Spoiler alert: There are some students who do not need tuition.
So says tuition teacher Donnell Koh, who teaches Chemistry for A-Level, IP, and O Level students at the centre he founded, Twig Learning Center.
Who doesn’t need tuition?
This is because they “already have the ability” to score top grades in exams.
To Koh, it would make much more sense for these students to focus on their other subjects instead.
Economics tutor Anthony Fok echoes Koh’s sentiments about students who don’t need extra help, saying:
“I want to earn my income with a clear conscience. I told them to spend the money and time on other subjects that they are weaker at instead.”
Koh, who has over 18 years of teaching experience, says he is able to identify the “better students”, who are “able to see questions from the teacher’s point of view”.
Such students know exactly what they need to focus on and maintain their good grades, Koh adds.
“But many still continued as they didn’t want to let their guard down and wanted to guarantee an ‘A’. These may be the ones who may benefit the least [from tuition] as it is more of an insurance policy.”
This doesn’t mean that Koh has nothing to offer such “better students” though, who will be assigned more challenging homework.
How did these students end up in tuition in the first place though?
Tony Chee, a Physics tutor who runs Best Physics Tuition, points out that some students “come to tuition at the behest of parents”.
If this is the only thing motivating them to attend tuition classes, tutors will not be able to deliver the best results.
After all, as Koh points out, “it takes two hands to clap.”
Who might not benefit much from tuition?
This goes to show that there are some students who get signed up by their parents but who may not stand to gain that much.
Fok says, bluntly, that “no tutor can legitimately guarantee improvements in results.”
Much depends on students’ own effort
He recalls that some students joined his classes in the second half of the second year of JC, while expecting “a big jump in their grades”. He says:
“I always do my best to help these students who come in during this time, but I can’t perform miracles. Students’ results are also dependent on how much effort they are willing to put into the subject.”
After all, one way for students to stand out in Fok’s subject, Economics, is to be able to quote “up-to-date real world context information in their exam scripts”.
While Fok tries to help students “see the link between what they have learnt in theory and in the real world”, injecting personal stories to illustrate these connections, much still depends on whether students are able to stay updated with current affairs.
Chee sums it up as follows:
“The student who benefits the most would be one who:
1. is willing to work hard to improve
2. is willing to clarify questions when there are doubts
3. has faith in the teacher.”
What can tuition teachers do?
Fok says he has “various strategies” to deal with unmotivated students.
This is important to him, as he finds that students who gain “a renewed interest in the subject” through his classes tend to do well almost “automatically” — something he’s come to recognise over the 10 years since he started his tuition business, JC Economics.
In such cases, Koh describes a process of “slowly building rapport with the student [to] win their hearts over”.
He is quick to point out that students who are uninterested in the subject, or unmotivated, may be held back as they do not have the right teacher:
“Students don’t learn well if they have no rapport with you. Students learn best when they can feel that you care, and teachers must be able to transfer the energy of curiosity and enthusiasm to them.”
“Who said a teacher’s job is easy?” Koh commented.
Students who stand to gain the most from tuition
Provided that their teachers have the right content knowledge and teaching skills, Chee is of the opinion that “most students would benefit from tuition”.
To him, “having an extra pair of helping hands to guide will almost certainly aid the learning process”.
Koh agrees, adding that familiarity with the syllabus is an additional benefit that tutors can provide. Koh reviews A Level question papers each year, and even some schools’ preliminary exam questions.
This does not mean that tutors help to “spot” questions, says Fok, using a colloquialism among students to refer to the practice of trying to predict (or “spot”) which questions are likely to appear in the upcoming exams.
After all, Fok says, “it is important not to gamble,” and prefers for his students to be prepared to be examined on all topics.
Koh also explains the teacher’s role as one of providing “scaffolding” — ”to guide students in receiving the right content, imparting the proper problem solving skills”.
If this is done right, the student’s learning becomes more efficient, says Koh.
While these tutors stand willing and able to provide their students with all of this knowledge and skills, they each emphasise the importance of a student’s part in the equation.
For one, students need to see that tuition classes are “a complementary good to school lessons,” Fok says. “It is not a substitute,” he stresses.
“Over the years, students who do best are those who show interest in the subject and do whatever it takes to do well,” says Koh. This can include being “fearless” to ask questions when in doubt.
Outside of lesson time, and particularly when physical lessons were suspended amid Covid-19, Koh also provides online live quizzes and tests to help reinforce concepts.
Students who are “weaker and average” in those topics would be encouraged to attend, and would have their quiz answers marked on the spot.
Koh also provides video solutions for them to go through their mistakes.
Needless to say, such optional offerings would only benefit the students who make time to attend.
Going above and beyond
Fok lets on that his most driven students have found a way to extract maximum value from their tuition investment, by seeking him out for what he calls “value-added services”.
Fok’s students have his personal phone number, and can text him after hours for help with their subjects — even in the middle of the night.
“Some students ask me to mark their additional essays and I mark them. Some students request to meet me for one-to-one consultations. I meet them to guide them for extra classes without payment. Some students need career guidance and advice on university courses. I give them my advice as well. Some students need me to write letters of recommendation for top prestigious universities overseas. I write testimonials for them as well.”
Why does Fok go the extra mile as a tutor? To him, tutoring is “more than delivering the subject knowledge”.
Rather, it encompasses “being a mentor and life coach to students as well”, even if this comes at the cost of his personal time.
As Koh says:
“Teachers are in the business of people, not just results. Good results are the outcome of having taught well and having good relationships with your students.”
Economics, Chemistry, and Physics tuition
Koh, Fok, and Chee have helped hundreds of students score distinctions over the last decade or so, since founding their respective tuition centres.
They also have experience as teachers, and were involved in curriculum design and writing textbooks and guide books in their respective areas of expertise.
Students seeking extra help for Economics, Chemistry and Physics can consider getting tuition from them here:
Top images courtesy of Koh, Fok, and Chee.
This sponsored article by JC Economics Education Centre, Twig Learning Center and Best Physics Tuition Centre helped the writer realise why he didn’t do better at the A-Levels.