Tutoring in Singapore - by Emma Markovic MTA (May '17)

Emma Markovic MTA shares her experiences of tutoring in Southeast Asia.

I had a wonderful experience tutoring in Singapore, and I miss it dearly. The people, family, culture and way of life really appealed to me and I felt like I had all of my home comforts of London, but with much better weather and a lot less stress. A perfect combination!

I was in Singapore to help a child prepare for the 8+ exams in London. I was initially surprised that a child who goes to school in Singapore needed any help. How does this happen when the Singaporean schools are famous for being the best in the world? I found out soon enough. This child attended one of the top international schools with the most amazing facilities, all of the top technology, the best libraries etc…. but unfortunately without the teaching skills to match.

My tutee had picked up several bad habits that then cropped up in many different aspects of her work. These included randomly writing capital letters into the miDDle of words; absolutely no comprehension of paragraphs; no planning or structure to her answers, and really not much evidence of any real effort in their work. And that was only for the English side of things. Mathematics was worse, and as for study outside of class, this particular international school only assigned a total of thirty minutes of homework weekly on top of daily reading. I was shocked.

The parents of this child had at least identified the need to ask for help and – thankfully - were aware of the amount of hard work and persistence needed to ensure their child gained a place at one of the top private schools in London. Their understanding and commitment helped immensely in my work with this child in terms of encouragement, questioning, testing and, not least, ensuring this child still had lots of fun.

Outside of the tutoring environment, Singapore is a fantastic place for all ages. The people who live here don’t have to miss out on what happens almost anywhere around the world. The top theatre shows from the West End and from Broadway come to perform regularly; the Formula 1 cavalcade brings famous bands to perform; the museums are packed with incredible oddities, and the most fantastic exhibits make an appearance. My own personal favourite was the M.C. Escher exhibition - but then I am a maths geek! All of these gems have the power to become glorious educational tools and to encourage the love of arts and science in children. I was there to instil a passion for learning and I couldn’t have been surrounded with a more fabulous environment. Singapore has it all.

The choice of activities, both educational and personal, are almost too many to count. For such a small place, they really have jammed in a lot to see and do: The Botanical Gardens, Marina Bay Sands, taking a boat trip on the river, the Gardens by the Bay, Sentosa, Clarke Quay, Universal Studios and many more attractions ensured that all my free time in Singapore seemed to be one interesting adventure after another – and ensured that it was not only my tutee who was learning new things every day.

The feeling of safety in Singapore was remarkable - at any time, day or night. I felt completely safe whether I was walking alone along a road, through a park…or anywhere. There wasn’t a single moment when anybody - or anything - made me anxious or uneasy. This has an amazingly relaxing effect. And it also made me aware of just how UNrelaxed I am in London where I am always on guard, watching my bag, ensuring nobody is following me or fearing that I am being ripped off by somebody. And when you are relaxed, you also find that you start to take notice of, and enjoy, your surroundings: the beautiful greenery, the wonderful black and white houses and the culture that seems to pervade everything Singapore has to offer.

Accommodation is perhaps the trickiest aspect of working in Singapore. As you can only rent somewhere for a minimum of two years, travelling out there as a tutor usually means either staying in ‘Airbnb style’ accommodation or living with the family of your tutee. For this assignment, I stayed with the family. I had very nice accommodation and use of their pool, gym and piano. They really welcomed me into their home and made me feel like part of their family. Let me say that, usually, I prefer to have my own accommodation as I like my own space and being able to have private time on my own, and living with a family all too often forces alterations to my preferred work/life balance (and of course not every family is easy to slot into). Here, however, I was extremely lucky as I had my own life in the evenings with friends and my interaction with the family worked very well.

All in all, Singapore was a wonderful experience for me. It will remain one of the places in the world I feel as if I could live, work and play. I am happy that the family I worked for are returning to London in September as their child gained a place at all of the schools applied to. I have generated a good client base in Singapore and am still working with several students via Skype - but there are plenty of opportunities for work out there. The majority of parents want to do their utmost to help their children succeed - but unfortunately the international schools are not playing their part sufficiently well. As a consequence, the market there is, in my opinion, wide open for good, effective tutors. It is an amazing place to live and work, so I do hope more tutors make their way out there and have a similarly wonderful experience to the one I enjoyed.

Emma Markovic MTA