Here’s What They Don’t Tell You About Private Home Tutoring In S’pore

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As anyone who’s grown up in the education system here knows, Singaporean parents are willing to pay a premium for private home tuition – in the hopes of ensuring their children don’t lose out in school.

Other parents, who know their children are already up to speed with the class, seek home tuition as a stepping stone to keep their children ahead of the game.

With an industry as booming as private tuition, many see it as an opportunity to make “big bucks” quicker than average.

Having said that, private home tuition pays better than other hourly-rated part time jobs – even students awaiting university are able to take these jobs on, tutoring at the primary and secondary levels.

For a trained educator, the rates increase even higher. To add, teaching students taking their national exams comes with increased obligations to some extent, but with great responsibility comes great reward – teaching students of these levels command higher pay rates.

I know someone who preferred to take on O-level and A-level students for this reason.

With this curiosity, and as an NIE-trained former educator myself, I set out to find out if this was true – here’s what they don’t tell you!

Parental Expectations 

I’m not talking about the parents’ expectations for the tutor to “miraculously” turn their child’s grades around in an unrealistically short amount of time – although I understand that is also a common phenomenon home tutors face.

Instead, I’m referring to the academic or experiential expectations the parents have of the potential tutor – which can often feel like parents are expecting a quick fix that guarantees results, but who may not be willing to pay for it.

In this light, applying for private home tutoring assignments can feel like being put through a customizable DIY mechanism of sorts – it isn’t solely about the ability to help a child improve anymore – bonus points if you have copious amounts of experience, hold high academic qualifications, and have good grades in primary and secondary school.

Sometimes, coming from an elite alma mater helps too!

I caveat: I say these only because these are what I’ve seen first-hand in assignment descriptions themselves. At the same time, it isn’t fair to paint every parent with the same broad strokes – this is not intended in that light; it is intended to highlight the spectrum of extremes one might encounter.

I’ve also been asked for my PSLE grades and T-score prior to assignments – disregarding the fact that the syllabus has changed multiple times since, and I’ve completed a Diploma in Education by now.

Last-minute assignment cancellations

Even if, or when, you get an assignment – that is not a guaranteed ticket to a supposed opportunity to earn more, within a shorter time frame.

Behold – the last-minute assignment cancellations.

I’d been notified of an assignment, which I declined to reply as it was unlikely I could fit it into my existing schedule.

Nonetheless, the coordinator texted me again, asking me if I was able to take it on, even informing me that the parent would be adjusting her schedule to fit mine. Although this took me by surprise, I didn’t mind – it seemed that the parent was keen, and I didn’t have to make any adjustments on my side.

We confirmed the details of the assignment soon after, with the coordinator sending us both the full details of the assignment – frequency, start date, and agreed tuition fee rate.

Owing to one prior last minute cancellation, I reminded myself not to prepare too early – but only purchase the necessary resource material closer to the date, lest it happen again.

At the same time, I reminded myself not to let one prior experience define an outcome which was yet to come to pass. I tried to remain both hopeful and realistic, but having this happen to me twice in a row also made me cautious.

“Doing” your tutee’s homework 

I’m not a fan of this, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do when you’re paid to do it. Once, I tutored someone who had a range of her own assessment books and papers, which I’d guide her for if she didn’t have any school work she needed help in.

At times, she’d point to certain pieces of work with greater urgency, prioritising these over the rest – it turns out these were for her group tuition the next day.

I can understand where the intention comes from – perhaps the difficulty of the assignment exceeds what the child is ready to independently complete.

This, when combined with the need to turn in the assignment or risk getting scolded, might lead pupils to “outsource” their group tuition homework for their private home tutors to complete – and vice versa.

Nonetheless, in situations like this, I can’t help wondering: if a pupil’s home tutor is the one teaching him or her how to do his or her group tuition homework (or vice versa), what new knowledge is the pupil internalising for himself (or herself)?

Perhaps this also speaks of the mindset of pupils in Singapore schools today: they would rather turn in completed and error-free homework, than to speak up that they have not fully understood the subject matter yet.

Despite having encountered this first-hand, I don’t have a definite solution yet. I suspect I’m not alone in this, though – it is worth thinking how you’d approach the situation if you should encounter this too!

Author’s disclaimer: private home tutoring isn’t just about earning money. Of course, a sincere heart to help pupils is essential, as is the mastery of the subject you are intending to teach.

Given how the sector is being portrayed in the public eye – especially when people tend to view this form of employment in rose-tinted lenses – this article is intended to paint a more accurate picture of reality, for prospective home tutors to know what they might be getting into when they take on their first home tuition assignment.