole who is 15 got into the Selective Stream of Moorebank High School, and now is year 10.

    Australia was a very laid back country in education until about 10 years ago when there was an influx of immigrants from countries like Malaysia, Singapore, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

    Keep up the writing.

    Lily Fong from Sydney Australia
    19 February 2014


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