I am glad that the honourable Member for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC and a Senior Counsel no less, has given voice to what many Singaporeans have been whispering about around the island about the education system in Singapore. Among them was the oft heard claim that teachers defer to private tutors to do the teaching ("teach less, learn more"), and even encouraging parents to engage private tutors for their weaker students, if they haven't already. I have even written about it recently, but not with as much authority and plain-ness as the good MP and Senior Counsel. You can't ignore such a person, can you?
Well. the Education Ministry couldn't ignore him and did reply. This was reported by the newspapers. Among other remarks, it stated that
"Teachers should not recommend tuition to students or parents as a form of learning support..."
It was also reported that its teachers do put in the extra hours for weaker pupils, even on a personal level.
"Where helpful and necessary, teachers may also provide individual coaching to such students outside lessons..."
Yah, I cannot help hearing a couple of sniggers around the corner now. What does MOE mean by individual coaching? It is not unheard of that some full time paid MOE teachers moonlight as paid private tutors. And parents seek these people out because they know the syllabus intimately and are considered more able to provide their children with the "right" coaching. How many are there of these? I don't know. Of course I have no proof of this. It is hearsay, but it is powerful and persistent hearsay, as even Mr Hri Kumar has heard it and very appropriately, written about it. And even if I did have proof (and I don't), I cannot divulge it because some people's rice bowls may be broken. I am sure that if this moonlighting thing is true, it involves only a minority. But of course there are those who do this legally. They spend some years in the educational system as teachers, then resign to become private tutors, which is more lucrative. Some even go on to publish school assessment books which parents snap up, making them even more money from the royalties. But lets not go into this subject now. In the main, I believe MOE teachers are committed and hardworking within their schools for their students. But black sheeps give a black name, don't they?
As far as I feel, and probably most other parents do so too, the MOE's reply which denies these rumours or myths enumerated by Mr Kumar, isn't convincing at all. After all, what do you expect? That they will contritely state that they are guilty as charged? What is needed are not mere words but action that demonstrates unequivocally that these are indeed myths, or if they are not, to put their foot down and stop this shameful behaviour. It is going to be a real challenge. Myths don't go away easily. After all, some myths have lasted for centuries. And the reason for their longevity is that nobody has put the foot down authoritatively to debunk the stories, or admit that the myths are no myths but facts. Anyway, some myths add colour to life. The longer hearsay stories linger, the greater the possibility of them developing into ones of mythological proportions. Myths have a way of propagating themselves. People like a good story. They love myths, never mind if there isn't any truth in them, or not.
I thank Mr Hri Kumar for doing his part in helping parents and their children seek clarification.
The ball is on MOE's court now. But judging by its response so far, it is going to be a long night. True or false. The myth persists.
See also Todayonline report.