[Been There Done That]

by Celeste Chia (BTDT Columnist)

Tuition is very lucrative, especially for graduates fresh out of JC and looking to make some money before university. Yet, I can never bring myself to be a tuition teacher.

I think a lot about what tuition represents. Today, tuition to panicky students isn’t merely supplementing what is taught in school. Faith in public education is declining, unless you have an inspiring teacher like I did. Students who have been consistently scoring Ds and Es turn to tuition as a last effort to pull it up to at least a B for the final exams. Immense hope and trust is placed in you. I’d feel so personally responsible for the students and I don’t think I can ever boldly make money out of such expectations.

And how about the parents? What is their financial background like? Last year, I had a life-changing experience when I substituted my friend as a tuition teacher for 2 weeks whilst she was away on holiday. She charged her student $60 per lesson. I got a rude shock when I went to the tutee’s house; her house was right out of those reality TV shows where “humanitarian” celebrities swoop in and give the struggling poor family a house makeover. It was located in one of the oldest housing estates in Singapore (in fact, my mother lived there when she was a kid), the interior was cluttered with old mattresses and the air musky, and I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a few rodents scuttering around the floor. At the end of the lesson, I felt absolutely terrible when the 18-year old’s 60+year-old mother (not your conventional nuclear family) paid me the fees, the $50 note aged and crumpled. My immediate instinct was to reject it- I didn’t think my 2hours were worth that amount, but it would make for an awkward situation when my friend came back and picked up from where I left off.

I don’t proclaim myself to stand on a moral high ground, but I find it disturbing when some acquaintances of mine make tuition all about the money. One of them told me she was giving GP tuition upon graduation from school (she scored a B for GP in the end), charging her tutee about $70/ lesson. She then bemoaned about not charging higher fees, stating “the market rate is $80/ lesson!”. Looking at the economic value of the money received with respect to the time “expertise” conferred onto her tutee, I find it highly unequal.

To her, that $70 would most likely fund her everyday social activities- heading out for movies, to clubs, hanging out with friends over supper. (she’s not one of those needy people who work to pay off university fees or to alleviate her parent’s financial burden) But to the tutee, the $70 means a lot more: the hope that her GP grades would be pulled up satisfactorily. A sense of assurance and dependence rests on this one female.

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