Tuition dominates our lives?
How pervasive is tuition in our country? According to a 1990 survey in Malaysia, about 83 per cent of pupils will have received some form of tuition by the time they reach upper secondary school. More extensive participation has been predicted in the coming years due to the growth of the industry. Malaysian pupils spend a large portion of their day within the confines of their schools. Nowadays, they seem to be spending an equal amount, if not more, of their time in tuition classes. This development has led some students in the survey to lament that ‘Tuition dominates our lives’.
Business as usual
Even though the tuition enterprise is acknowledged as an education service provider, it is first and foremost a service-oriented but profit-driven business. In Malaysia, tuition services are made available by tuition centres, academies, training centers etc. Apart from these institutionalized forms of tuition, there are the private personal tutors with a much smaller clientele. All in all, what matters at the end of the day to these tuition providers is the profit derived from the tuition fees.
Tip of the iceberg
How big is the tuition business? There are approximately more than 2000 officially registered tuition centers in Malaysia in 2003. The number of tuition centres operating without proper registration is not known exactly, but is estimated to be at least matching the legally operating ones. As to the costs involved, it is not uncommon to find urban households investing hundreds of Ringgit per month on tuition alone. It is difficult to assess accurately the size of the industry in monetary terms. This is partly due to the large number of tuition centers operating without proper registration, hence eluding governmental monitoring. Also, many private tutors loathe to divulge their earnings from tuition. Whatever the figure made available officially, it is safe to say that it would be an underestimation of the actual tuition market.
How big can it get?
Malaysia is not the only country with a booming demand for tuition. In fact, we are not even the nation most obsessed with tuition. Parents in South Korea are reported to have spent US$ 25,000 million (Asiaweek, 1997) on tuition during 1996, which is equivalent to 150 per cent of the sum that its government invests in education. It is also reported that typical households spent the equivalent of US$ 1,950 a year on tuition for each child in secondary school and US$ 1,500 for each child in primary school. South Korea is not unique in this respect. In Japan, there are tuition centers which are so huge that they are listed in Japanese stock exchanges. Furthermore, the tuition industry there remains healthy despite the falling birth rate that has been gradually eroding the pool of potential clients.
The tuition spending
In most cases, the greatest components of any tuition expenditures are paid for the tuition service itself. Others go into learning materials, stationeries, and even computer related paraphernalia such as CD-ROMs. Usually, charges increase at higher levels of the education system, and individual tutoring is more costly per person than group work or class work. The costs generally increase in proportion to the amount of personal attention that the pupil receives from the tutor. Everything considered, tuition fees could still be a substantial household expenditure, even for the middle income group.
Customer satisfaction a top priority
However, many parents feel that the money is well spent. They can see improvements in their children’s grades. And the reasons for this aren’t difficult to understand. The fact is, tutors care about their performance in tuition classes. Like all other service-oriented businesses, tuition is an industry where customer satisfaction always come first. If the tutor or the tuition center is not performing as expected, students will simply shift to another provider. Competition abounds. Tuition centers engage in many promotional tactics to retain and increase enrolment. Discounts on fees are given for early registration, leaflets are widely distributed, free seminars and previews are held etc. Even the personal tutors who operate from their homes are not exceptional in this respect. Many of them provide discounts to ‘old’ students who re-enroll. Students from the surrounding neighbourhoods are also chauffeured to and from the tuition classes by the tutors. As an extra convenience to the parents, some of the home tutors also provide child-minding services as well!
Creating jobs & revenues
Of course, the corollary of the high tuition expenditures is that tutoring gives substantial incomes to large numbers of tuition teachers. Some of them may already have other sources of income, for example, as teachers in schools. But others, such as the full-time tutors rely solely on tuition earnings. And a full-time tuition teacher is capable of making a comfortable living from his or her occupation. Because personal tutoring is mostly a shadow activity, much of the revenues received by personal tutors are usually beyond the reach of government tax collectors. Something which a registered tuition centre can only look upon with envy.
As can be seen, tuition has major economic implications. On the one hand, it can be regarded as simply a manifestation of public demand. On the other hand, tuition can also be viewed as a symptom of the worldwide shift towards privatization and commercialization of education. Either way, nobody should dispute that tuition is a serious business indeed.
Resource: Tuition Plaza