Is Tuition Necessary for My Child? How Do I Know if a Tutor is Good?

Photo courtesy of Pexels

After the year-end exams, you may be wondering if your child needs a tutor. Sometimes, the signs are clear — for instance, your child is failing a subject, or your child’s teacher has suggested that you ramp up efforts at home. 

In a Straits Times survey conducted several years ago, “better school grades” was cited as the top reason to pay for tuition classes, while the second most common reason was to help children “keep up with their peers.” In popular schools, it’s typical to hear that many of your child’s classmates have tutoring in at least one subject. Your child’s schoolmates may also be a common sight at nearby enrichment schools. 

In some cases, tuition is a security blanket, especially if your child is facing a milestone exam like the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). Parents may be too busy to supervise their child’s progress in school, and if one can afford it, it’s much easier to hand this responsibility over to a tutor, who will be familiar with the school syllabus. Attempting to tutor one’s child may also be detrimental to the parent-child relationship, and some parents pay for tutoring primarily to preserve harmony at home.

Here are some questions that you can reflect on, to decide if your child truly needs tuition:

  • What is your child’s biggest challenge in school — is it poor concentration, reading and comprehension issues, or test anxiety? How do you think tuition can address this issue?
  • Has your child’s teacher suggested that extra support is needed?
  • Does your child need to be tested for learning needs?
  • Does your child actually want to work with a tutor?
  • Would your child benefit most from tutoring? Or would coaching/counselling help more? (Read our guide on this.)

Think that tuition is the best way forward? Read on to find out how to pick the best tutor for your child!

How To Choose a Good Tutor in Singapore

Should you hire an experienced or ‘star’ tutor? Most parents would assume that this is the logical option. The biggest advantage of hiring an experienced tutor is familiarity with our local exams. They’ve seen enough questions to know which topics are significant, and they know how answers should be structured in order to gain the maximum marks.

However, experienced tutors come at a price (S$60 per hour and up, at primary school levels), especially if they guarantee results with ‘proven’ methods. It’s no surprise that wealthier parents will tend to prefer the so-called top tutors, who not only have experience teaching at brand-name schools, but are also armed with knowledge about effective teaching and learning methods. 

Alternatively, there are full-time teachers in Ministry of Education (MOE) schools, who take up tutoring as a side gig. There are also tutors who have taught for many years but are not ‘MOE-trained,’ meaning that they have never taught full-time in our local schools, and don’t have a local teaching qualification. The rates for these tutors may be more affordable (S$40 to S$50 per hour for primary school levels), but not all experienced tutors may be able to meet your child’s needs. For instance, some may be more accustomed to teaching lower-ability kids, and there may be a mismatch of expectations regarding ‘good’ grades. 

If you have budget constraints, you can consider hiring a less experienced tutor (who may charge S$25 to S$30 per hour at primary school levels), such as a university student, who may only have taught a handful of students before — or your child could even be the first. The tutor will likely not be familiar with the subject syllabus, exam paper formats, and what constitutes a ‘full’ answer for exam questions. However, younger tutors may find it easier to build rapport with children, and if they are students themselves, they can be youth mentors and pass on helpful advice about all things related to learning.

To support your inexperienced tutor, help him/her to gather materials and structure the tutoring session. You can decide which topic your tutor should focus on, provide relevant notes, and, especially for science, look for assessment books that feature a step-by-step question answering framework, which your tutor can use. 

When assessing a tutor, many parents focus solely on the results that a tutor has ‘produced.’ However, it may be wiser to ask about the rate of improvement for students in the previous year (if a tutor has taught before). Some tutors take in students with learning needs, or students without a supportive home learning environment. They do the best that they can, during the limited time that they spend with these children. Such tutors tend to be more heart-driven than business-driven — and you do want to hire someone who will genuinely care for your child.

Here are some other questions to ask when meeting a tutor for the first time:

  • If my child is unable to understand your explanation or repeats the same mistakes, what will you do? (See if your tutor has a backup plan or can cite a similar experience where such a challenge was resolved.)
  • If my child finds a task daunting — e.g. completing a homework assignment or memorising a passage — what advice will you give? (Good tutors will suggest breaking up an assignment into more manageable parts.)
  • How will you help my child to set goals, with a step-by-step plan for improvement? (This will help you to gauge if a tutor’s approach to goal setting is aligned with yours.)
  • Are you comfortable dealing with introverted children? How will you break the ice with my child? (Some kids take a long time to warm up to a tutor, so a tutor’s ability to build rapport will become essential.)

Spot the Signs of a Bad or Ineffective Tutor

When should you let go of a tutor? A clear-cut situation is that your child is failing a subject despite having been tutored for a year or longer. Other red flags include frequent lesson cancellations or unprofessional behaviours during the lesson, such as constantly checking one’s phone. 

But very often, the signs that a tutor might not be working out are far more subtle. For instance, if you have more than one child, you could find that a tutor who worked well with your eldest child may not be as good a fit for your younger children, because of differences in the children’s aptitude and learning dispositions. 

How will you know that it might be time to switch tutors? Here are some signs to look out for:

  • Your tutor is giving feedback week after week that your child is making the ‘same’ mistakes, without a plan to address this.
  • Your tutor uses insensitive language when talking about your child’s progress, e.g. saying that your child “did badly” on a practice test.
  • Your tutor doesn’t seem to be a subject expert. For instance, if you find that an English tutor misuses big words or provides materials that are riddled with typos, that would be cause for concern.
  • Your tutor overloads your child with homework, without considering your child’s weekly schedule.
  • Your tutor doesn’t seem to have a broader learning plan for your child, beyond supplying practice questions. (This is especially important for language learning.)
  • Your second language tutor doesn’t speak English, which makes communication with your child more tricky.
  • Your child dreads lessons and has to be cajoled to attend each session.

It’s never pleasant to let a tutor go, but right after the year-end exams is a good time to cut ties in a diplomatic manner. You can simply say that your child’s results were not up to par, and a fresh approach may be needed. Thank your child’s tutor for the time and effort, and close the relationship on an amicable note. When hiring a new tutor, be upfront that you may reassess your options every six or 12 months — or based on your child’s feedback — so that it’s easier to have the termination conversation if needed.

Want to chat with Singapore parents about tuition? Find a suitable conversation to join in our KSP forum, or start your own!