As an independent platform for commercial education services in Singapore, we have seen many discussions on various service providers. The happy customers sing praises, the unhappy ones rage and swear, while the skeptics would raise an eyebrow now and then as they critically assess the comments and tear them down as biased or irrelevant. Yes, critical reviews are fun to write and read.
Occasionally, we do come across some educators who stand out of the crowd, and yet remain hidden, because it is not in the nature of these truly good educators to actively promote themselves. Education is about changing people’s lives, to find ways to empower and encourage students to challenge their limits. Each step taken by their students, no matter how small, is significant progress in the eyes of these passionate educators.
Finding these educators in our midst is a breath of fresh air, a testimony that despite the pragmatism that permeates Singapore’s early education scene, there are educators who are in the business not solely for the purpose of making money, fame or fortune. For these educators, the returns on investment of their hardwork in teaching students is not measured by the number of “A*”s scored by their students, but by the change they have made to their students’ view and attitudes towards the subject they teach.
How many times have we heard of supposedly premium private teaching centres assessing their students before taking them on as customers? Ostensibly, this is to “save money” for parents so that they do not “waste” money on children who have “no hope” of doing well in exams. In truth, this is to maintain the “high standards” of the centres, so that they can continue to publish and proclaim that their services have resulted in a large number of A*s. Is this education? Or is it just business?
I had the good fortune to meet and interact with the founder of Molin at Katong. As I spoke with her, I came to understand the real meaning of being an educator.
As a grandmother, she remained as spritely, passionate and true to her role as a teacher to promote and help her students in gaining competency in Chinese, regardless of how proficient they may be before attending her classes. She does not care that taking in non-Chinese students would affect the overall academic results of her school, even when these students have been rejected by many other providers.
As a young teacher, she gave up her teaching job to look after her sick mother herself when she found out that her care-taker had been secretly mistreating the old lady. Unfortunately, within a couple of months, her mother passed away, and she was left with no other option but to use her skills to tutor children just to get by. As she took on more assignments, her reputation as a passionate teacher grew through word-of-mouth, and she started a tuition centre with a single classroom. After slogging for many years, Molin now has facilities for 18 classrooms and with a constant stream of children coming in to learn Chinese, some as early as 4 years old.
I have never seen a single advertisement for Molin on any medium, and the reason was simple. It has never placed any advertisment for its services. The centre basically lives by the principle that the only people it needs to convince about its effectiveness are the parents who are currently its customers. Word-of-mouth would do the rest. I must say that this is certainly true. I heard of Molin from my wife who heard about it from chatting with our neighbour whose kid is in the same school as our own… it is definitely promoted by raving parents who have seen the passion and sincerity of the teachers who were personally trained by the Principal to adopt the exacting standards that she impose on herself. Around the Marine Parade and Katong area, the centre is perhaps the best known secret, and extremely popular with students from Tao Nan, Kong Hwa, Ngee Ann, etc. The small road besides the school gets choked up with cars at the start and end of each session of lessons.
How on earth does a service reach such popularity without a marketing engine behind it? The Principal simply attributes it to her principle of treating students in the exact same manner as she would treat her own children. When kids are naughty, she would punish them without reservation, because she is concerned that they grow up as well-behaved individuals. And as a “mother”, she would love and accept her students as they are, without ridiculing their accomplishments or abilities. She has an overriding wish to see them improve and build up their character with Chinese morals of felial piety, honesty, and hard work.
The demand for early-childhood education in response to the highly competitive Primary school education we have here in Singapore has led to educators joining the industry primarily to make good money, and often milking on the innate fears and hopes of us KiasuParents. For a tidy sum, they offer to “prepare” our children to get into GEP, to “motivate” them as cheer leaders, or to score As for their examinations.
When was the last time we have heard about tutors giving free tuition to the needy? I was amazed when Molin made my son and his classmates attend extra lessons at no extra charge in order prepare them for PSLE oral and written examinations. I have never encounted any other service provider who does this without prompting. Yet despite this, there are some parents who would make a scene when they couldn’t come for the free lessons, annoyed at the fact that their own children is “losing out” on the lessons! If educators are prepared to give their time and effort, we parents should not take this for granted.
This is not an article to promote a tuition centre. Nor is this an article to glorify a person. Rather, my intention of writing this article is to bemoan the dearth of educators the likes of the Principal of Molin in our country today, and how it is so difficult to find private tuition centres that operate in such ways.