Since its independence in 1965, education has always been a strong area of focus for Singapore. A country that lacks in natural resources, it has built its knowledge-based economy by developing its human resources.
The past two decades have seen some considerable success in the Singaporean schooling system. The small Asian country with a population of just under 6 million, put a lot of energy, focus and resource on its education system as a means of developing its economy and improving living standards for all. As a result, total literacy is 97.2% and Singapore has consistently been in the top two for PISA tests, with Singaporean teenagers coming top in tests in reading, maths, and science since 2015.
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) education director Andreas Schleicher said of Singapore that they were “not only doing well but getting further ahead.” When Michael Gove was the Education Secretary in the UK, he described Singaporean education as “world-leading”. However, all is not as well as it seems for third most densely populated country in the world.
Private tuition is big business in Singapore. A poll in 2008 showed that 97% of students interviewed were receiving some form of tuition. In 2010 there were 540 tuition centers offering private tuition in Singapore, eight years later, this number is thought to have nearly tripled. Established centers such as JC economics tuition Singapore report record applications from students that attend tuition classes to improve their academic performances.
However, the highly lucrative private tuition industry is not without its problems and its criticisms. Reports of private tutors doing school children’s homework have been widespread over the years, but recently, one scandal appears to have rocked the world of private tuition.
Tutor Pleads Guilty to 27 Charges of Cheating
A Singaporean tutor, Tan Jia Yan admitted in court to aiding six Chinese students to cheat on the exams. The 32-year-old pleaded guilty to 27 charges of cheating and could face up to three years in prison.
Prosecutors in the trial described the “cheating operations” as “highly sophisticated.”Ms. Tan and three accomplices helped six students paying up to $10,000 each, to cheat in their exams with the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board.
Tan Jia Yan as a private candidate, sat the O-Level tests, facetiming questions to at least three accomplices who would then call the students also taking the exam, to give them the correct answers.
The cheating scandal has brought the private tuition culture in Singapore into the spotlight. There have been criticisms that such a reliance on private tuition is preventing students from trying to find answers by themselves. There have also been criticisms that private tuition is taking up too much free time for teenagers, and not giving them a ‘normal’ teenage life.
Whether the criticisms are right or wrong is hard to answer. Yet the facts speak for themselves. Singaporean education is one of the best in the world and the drive for excellence is pushing its children considerably further ahead than other more developed countries. From a results point of view, the private tuition culture clearly works, but at what cost? Are students missing out on their youth? Is the ‘pass-at-all-costs’ environment breeding a cheating culture? Only time will tell, but there does need to be some changes. At the moment, anyone can be a private tutor; there is no regulation whatsoever, something which will probably change in the near future and needed too.
Singapore is an intriguing and innovating country, just over half a century old. Its foundation is its education system. Its results are the envy of the world, but if that is to continue, it must have a long hard look at itself and the damage its relentless focus on educational excellence is causing.
Ben Myers is an experienced freelance journalist, writer, and nomad. Much-traveled, Ben originates from the UK, enjoys spending time with his family, trading the markets, the crypto world and soccer, although not necessarily in that order.