Tuition: Asia’s Secret Multi-Billion Industry

A booming industry in the 21st century:
Asia has been known to have one of the most rigorous and mentally demanding education systems in the world. Thus, it’s not surprising that Asian countries top Pisa Tests each year. The Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) provides education rankings based on international tests taken by 15-year-olds in maths, reading and science. As Asia continue to dominate upper reaches of these results tables, Asian countries account for the top seven places for maths, with Singapore followed by Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, Japan, China and South Korea in the recent 2016 Pisa Tests. Which begs the question that long puzzled the western world: What has contributed to the excellence & success of Asia’s education system that enables students to trump each examination and test given to them? The answer is simple: Tuition.

Tuition has long been a hot topic for debates amongst educators and parents. Even despite Asia’s education ministries’ efforts in discouraging parents in putting the excess workload on their children, the tuition industry has seen a rising demand for its services over the past decade. So much so that market research firm Global Industry Analysts, Inc. predicts that the demand for global private tutoring will reach US$196.3 billion by 2020, with a large percentage of it concentrated in Asia. The latest House Expenditure Survey in Singapore showed that a staggering $1.1 billion was spent on tuition for the period October 2012 to September 2013, up from the $820 million in a survey done five years earlier. In China, with its 162 million students in primary and secondary levels, private tutoring is a $60 billion business for K-12, making it the largest profit of the shadow industry. Asian parents have long been depicted in the media and books to be “insanely obsessed” with education for their children as seen in the controversial “Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother” by Amy Chua. However, what mainstream media fails to see is that Asian parents have a myriad of reasons as to why they enrol their children into tuition centres at such an early age, many of which revolves around the preparation of their child in getting into fortune 500 companies which are seen by many as the pinnacle of success.

Tuition is no longer a luxury, but a necessity in the never ending rat race for success:
Before the exponential growth of tuition centres across Asia, tuition was seen as a luxury to many due to the high cost in affording the fees as well as the less competitive environment children experienced in the past. In the past, it wasn’t crucial to have tuition as the education system was not as rigorous and demanding as now. Let’s fast forward to the present. One’s likelihood of seeing tuition centres in Asia in every neighbourhood district is as good as 98%, with students packing each tuition agency after school and during weekends. The reason for this drastic change in the education scene? Professors and researchers suggest that due to the world being more educated than before, it’s easier to obtain a high level of education for the average joe. This mass amount of people receiving higher education in today’s day and age leads to the fierce competition of white collar job opportunities today. Parents recognise that in order for their child to succeed in this harsh world, the only way to do so is through education which could explain why the shadow industry is able to earn exorbitant amounts from parents by providing services to better equip their child with tough vocabulary, drilling sessions of mathematics test papers and endless memorization of science concepts.

Does Competitiveness truly equate to effectiveness?
Though tuition has become a new social norm in Asia, many question its effectiveness as every child in different and so is their learning style. A child who loves mathematics might be unable to comprehend the beauty of language and similarly, a child who immerses themselves in the fine arts might be unable to grasp the mechanical aspects of science and mathematics. Hence, many deem it as a double-edged sword: serving as both a lifeline and a threat. It can’t be denied that tuition does serve its purpose in successfully enabling students in scoring excellent marks in their examinations, it also proves to be a source of additional stress to their already demanding school life as well as a threat to their creativity and ingenuity. With extra curriculum in place to ensure a wholesome education for students, students are busy juggling all aspects of their life while surviving on unhealthy levels of sleep. By adding on tuition classes, students might feel additional pressure in performing well in their academics which might give off the opposite reaction or worse; death. Likewise, this rigid perception of obtaining the best result could potentially kill off one’s creativeness at such a young age. Creativity and Ingenuity have long formed the basis of man’s progression. Without it, society can crumble within a millennium.

As an overly-tired teenager juggling my academic school life as well as tuition classes that pack my weekends, I strongly believe that although tuition has its benefits in equipping a child with information, a line must be drawn in ensuring that a child is still able to have a stress-free childhood and a space to be creative. After all as seen from the movie Terminators, Robots can be torn apart and fixed back together but humans can not.

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Ashley Wong
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Ashley is a writer and a voracious reader of all genres. She advocates for Intersectional feminism and self-love. Occasional poet, determined food fanatic and full-time weirdo. Get weird with me!

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