I started teaching in a government school in 1995. After a couple of years, I felt that there was something wrong with our education system and I knew if I had stayed on with the job for a few more years, I would become too afraid to leave the stable job. Anyway, I left the service and started my own tuition centre in Ang Mo Kio. Although I had the freedom to craft my lessons the way I wanted to, at that time, I felt I was stuck in a myopic education system and a debilitating education culture.
So what happened? The idealist I was, I left the tuition industry, even with my Comprehension books selling well and strangers contacting me for tuition services. “No,” I told myself, “real education cannot be found in tuition centres and our National schools.” I left the tuition industry and became involved in so many other facets of the education industry that, on hindsight, I see it as a special crash course on education in the 21st century which lasted a full decade. It was only after I experienced this insightful journey that my sight became clearer and I realised that our National schools are indeed good schools generally. We may have a lot to improve at, but compared to our neighbouring countries, our schools stand high. Our schools are amongst the best equipped and our teachers are amongst the best trained in Southeast Asia.
Though this may be true, there are many, many things we Singaporeans have missed. But I have learnt through the years some wisdom; one of the realizations is that our country can only be transformed top-down. Since I am a bottom-up person, I do not envision the day I will be able to revolutionise the education system in Singapore with the new insights I have gained in the last 2 decades. So I am not even going to try. However, I have set myself a simple goal for me to achieve in Singapore. Transformative education. Transformative learning can take place anywhere – in schools, tuition centres, universities and at home. That is what I offer with my tuition services – a positive, transformative experience for my tuition students.
What do I mean? Well, let’s be frank. There is so much of money to be made from the tuition industry. I can see many centres propagating this and that about their tuition services to clients who perhaps do not need tuition at all. This was an aspect of the industry that turned me away from doing tuition some time ago. I was disgusted by it and could not bring myself to teach anymore just for money. A couple of times I tried to return to the tuition industry but I could not convince myself that I was genuinely doing a good thing.
The changes to how I viewed the tuition industry came a little at a time until I became fully convinced that I did such a foolish thing to have avoided it for so long. In fact, I now believe that God has ordained it for me and it is I who have been a fool to run away from it for so long. However, I sincerely that the adventures I had gone on in the education world was a necessary for me, and so, I don’t feel so foolish after all. Had I not taken a detour, I would not have been enlightened about the state of education in our world.
There are many students that I have met, taught and some I had even turned away in the last 2 decades who were in true need of tuition services, individual or group. In my view, these are real clients of the tuition industry. It baffles me how some centres can charge exorbitant fees to A-scoring students so that they follow a tuition programme which guarantees they do not slacken in their grades. (They are no guarantees, my friends.) What about the thousands of students who are weak academically, failing miserably at their tests and believing that they are not intelligent? What about them, you may ask. Well, tuition providers should concentrate the weak ones and not good ones. Of course, people can argue otherwise. So to each his own.
I have long known that weak students face a difficult journey. Few people empathise with them on the invisible hurdles and negative mindsets they have to overcome. These students are the ones I love tutoring most. They give me the most satisfaction in tutoring. And so, when some centres reject them because they perform too poorly, I embrace them with enthusiasm. It is my hope to tutor as many of such students as possible for the next 2 decades, God willing.