Maths can be a challenge for both the learner and the teacher, especially in Singapore, which is renowned for having shaped its own maths system and education. In the 2015 iteration of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), Singapore came on top in all three categories - maths, reading, and science.
Nevertheless - or, perhaps, even, because of this - the educational scene in the country remains so competitive that it also takes its toll on pupils, psychologically. Understandably, initiatives would be taken on both sides - the learners and the teachers - in order to make the pressure and load more manageable, whatever way possible. One way this is done is by one-on-one, home-based tuition, with options focusing especially on maths.
I. The perks of private home tuition
Tuition in Singapore in general is seen as quotidian and expected for most pupils, especially where many families see both parents working and/or struggling to keep up with current academic standards being taught to their children. In fact, as of 2015, seven out of ten parents send their children to tuition.
In Asia, academic aid in every form is seen as more crucial and career-defining than in the West, as the perceived ultimate goal of a student is to get into a top university, which would in turn lead to a prestigious job or opportunity. There are several reasons as to why this is the case - and this applies even outside Singapore, such as in the Philippines, where the middle to upper-middle classes are rapidly growing; or in Japan, where it is common for pupils to go to so-called ‘cram schools’ or juku, essentially a classroom-style tuition centre.
The first is related to an inherent danger of traditional, mass education - teachers’ attentions are divided among many pupils at the same time, and thus some of the latter struggle to keep up. Because each human individual is unique and differ from each other, so do their learning styles and paces. The level of interest, and in turn motivation and drive, in what they are studying also varies per person. Since pupils are shaped to work hard to get into top universities, their marks must be in tip-top shape as well, so tuition works where their own efforts alone have difficulty in - maths included.
Second, tuition allows busy parents to partially delegate their responsibilities as such to others, effectively killing two birds with one stone by having a tutor serve as both governor/governess and private teacher. This is particularly evident when the tutor goes to the client’s home, rather than the pupil going to a tuition centre. Both the pupil’s need of academic aid outside the classroom, and the parent’s need of someone to help look after their child when they may be unable to do so, are fulfilled in just one person.
Third, tuition lets teachers, or former teachers, have supplemental sources of income. While some of them moonlight as tutors after work, it is even possible for tutors to earn more than schoolteachers - and enjoy flexibility in their day-to-day schedules, to boot.
The popularity of one-on-one home-based maths tuition can also be attributed to these lines of reasoning.
First, tuition centres where the set-up is more akin to traditional educational (such as the aforementioned juku) are effectively a second classroom period for a pupil, with the same risks involving a lack of specialised or focused attention on that pupil or their areas for improvement - which goes against the very raison d’être of tuition, which is to help a struggling student in ways the classroom cannot. Tuition franchise owner and former MP R. Sinnakaruppan, in fact, believes that 70% of tuition centres in Singapore fall into this trap and thus fail to achieve the objectives they set out to do so in the first place. Where the subject is relatively technically-challenging, such as maths, the risk of a miss in terms of helping the pupil catch up (or maintain their proficiency) only goes higher.
On the other hand, a one-on-one approach ensures that the pupil has the full attention of the tutor, which lets the latter completely invest their time in getting to know the pupil and how their mind works - thereby allowing the tutor to tailor or customise their approach to teaching the client. For a subject like Singapore maths, where problem-solving is more detailed, this can make or break the pupil’s success in the lessons.
Second, if a pupil goes to a tuition centre, even if the set-up is one-on-one there, the presence of fellow tutees can serve to distract them from their schoolwork. Although social interaction is key to a child’s growth, parents who pay for private tuition do so in order to get their children to excel at school rather than become social butterflies, so sending them to centres may not necessarily reflect them getting their money’s worth vis-à-vis their wishes. Furthermore, children’s being out of the house for longer may add one more item on a parent’s list of concerns, having to anxiously wait longer before their children get home.
On the other hand, tutoring at home already alleviates parents’ said concerns, with a pseudo-nanny to boot. Although traffic is not as much of a concern in Singapore as compared to the Philippines or Indonesia, for example, parents will feel relieved and at ease to learn that their children are already at home, where they can rest and recharge in addition to doing their homework or revisions. Though this may be counterproductive to a pupil’s studying habits due to the home being their comfort zone, in the eyes of parents, the benefits outweigh this risk.
Lastly, given the innovative approach that Singapore maths takes, tutors specialising in this subject would have the credibility to charge higher for their time and effort. However, parents are willing to invest in their children via tuition, even at a premium, if it means maximising the chances of their children doing better at school. In fact, more than 30% of parents spend up to a quarter of their household income just for tuition.
