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Managing Study Stress in Singapore Schools: How Tuition Helps

Posted on: 20 Jul 2018

            Discussions about education in Singapore invariably brings up the issue of tuition and its impact on students in Singapore. Some have asserted that tuition creates stress for students. Whereas there is certainly a great amount of pressure in Singapore’s education system, the rise of the tuition industry is really a result rather than the source of stress. Removing tuition from the system really does not eliminate study stress. In some cases, tuition can help students cope better with stress. This article provides some reflections about the sources of stress in Singapore’s education system, and how a learner-centred tuition programme actually promotes learning and benefits children.

            Stress is often caused by unrealistically high expectations. Expectations come from different sources and during different stages in life. They progressively intensify with age, so expectations on a child playing basketball in his neighbourhood are much lower than those for a professional basketball player. For a child in school, expectations can come from parents, teachers, peers and self. Yet having expectation is not a problem in itself. In fact, highly successful people set goals and aim to achieve highly challenging goals. Expectations become problematic when they are unrealistically high. When Primary school pupils are asked to solve Secondary school-level Mathematics questions, they begin to feel that the goal is out of reach. Not all pupils have the same reach; sometimes a few among them can manage challenging Math problems better than others. But when an unattainable goal becomes the minimum acceptable standard, stress sets in.

Teachers who practise sound pedagogy are aware that motivation is a function of providing an optimal level of challenge based on the current knowledge and level of readiness of the learner. Expectations need to be calibrated high enough to motivate learners, but not overwhelm them. Pitching a task too high or low frustrates the child, who becomes unmotivated. In a class of 30 to 40 students in the Singapore school system, there is bound to be a range of differences in levels of ability and readiness. How do teachers cater to the particular needs of their students and meet them where they are? The best teachers adopt differentiated teaching strategies that cater to different ability groups in their classes. The reality, though, is that too few teachers practise this…to the detriment of their young charges. It gets worse when students are ill-prepared for assessment standards set by their schools. Whether they are ready or not, standardised examinations have become termly occurrences that inflict stress on schoolchildren.

Tuition classes that are often conducted in small groups of less than 10 enable pupils to learn at their current levels of readiness. With a small class-size, teachers at tuition centres can cater to the individual needs of their pupils and give specific feedback for the child to improve. School teachers can and hope to give this level of attention as well, but large class-sizes overwhelm the most passionate teachers. They give up after a while or risk burning out. Small class-sizes also reduce the behavioural issues that occasionally disrupt the flow of teaching and learning in a classroom. With less distractions, pupils learn better in tuition classes.

There are more than 600 tuition centres and uncountable private tutors in Singapore. When a tuition agency matches a tutor with pupils looking for home tuition, the one-to-one attention can be very effective. Despite discussions among policymakers to eliminate tuition in Singapore, there has been no compelling reason to do so. Keeping an open mind helps to identify the strengths of a robust tuition programme, allowing children to benefit from them. At Cognitus Academy, our English and General Paper (GP) tuition classes are capped at 8 pupils so that there can be deeper engagement between teacher and pupils, as well as among pupils in class. Cognitus Academy also emphasises the development of critical thinking and cultivate values that promote lifelong learning. Because pupils at Cognitus feel a sense of ownership in their learning, they excel in their academic work and become world-ready citizens.

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