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JEREMY Pereira, 12, had his first taste of private tuition when he was only five years old. His mother, Mrs Janet Pereira, who had decided that chinese would be his second language, wanted to give the boy a head start before he started school.

A little too early for tuition, some may say, but Mrs Pereira, 39, a housewife, had good reasons for starting him young. She said:" We're Indian. My husband and I don't know Chinese, but I wanted my son to learn the language because he already studied it in nursery school. And I wanted him to get good grades." Her ambitions are typical of many a Singaporean parent, as seen in the last Straits Times survey which showed that 66 per cent of parents who hire tutors say they do it to ensure their child does well in exams.

Jeremy's younger brother, Wilson, 10, also began Chinese tuition while in kindergarten. Their tuition cost about $400 a month, for lessons twice a week, each lasting 1-1/2 hours. Both boys score A's in the subject every year. Said their mother:" Tuition helped them do well from the start and it's worth the money." But she does not leave everything to the tutor.

"Tutors don't work magic. I spend a lot of time sitting with them to ensure that they study." Agreeing, housewife Yim Lim said tuition is nothing more than a short-term solution. Said the mother of two teenagers:" I don't believe in stifling my children with tuition, it's boring. They should use the time to discover other interests. I believe in preparing them for life, not just exams."

But most of 10 parents interviewed found tuition helpful. Madam Tan Chew Hong, 43 and mother of three, changed her mind after a tutor helped her 13-year-old daughter, Yeok Theng, cope with mathematics. Said Madam Tan, a part-time bank officer:Ē She became very demoralized after she got a "C" in her PSLE maths paper. She felt she was inferior in class and was too shy to ask questions". A tutor was called in early this year when Yeok Theng started Secondary 1. Her grades improved and she scored 81 marks in a recent exam.

The findings of the survey, in which 600 students and their parents were interviewed face-to-face in September 2000, also confirms what many people may have suspected a long time ago: that parents themselves are the prime movers behind the surge in tuition.

Eight times out of 10, parents are the ones who impose tuition on children.

In only 15 per cent of the cases do the students themselves ask for tuition, up from 10 per cent of cases in 1992.

More teachers are suggesting that students go for it, with 3 per cent saying so, compared to 1 per cent in 1992.

But the reasons for getting tutors have changed over the years. In 1992, the top reasons was the fear that children could not cope with the subject. Now, two out of three parents say tuition is to help their children score in exams. But the heavy reliance on tuition does not mean a lack of faith in the education system, said Professor Tay-Koay Siew Luan, a psychologist at the National Institute of Education. "It's natural for parents to want the best for their children." "And they will go all out to help their children by providing tuition, if they need it."

The most popular subjects for tuition has remained unchanged since 1992. Eight out of 10 take Maths and about two out of three, English/ English Literature. "Of the 65 per cent of students who do not take tuition, out of six of 10 say they donít need it as improve grades of English or English Literature.

More also say they can't afford tuition or that they receive help from family members instead.

All rights below to Singapore Press Holdings Limited. The Straits Times (Singapore) November 28, 2000

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