Members of parliament yesterday urged the Ministry of Education to stem the pervasive “tuition culture” in Singapore’s education scene.

MP for Mountbatten and Government Parliamentary Committee chairman for education, Mr Lim Biow Chuan, said that he was worried that students would become over reliant on tuition and lose the skills needed for “self-directed learning”.

Lim was 1 of 6 MPs who spoke on the issue of Singapore’s tuition culture, which many said was due to the country’s stressful and competition driven system.

MP for Moulmein Kallang GRC Denise Phua informed the house that even Polytechnic students are known to go for extra classes.

WP MP for Hougang, Png Eng Huat, urged the MOE to conduct a nationwide survey on the issue. He asked why the MOE was not curious enough to study why parents are sending their children to extra lessons despite having access to one of the best reputed education systems in their schools.

Many MPs observed that Singaporeans still feel that getting good results is the single best way to secure good jobs and a bright future. Such thinking is supported by programmes such as the Gifted Education Programme (GEP), which prompts parents to clamor to send their children to the few top schools that host the GEP, said NMP Yee Jenn Jong. Yee recommended spreading the GEP across more schools and widening definitions of giftedness.

MP for Ang Mo Kio, Inderjit Singh, suggested setting a quota for academically stronger students in order to help spread such students across more schools This would allow parents to go beyond looking at cut-off points and focus on distinction programmes in secondary schools.

Phua suggested that in addition to removing stressful, all-or-nothing examinations such as the PSLE, the government should experiment with setting up through-train schools where students study for 10 years from Primary to Secondary school.

In response to the MPs questions, Minister for Education Heng Swee Keat responded that Singaporeans need to adopt an “abundance mentality” rather than a “scarcity mentality”. He said Singaporeans need to see beyond a single pathway to success.

“For as long as there is only one path to success, the pressure will manifest itself at some point.” He added that this pressure shows itself even in systems that abolished national exams and adopted a through train system.

Heng observed that even though changes in the economy have created new jobs requiring specific skills and multiplied pathways, Singaporean’s thinking about education and new paths to success have not kept up.

He said that MOE has implemented the Applied Learning Programme and the Learning for Life Programme so as to create opportunities for every school in the hopes that parents will see how each school can offer something different and interesting.

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