It’s only after my son is on an even keel in Maths that I start wondering about the ethics of tuition. Is it fair to pay for tuition when there are people who cannot afford it? They are also likely to be the ones least able to coach their children themselves. With unskilled manual jobs increasingly automated, the poor and uneducated (especially males) end up locked in a hopeless cycle of destitution. How can their children keep up with peers who have access to expensive tutors and resources? By playing the game, am I contributing to perpetuating inequality? Luckily, in Singapore cheap tuitions are available to citizens in community centres and, considering that my son risks failing his exams, I feel justified to pay for extra help.
The matter would be different if he was going to those summer tuition classes in which kids are given a head start on the topics the class teacher will cover in the following year. Now, that would be downright kiasu (Hokkien word for pushy, competitive behaviour, literally ‘afraid to lose out’) and unfair on schools, which end up having to cater for bored students who have already studied the entire year’s worth of new topics at the tuition centre. Then class teachers, already laden with 40+ students, might end up increasingly relying on private tutors to fill in any gaps in students’ understanding, and here’s a vicious circle. Also, shouldn’t kids spend their holidays enjoying new (non-academic) experiences ( and I don’t only think of foreign travel: for many kids in Singapore – where many people have a full time domestic helper – house chores and cooking are new experiences).
Bombarded by messages about the increasing cost of living, the global competition for jobs, the decline in the numbers of blue-collar jobs and the importance of education, it’s no wonder that we parents worry about our children’s future financial independence and become competitive. With university places in high demand and limited supply, each child’s classmate, friend and even cousin, becomes her adversary, together with millions of peers all over the world.
Yes, we must encourage them to study to develop their talents so that one day they’ll be able to use them in the service of others. Yes, we are responsible for nurturing the intellectual gifts and abilities that have been entrusted to them. Intelligence, skills and knowledge are precious and useful to humanity and we’re certainly not meant to live a lazy and self-indulgent existence. But that doesn’t mean that we should strive to outdo others and pursue top places, prestige and money at others’ expense.
Continues in next blog post (uploaded on Thursday 4 May)…
Stefania is a wife, mother of three and a writer. She’s just returned from spending a few years in Singapore with her family. Stefania’s serious work is on her website: www.stefaniahartley.com but the fun stuff is in her blog: A Sicilian Mama’s Unsolicited Advice for Young Women. Follow her on Twitter @TheSicilianMama