Tuitioned Out

Education Malaysia recently published some articles related to tuition in Malaysia – how an average of RM4 billion per year is spent on tuition, and the general trend of tuition in Malaysia.

Definition: “Tuition” in Malaysia refers to extra classes taken after school for various subjects, usually those tested in major national exams. This can vary from one-on-one tutoring to actual tuition schools. It’s pronounced as “tuyshen” here (even if the correct pronounciation is closer to “tu-i-tion”) and is optional (but common) in most places.

Often, instead of going over the material thoroughly in class, things get taught very quickly and the students are told to attend extra tuition after school for more information. (In my school these classes were made compulsory for the most part.) Sometimes students are put down for not attending tuition (whether they wanted to or not). As a personal example:

In Forms 4 & 5 I was in the Literature class – the last class. I went there by choice; most of my classmates went there because their PMR grades were apparently not up to par. Before the SPM (O-Levels), they made after-school tuition classes compulsory for Bumiputeras (plus me). I came for a few classes, saw nothing happening, and stopped going. A few months later, one of the administrators came to our class and tried to compare our tuition attendence to our mid-year grades. Grades were pretty similar (low) for everyone else though she picked on those who, like me, skipped the tuition classes. She then got to me and noticed that I was top of the class and had better grades then everyone. She looked at me and said that my grades would be so much higher – if I came to those tuition classes.

That just reinforced my beliefs that the classes were pretty much useless. They weren’t interested in how you were learning the material; you don’t come to class, you are stupid.

When I was at school, I did take some tuition classes – a couple of months’ Bahasa Melayu (Malay Language) tutored by a friend of my father’s in primary school, as well as various extra classes provided by my secondary school – compulsory to “Bumiputeras” and unaccessible to the rest. (as explained above)

(Technically I’m not a Bumiputera since I’m not Malay and not a citizen, but being legally Muslim I got slotted in anyway. And our Maths teacher wanted it to be open to all, so she didn’t really care who registered as long as they showed up.)

I’ve never been to an actual tuition centre, and whenever I got the chance to skip out of those “compulsory” classes at school, I did. I still did pretty decently. (And my SPM grades never did matter anyway, so it’s a moot point.) I learnt things on my own; reading, going online, watching TV, talking to people. I didn’t need tuition classes; I had a world of information around me.

There is some value in tuition classes – if you’re really interested in learning the material, or if you’re genuinely struggling and would like some help. However, the current approach to tuition is fundamentally flawed.

  • As mentioned earlier, teachers would opt not to teach the material in class properly because they expect everyone to come to the tuition class anyway. This is deliberately witholding information and knowledge for some other purpose (usually money) and is unfair for those who can’t afford, or don’t want to go to tuition.
  • Current tuition classes are less about learning the subject and more about “how to butter up the examiners by answering questions in such a way that they will give you higher marks”. Students get sent to tuition to find out exam “tips”, figure out what chapters to read, ignore the rest. Surely if you’ve properly learnt and understood the material, you don’t need to rely on tips and will be able to answer anyhow?
  • Related to tips – tuition classes emphasize memorizing random information, instead of thinking critically and working out answers and solutions. No one’s really learning things; they’re just being spoonfed informationt that will be forgotten after the paper is handed in. Wht’s being learnt here?
  • Most tuition centres/classes focus on subjects such as Maths and Science, with very few for Art and Literature. Sure, there are plenty of creative classes around (yay for them!) but they’re rarely taken as seriously (except, perhaps, for Music). If it doesn’t make a big difference to your exam grades, it doesn’t matter. (Heck, try finding a tuition centre that teaches something not in the examination!)

In the mad rush for grades and scores and tips, people – students, teachers, parents, whoever – forget what school is there for: LEARNING. Now it’s become a cattle race, with everyone trying to outdo each other on who has the most As – without ever really thinking about whether anyone’s really truly learning anything. So what if you won’t ever understand the basics of thermodynamics because it’s never completely explained in class, or won’t appreciate the philosophy of Socrates and Plato because there’s no school or class that teaches it? As long as you get straight As in the exam, that’s all that matters, right?

This response by one person that wrote in to the NST regarding tuition (letter link doesn’t work now) sums up my quibble with tuition (and with the general Malaysian education system) very nicely:

Knowledge by itself is of no use, unless that knowledge can be applied to answering exam questions. You cannot compare the quality and level of school exams to public exams. School exams are full-dress rehearsals. A lot of teachers don’t understand that. They set questions that do not resemble the real thing.

To echo Tony P, truly “a sad view of education”.

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8 Responses

  1. yeah…i echo your thoughts. Malaysia’s education system is turning for the worse. Too much emphasis are given to grades. Those who do not perform well in terms of grades are sadly left to fend for themselves.

    something has to be done.

