The numbers: what we want in our tutors

May 24, 2016 07.59PM |
 

by Daniel Yap

WHAT is behind the demand that fuels Singapore’s billion-dollar tuition industry (or some say obsession)? Newly-published data from tuition agency ManyTutors sheds light on what parents want when they look for tutors: female, educated, and for PSLE.

This first peep into newly-published demand-side data is gleaned from 30,000 job requests over the last nine months and is pulled from the databases of Singapore’s largest agency pool of more than 40,000 tutors. Of these, the data focused on about 20,000 job requests for primary, secondary, and junior college (JC) tuition. The remaining 10,000 requests were for preschool, music, tertiary, and other enrichment classes that ManyTutors also helps to match.

So what is our tuition-obsession really obsessing about? For starters, demand for female tutors clearly outstrips that for male tutors, with gender specific requests for female tutors at 65%, as opposed to 24% for male tutors (the remaining 11% are requests for both). Fortunately, tutor supply by gender matches this demand, with 27,108 female tutors and 15,570 male tutors in the database. Co-Founder of ManyTutors Lai Weichang believes that this is because of differences in how parents with daughters, as opposed to sons, select tutors. While those with sons usually do not have a preference, those with daughters tend to opt for female tutors due to personal discomfort over a potential difference in gender, said Mr Lai. He agreed that it could also be due to parents having safety concerns.

Male and female tutors registered on ManyTutors Gender specific job requests on ManyTutors

The highest number of tuition requests is at the Primary 5 level, followed by Primary 6, presumably in preparation for PSLE. Among secondary school subjects, the most sought after is Maths tuition, although it is closely followed by both English and Chemistry. This is inferred from average rates per hour, which are highest for Maths at $31, and $30 for English and Chemistry – higher rates “[reflect] the importance” for the subject, according to the survey’s highlights.

Hourly rates for secondary level subjects

What else is significant? Race plays a part in what parents want from tutors. Mr Lai estimates that ManyTutors receives “race-based requests” in approximately under 20 per cent of their job requests, with parents specifying that they only want tutors of a certain race and rejecting candidates that don’t fit their preferred racial profile. The process of choosing a tutor is such that a range of a few tutors is presented to parents, after which a choice of one is made.

Tutor Ms Neena Singh stated that she was not surprised by the existence of race-based requests, given that stereotypes of particular races still exist. She also said that race is a factor when it comes to tuition for subjects such as languages. However, she considers the choosing of race as unacceptable outside of this situation; she believes that qualifications should come first, as they provide a fair assessment of the tutor in question.

As for the demand levels of preschool tuitions, Mr Lai estimated that they are around 10 to 20 per cent, which is on the lower side as compared to the demand for tuition in the upper primary and upper secondary levels.

Tuition requests in the last 9 months

Who earns?

As expected, the higher the academic qualification of the tutor, the more they stand to rake in. Graduates can demand a mean hourly rate of $43 while postgraduate qualifications will net a tutor an hourly average of $50. A-level holders, diploma holders, and undergraduates command about the same hourly rate of between $31 to $33.

Hourly rate by education level

National Institute of Education (NIE) graduates and undergraduates were the most highly valued as well and commanded a rate of $40 for secondary-level lessons. National University of Singapore (NUS) graduates and undergraduates were the next most well-paid among those with local university credentials.

Hourly rate by local universities

The data found no significant link between being from an “elite school” and commanding a higher fee. Tutors from RI, RGS, RI(JC), and RJC earned about as much as other tutors of the same standing.

As it turns out, private tuition (one-to-one) is only about 10 to 15 per cent more expensive than centre-based tuition, which is normally conducted in groups.

It seems, though, that there’s enough money to go around in the billion-dollar tuition industry, with some recent news reports stating that top tutors can make a million dollars a year. While Members of Parliament (MPs) cried for an end to our damaging “tuition culture” in March last year, research still shows that the vast majority of parents – 80 per cent – believe that tuition really helps with their children’s education.

This tuition culture is driven by demand from parents and it will continue to be a tough policy nut to crack.

 

Featured image from Chinese Tuition Singapore.

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