If any word could cause a fierce debate among parents, it is the word “tuition”. One camp thinks that tuition is a necessity in order for their child to succeed, whereas another camp may promote the benefits of a childhood without the additional stress of tuition.

As a former tutor with 12 years of experience (I’ve since retired from tuition to focus on other pursuits), I believe that there is no right or wrong perception of tuition as it means different things to different parents. However, the intent of choosing tuition will determine the impact of it on a child’s results and behaviour.

Intent #1: My child needs to improve in a certain subject


If your child is failing or performing below what he can achieve, and he is unable to obtain additional guidance from his teachers after class, tuition can help to identify his weak points and to strengthen his understanding of the subject.

Tip: Speak to the tutor to find out how tuition sessions are carried out. A good tutor should be able to explain how he plans to identify weak areas and develop teaching strategies to help your child grasp the difficult concept. He should also test your child with questions that are specific to the concept to ensure that your child really understands how to solve similar problems in the future. A bad tutor will simply ask your child to spend time doing every single question (even those he doesn’t need help in), mark, repeat the answer scheme, and call it a day.

Intent #2: My child isn’t getting full marks so he needs tuition

It is normal for children not to score 100 per cent every time. If your child is already scoring within the top band, there are probably better things he can do with his time (like enjoy these 15 fun nature activities in Singapore) than chasing the last few marks.

Tip: Your child is probably pretty self-motivated at this point. Ask him to count the number of careless marks he lost and work on reducing this number instead.

Intent #3: I need to fill my child’s time meaningfully


There are tutors who help to expand your child’s understanding of the subject beyond what is taught in schools. In my previous job at a tuition centre, we set aside segments during classes to delve into the meaning of why the students had to learn a particular concept. For example, we would discuss questions like: What is the practical use of trigonometry in constructing buildings? How do you apply known chemical reactions to solve everyday problems?

Tip: A good tutor researches and develops his own learning material on top of the national curriculum to broaden your child’s knowledge and perspective and relate it to real-life situations.

Intent #4: My child doesn’t have the discipline to finish his homework, hence I need a tutor to make sure he does


As parents work longer hours and there aren’t enough full-time caregivers at home, some children may not be motivated enough to complete their homework on time. Tuition is a convenient way to keep your child occupied doing a productive task and prevent incessant calls from his school teacher, but it is not a cure-all.

Tip: A good tutor finds ways to motivate your child to revise even the most boring topic. He does this by using a balanced mix of positive consequences (rewards, labelled praise) and negative consequences (negative feedback to parents, removing privileges). As parents, it is useful to have regular feedback sessions with the tutor to understand what motivates your child, and jointly enforce similar penalties should your child fail to do what he has promised.

Intent #5: I have trouble communicating with my child when it comes to his studies, hence a tutor is a useful intermediary


This is a common headache especially for parents with teenagers, who seem to listen to everyone else except their parents.

Tip: A good tutor makes the effort to understand your child’s concerns and give good advice on how to tackle it. He plays the role of a sounding board and mediator or translator between the child and parents.

In my previous experience, my students confided in me on issues regarding self-esteem, family relationships, loss of friends or clique, the stress of juggling multiple responsibilities, fear of failure, uncertainty over future job ambitions, and even little nasty events that just spoilt their day.

Many students wanted an active listener who could empathise with their feelings instead of judging them or immediately prescribing a solution. Some hoped I could communicate to their parents to lay off the nagging and give them space. All of them wanted a friend they could count on when they didn’t know who else to turn to. It is useful for parents to get feedback from tutors on how they can better help their own child too.

Tuition should not be a default

There are many negative connotations to the word ‘tuition’, because it is not used effectively to help the child improve in critical areas (including life skills). Parents should not outsource too much responsibility to tutors, but have regular dialogues with both their child and the tutor on the usefulness of continuing the tuition sessions.

It is okay to change tutors and even stop tuition if your child is not responding well. Ultimately tuition should contribute to the well-being of your child and not be treated as the default mode of ensuring your child’s future.