  2. i’m not sure where the notion of “better grades = more smarts” came from, but after believing it for most of my life in school, i thank God that my experiences after spm have taught me that it’s not true.

    anyway, you can’t blame tuition classes for being run the way they are. when the grading of exams becomes less key-word dependent and emphasise less on memory-regurgitation, only then can malaysian education be changed.

    i taught chemistry and science to form4 students and a bit of tuition last year. as much as i tried to steer my students to think and link pieces of information before organising their answers into proper sentences, they still pestered me to give them ‘tips’ and teach them how to improve their memory.

    it certainly wasn’t what i wanted to teach them, but that was what i was paid to do. so i gave them what they wanted.

  3. hi tiara. remember me? we met at the forum for sexuality education in malaysia. i was the brat who took the monorail with you.

    anyway, i got to your site(s) from tinkosong. i was going to write an article about tinkosong, but since you have a really great blog about alternative education and tinkosong is mostly about conventional education opportunities, i think it’d be great to tie both of you together in one story.

    i’ll need your email address, so do email me once you’re back on malaysian soil. thanks.

  4. Where could you get someone nowadays, like in the saying ; “an ordinary teacher teaches, a great teacher inspires”?

    There’s not much room for inspiration in the current education trend.

  5. Hey Tiara…
    I do hope you still remember me..your senior back in secondary school. Hehe..

    Who was the administrator who told you that? I can just imagine it must have been one of those half past six teachers we had in our so called premier school. All of them couldn’t teach. Well…except very very few. One of whom has recently passed away…(Mr Chang the physics teacher), Mr Ng, Mr Eng, Ms Navinder, Ms Thong (who retired). Who else ah? Can’t remember already. I know there was a Cik Jamilah and Cik Kamariah in lower secondary who really young but dedicated teachers who taught Geography and BM respectively.

    Sighh..what to do. With teachers who aren’t quality ones anymore, students just have to rely on extra coaching outside the school premises. It is sad. And sad to say…I was one of them too. I couldn’t understand a single word the Physics (Pn Sh. Junaidah) said in class. She spoke greek not Malay. And with the current teaching now in English., I can just wonder how complicated her greek will have become.

    I had to go for tuition classes. And I must say that without that extra coaching, I wouldn’t have made it this far. Although you say that SPM results are insignificant and don’t really reflect on your true abilities, I beg to differ. If you are looking for a job which relatively creative, like you field…then yeah..they are looking for people with the creative edge and not the academic edge. But if you’re wanting a job, an accounting job, a law job, a medical job, a consulting job, a finance job…SPM, A-Levels and Univerisity grades mean a lot.

    Some of us needed the extra help to get to where we are. Some of us thought we didn’t need it. At the end of the day, it all depends on your priorities.

  6. Cherry – yes I remember you! The admin I’m referring to came after you left, I think. Can’t even remember her name now. (man I miss Ms Navinder!)

    I suppose it really depends on how you make of what life gives you. It feels, from my experience anyway, that the importance of grades is significantly overinflated – “if you don’t get straight As, you die!” type of mentality. Already some of my friends who are still in school are stressing out over the odd B or C, thinking they’re doomed for life. Can’t blame them; it’s not like the schools tell them any other way!

    If the teachers would just buck up on their teaching, tuition classes as they are now won’t be necessarily. Or, better yet, they could expand to not-quite-school-related-but-still-interesting classes, where people are learning because they want to, rather than because there’s an exam they need to pass.

    Life isn’t all about exams and grades; getting an F doesn’t mean you ARE a failure. It’s all about, as you said, priorities: but also how you make the best of what life throws at you.

  7. Tiara, nice comments.

    But you miss out the currently most popular tuition trend –> Home Tuition. My GF keep on telling me that my Home Tuiiton Business is running good because the school teachers can’t deliver much 🙂

    Even myself is the victim of the current education system in Malaysia. Sigh….my English Sux cos …Form 1-6 even Uni time is using BM. Damm.

  8. Eric – “one-on-one tutoring”, which I mentioned at the beginning, I’d classify as similar to home tuition, since there aren’t a lot of external sites/schools that have one-on-one styles of tutoring. And even then, its “worthwhile”-ness differs vaguely…there are brilliant tuition teachers who actually inspire LEARNING, those who are just there for the money, those whose tasks are merely “this is how you write an exam paper”.

    I’m not sure I’d blame the usage of BM in schools as the reason anyone’s English would suck. Sure, the lack of balance when it comes to languages (as well as some people’s inherent bias against the English language) aren’t necessarily helping, but it is possible to learn English and be good at it from other sources. I was in Malay medium schools from Std 1 to Form 5 and my English is better than my Malay XD

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