The Singapore education system has been a subject of discussion lately. And no, I am not referring to the initiatives proposed by the Government through PM Lee's National Day Rally speech. Rather it has more to do with the cost of education. For some time now, parents have been engaging private tutors for their children. I don't know how many subjects, on average, that their children gets help from private tutors. If my experience is anything to go by, its probably between 2 and 5 subjects. The tuition industry, if one can call it that, is reportedly worth about $182 million per annum, not exactly small potatoes for a service that once used to be on the peripherally - for the really desperate, and for those whose parents have the aspirations for their children to gain admission to the top-top schools in Singapore.
Compared to private schools, such as those run by and for expatriates, the cost to Singapore citizens being schooled is really low. There are no school fees for the first 6 years of primary education - public education is free for citizens of Singapore. Students only have to pay a monthly supplementary fee of S$5.50, plus an additional S$5.50 discretionary fees. In the 4-5 years of Secondary School, fees are subsidized so much so that a student only pays S$5.00 a month - less than the price of a McDonald's meal, plus $8.00 supplementary fees and another S$8.00 discretionary fees. Yet when you add in the additional costs of private tuition, I daresay that education in Singapore is not all that free. In fact, the cost approaches half, if not more, of the monthly school fees that the expatriates among us pay for their children's education (about S$2,000 a month).
As so many who have written in to the newspapers recently on the issue of private tuition, this cost is not really discretionary. Yes, you can choose not to spend the money and see your otherwise brilliant child suffer the ignominy of being placed perennially in the bottom half of the class, or you can bite the bullet the spend the money in order to rescue your young child's morale and self-esteem. Is there any question what most parents must do? It is sad, no, it is a tragedy. Our schools are no longer the great leveler it used to be. Now those who have the means can ensure that their children move ahead, over and above others, educationally, at the expense of those less well-off. It is no longer a matter of whether one has the grey matter that matters. It is now loaded against those who cannot afford private tuition, or those who stubbornly DO NOT believe in private tuition for the reason that they believe the schools should have covered the bases. Education is free, isn't it? The schools provide equal education and instruction for every child, don't they? Private tuition is meant for the weaker students, right? Well, as many parents in Singapore now realize, this is a fallacy only the people in the Ministry of Education believe in.
How did we ever get to here, anyhow?