II. Private home tuition providers
Given all the aforementioned circumstances, private and home tuition are on the rise, and there is no shortage of channels for such in Singapore, with varying degrees of technology usage and connectivity embraced. Each has their own defining characteristics and quirks, and their own models or approaches to tuition and as businesses. The following examples are to name just a few of them:
Image from smiletutor
• URL: https://smiletutor.sg
• Email: email@example.com
• Number: +65 6266 4475 (0900-2000 every day)
SmileTutor is a company that quite boldly calls itself the #1 trusted home agency in the country. The model is simple and smooth: human coordinators personally interview and then match private tutors to clients within 6 to 24 hours from, and there are no contracts or agency fees. The agency caters to all levels of education from primary to university, and conducts tutorials for language, humanities, and science subjects, including maths.
The company neither dictates tutor rates, thereby allowing them a free hand to set their own, nor outright hires said tutors, who are considered freelancers. Even the arrangements for tuition are self-arranged, and there are no lock-ins. Part-time tutors charge as low as S$20.00 per hour, while schoolteachers sidelining quote S$50.00 or higher per hour, with the rates increasing significantly for higher year levels. Thus, the free market model notwithstanding, the lack of regulation and standardisation may become detrimental to would-be clients whose budgets do not match their availabilities.
Furthermore, while the application form to find a tutor is very detailed and asks a lot of questions in order to satisfy the client’s needs as much as possible, it runs the risk of leaving the client without a tutor if even one or two of the parameters are not fulfilled. In connection to this, if a client specifically needs a maths tutor, there is the possibility of a tutor who fulfils all conditions but may not necessarily be outstanding in maths.
The 6-to-24-hour turnaround time may also prove to be too lengthy for clients who may need more immediate assistance for revisions or homework; furthermore, the hotline does not operate 24 hours a day. This is because the coordinators are human, rather than being automated through technology or digital means, which while indeed being very personalised and hands-on, could always be a bottleneck to growth.
Image from championtutor
• Number: +65 6850 5040 (0900-2000; no Sundays)
Already present in both Singapore and Malaysia, ChampionTutor is a platform in existence since the mid-2000s that differentiates itself with its Web platform, which serves as a database of freelance tutors that can be filtered depending on clients’ needs. Nevertheless, the matching is also not fully automated, and clients still have the option of manually requesting (via mobile or chat) for suitable tutors, with a maximum turnaround time of 24 hours. The platform also caters to students from preschool to university, and offers tuition in many subjects, including maths, which is a focus of the company.
Tutorials may be conducted face-to-face or online, and can be conducted at a centre or the client’s preferred venue, allowing for maximum flexibility. Tuition rates are also not standardised organisation-wide, with tutors charging at their own preference - though their qualifications and background, as well as the subject matter to be addressed, also play a role. Home-servicing tutors also typically seek compensation for logistical arrangements. On average, an undergraduate-level tutor catering to primary school charges S$25.00/hour, while a professional teacher taking on an International Baccalaureate (IB) or diploma client asks for S$80.00/hour.
Like SmileTutor, clients do not pay any agency fees, but tutors are expected to do so. Furthermore, there is a small advanced payment for first-timers. The hotline is not available on Sundays.
3. Home Tuition HotSpot
Image from home tuition hotspot
• Number: +65 9824 8019
Cited in The Asian Parent as one of parents’ best-regarded tuition agencies, Home Tuition HotSpot has already served more than 60,000 clients since 1995. Like SmileTutor, the agency personally matches requests of clients no more than 24 hours upon application, and all tutorials are conducted at the client’s preferred home. The agency takes in clients from the preschool up to the pre-university level across a broad range of subjects, maths included.
Similar to SmileTutor, average rates start out at S$20.00 per hour, although they are slightly lower than at other agencies even for upper primary level pupils. There are also no agency fees to be paid - although there is a commission of 50% of the first month’s rates to be shouldered by tutors but paid directly by the client - and clients can request for tutors by calling or filling up a form online, which is slightly less comprehensive than SmileTutor’s, but relatively lengthy regardless.
The Web site, however, is a bit basic. The hotline’s schedule of operation is not specified, and the grammar leaves much to be desired, which could serve as a turn-off to would-be clients, ironic considering the prestige accorded this agency. With this in mind, perhaps it’s what we don’t see online - the quality of the tuition - that has made this particular agency so popular.
4. Ann Tutor
Image from ann tutor
• URL: https://www.anntutor.com
• Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Number: +65 9788 1221
Also voted as a top tuition agency - or more accurately, tutor - in The Asian Parent, Teacher Ann has been a premium private home tutor for more than 25 years, working previously at tuition centres and also having taught English at an international business school - among others. Despite being a one-woman show, Ann has become very popular across Singapore for the approach she has cultivated in teaching: an appreciation for the uniqueness of each pupil, child, or client, using her insights to create her signature Ultimate 360 program. This is an intensive three-month course that emphasises capturing the attention of a child at all times, targeting them specifically in order to maximise individual impact. She conducts tutorials both at home and online, and even has special needs services - where personalised and individualised teaching is even more crucial.
Her distinguished career, acclaimed program, and unmatched flexibility notwithstanding, the very fact that Teacher Ann runs her services on her own, though it may be for quality purposes, also serves as a bottleneck leaving her capable to teach only so many clients: She takes only 30 spots every 3 months. This also lets her command higher prices - although her Web site does not publicly display her rates, her free consultation with regards to online-based tuition is worth S$180.00.
5. Home Tuition Care
Image from home tuition care
• Email: email@example.com
• Number: +65 6528 6376
Another home tuition centre with a branch in Malaysia, Home Tuition Care (stylised as the trademarked CA+RE) is another fervent believer in the merits of private home tutorials. However, they are also open to conducting small-group tutorials, especially if a parent enrolling their child does not have the budget to avail of the tutor’s time 1-on-1. The rates also start out from S$20.00/hour for lower primary school pupils serviced by undergraduate or diploma-level tutors, up to as low as $65.00/hour for professional teachers tutoring junior college students. Similar to other agencies, there is a commission of 50% of the first month’s tuition to be paid by the tutor to the agency, though coming straight from the client, who does not have to pay any other fees.
The agency takes significantly longer to match a tutor with a client, with an allowance of up to two working days to contact the client, plus up to four to match them with a tutor - roughly one week’s time from the application before tutorials can commence. Like the other agencies, none of the tutors are employed directly, and they are only freelancers who avail of the platform as a marketer to match them with pupils.
The site, however, is a bit more informative than others, containing a school directory in addition to articles.
III. Taking things digital and online
Even with the aforementioned options for private home tuition, which comprise only a sampler of the myriad available in Singapore, there is still the opportunity to make things more efficient on both ends. None of the services have round-the-clock connectivity, and in some cases, there is only a single proprietor-tutor.
If a pupil goes to a tuition centre or the tutor’s home, they would need to spend additional money on the commute, and use up more time that could be devoted to more productive matters than being on the road. On the other hand, in going to a client’s house, a tutor spends more time for the commute, and thus would charge higher to compensate for this, especially as they work with the client’s comfort. Furthermore, a tutor may not be immediately available, and if the pupil’s maths need was relatively quick and easily manageable in a single session, it may not be worth the time waiting for the agencies to match a tutor to them - let alone the possibility that the tutor and pupil do not get along.
However, if tuition were to be conducted online or through a digital platform - the attention span of a child notwithstanding - it saves time and money on both ends: both the tutor and the tutee enjoy greater flexibility than already existing by being able to respectively teach or study whenever, wherever, without needing to be in the same place at the same time. A digital platform, done properly, can still offer the privacy and personalisation that face-to-face one-on-one tuition does, whether through video calls or online fora where the same question can be asked, but answered through different perspectives.
Enter iMath. Created as a more sustainable and scalable solution to accessibility of quality teaching using technology, iMath provides an interactive way for children to learn with or without their parents or guardians, with or without going somewhere. Pupils can access community boards and ask as many questions there as they like for free, or pay as low as S$15.00 for a thirty-minute 1-on-1 video call with a tutor. (A traditional freelance home tutor usually charges 1.5 to 2x that amount). With Singapore’s being at the forefront of connectivity in Asia, technology has the biggest opportunity to be optimised here, as it can scale up while at the same time remaining personal to its users.
The app works to make life better for both students and tutors. Other than discussion boards, students can also access a virtual library of questions to test themselves. Should they want to avail of the video tutorials, it is easy to book sessions with tutors depending on mutual schedules of availability, as well as preferences on teaching or studying; these are pushed to the user as a notification or reminder so that they are always on top of their schedules. Furthermore, the session is recorded, so that once it is completed, they can refer back to it in their account, and review at any time.
On the other hand, tutors are assured of a steady flow of users all with their own differing schedules. They are empowered to dictate their schedules and styles, without needing to conform to a uniform structure - assuring students that there will be tutors of all kinds, depending on their own styles. The app guarantees they will be paid, and on time as well, with a dashboard feature that documents such payments so they can track any transactions they want to.
Given these considerations, iMath makes private home tuition favourable to all. Students pay cheaper because tutors are more efficient with their time, and also have access to learning resources that may not be traditionally available with standard home tuition. They can study wherever and whenever they want as long as they have a mobile device and Internet connectivity. Furthermore, the app encourages them to become a community of learners, helping each other out and injecting just the right amount of socialisation.
Tutors can also teach from wherever, whenever, and literally insert iMath sessions into whatever schedules they have; and since the teaching is conducted on a tech platform yet remains private or individualised, the considerations of gender and distance, among others, are not as crucial or deal-breaking in beginning a professional relationship with their students. And, because the platform is specifically for maths, the calibre of those teaching or helping out on the app would be more maths-oriented, creating an equivalent of not spreading oneself too thin in terms of offerings.
iMath is now available for download on both the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store.
This post was written by Allister Roy Chua.