Tuition Centres Vs Private Tutors: Which Is More Cost-Effective?

Ryan Ong

Ryan Ong

Last updated 21 April, 2020

There's at least a $15 difference between the hourly rates of tuition centres versus private tutors in Singapore.

Tuition in Singapore is a billion-dollar industry, with parents spending up to thousands of dollars at tuition centres or private tutors each month. These after-school sessions are designed to help Singaporean students boost their grades, so they can keep up with their peers and get into top-tier schools.

In general, tuition comes down to either going to a tuition centre or getting a private home tutor. Which is the cost-effective option? Here are some things to consider.

Tuition Centres versus Private Tutors: How much do they cost?

With most tuition centres in Singapore, the median costs are approximately $30 per hour for Primary School, $40 per hour for Secondary school, and upward of $55 per hour for Junior College (JC). Certain “branded” tuition centres may charge much more.

For private tutors, the median rate varies based on the teacher’s qualifications.

For degree holders and NIE trainees, the rates are comparable to tuition centres. Typical costs are around $30 per hour for Primary School, $40 for per hour for lower Secondary and $50 per hour for upper Secondary, and around $55 to $60 for JC.

For Ministry of Education (MOE) trained teachers, private tuition rates are around $40 to $70 per hour for Primary school, $55 to $70 per hour for lower Secondary, $55 to $80 per hour for upper Secondary, and $80 to $120 per hour for JC.

Overall, this means private tuition is more expensive that a tuition centre. This is not entirely surprising, given that the private tutor has to travel, and can only teach one pupil or two pupils at a time.

For tuition centres, there's also registration fees which typically costs between $40 to 80. Some centres also require a security deposit of $80 to $120, which can be refunded upon termination of classes, depending on the centre's terms and conditions.

When deciding between the two, look at the following factors:

1. Is there a “two for one” deal?

Some private tutors will agree to tutor two students at once (e.g. your child and the neighbour’s child) at a discounted rate. For example, a tutor may be willing to tutor two upper Secondary students for $110 per hour, instead of $130 per hour.

While that’s still more expensive than the average tuition centre rate of $40 per hour, remember this means your child is effectively being tutored for $55 per hour. The extra $15 might more than justify not having to travel, which saves on transport fare and time.

Of course, this is also dependent on whether your child studies well in a pair.

2. What happens when make-up lessons are needed?

What is the tutor’s policy toward make-up lessons, versus the tuition centre’s policy?

Some tuition centres are not obliged to provide make-up lessons if the fault can be attributed to you. If your child falls ill, for example, they may not be obliged to have a make-up class, even if you have paid for the full month. Check the terms and conditions before signing your child up with them.

By contrast, private tutors in Singapore tend to be more flexible. Most are more willing to shift dates and provide make-up lessons without additional costs. If you have a tight or unpredictable schedule, it may be more cost effective to engage these tutors.

However, do confirm the private tutor’s policies before agreeing to anything. Some private tutors may also refuse the obligation to provide make-up lessons. Based on personal experience, private tutors do not usually charge for last minute cancellations.

3. Can you alternate between a private tutor and tuition centre?

You could consider using private tuition for specific periods of intense study. For example, you could get a private tutor for one-on-one lessons with your child three or four months before the final exam. After that, go back to the more affordable tuition centre.

Do not switch tuition methods at the last minute, such as a month before the exam, as the change of learning environment could be disruptive.

With regard to certain subjects, you may also want to use private tuition just to cover a specific topic. For example, use private tuition just for help with General Paper. Once the topic is mastered, you can send your child back to a tuition centre.

4. Is the travel time and transport fare justified by the savings?

Tuition centres may be cheaper, but consider the logistical impact of saving $10 to $15.

If your child has to travel, the costs are not limited to transport fare. Precious time is wasted on the journey to and from the tuition centre, and most students are burdened with too much homework or extracurricular activities as is.

It also means your child has less personal time, and remember that stress is a worse detriment than having no tuition.

As a rule of thumb, it is worth paying $10 to $15 more if your child would save more than 45 minutes (to and from the tuition centre) each trip. If you have to use a cab, then it becomes much harder to justify the cost. It would have to quite a remarkable tuition centre to make you do that.

5. What is the student-to-teacher ratio?

How many students are taught by a single teacher at the tuition centre? Sixty minutes is not a lot of time if there are 35 students in the classroom. That’s less than two minutes for each student if they all have questions.

Remember that with private tuition, your child has all the available time to ask questions or review a topic again. In a group environment, significantly less time is devoted to individual students’ needs.

Ask the tuition centre how many students will be with your child. Note: not just their policy on student-to-teacher ratios, but exactly how many are in the specific class your child is attending. If there are more than 20 students to a class, you may want to consider if the savings over private tuition are really worth it.

6. Does your child study well in groups or alone with a tutor?

Don’t assume that all children prefer one-to-one learning. Some children may be intimidated by being alone with the tutor, and be too uncomfortable to learn. On the flip side, some students dislike classroom learning. It could be what they dislike about school and why they need tuition in the first place.

Knowing your child’s preference is important. If the learning culture and environment are wrong, the tuition will be a waste of money no matter how affordable it seems.

Consider whether your child will benefit more from a shorter private session with more focused attention, or a more generic group lesson at a tuition centre where the teacher will go through all concepts. Shorter, less frequent private lessons may actually work out to be cheaper than paying for the set timetable for tuition centres.

Pro-tip: Some credit cards give rewards or rebates when you use them at tuition centres. Compare the best credit cards in Singapore with to find that offers the best rewards!

7. Does my child really need tuition?

For Primary and Secondary students sending your child for tuition is a great way to build a solid foundation, however, once they reach JC, it might no longer be necessary. The additional worksheets and materials for self practice provided by the school itself is typically more than sufficient to keep students busy and at the top of their game. Answers are also usually provided for and most teachers are willing to help students via after-school consultations.

In addition, some renowned tuition centres like the Economics Cafe sell their notes in the form of a textbook at bookstores such as Popular. This may actually prove to be more useful for self-driven students who do not have time to attend weekly classes.

8. Will an online tuition class do?

With the COVID-19 circuit breaker in full swing and tuition centres closed, many have moved their tuition classes online. Lessons are conducted in groups or one-on-one via Zoom or Google Hangouts.

Cost of an online tuition class ranges between $24 and $55, price depends on which grade your child is in. Tenopy is one of the few tuition centres which have gone online and they charge $24 for Primary students and up to $50 for Secondary students per 1.5 hour lesson. Tenopy has one unique offering, they offer parents the option to attend the lesson with their child.

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Ryan has been writing about finance for the last 10 years. He also has his fingers in a lot of other pies, having written for publications such as Men’s Health, Her World, Esquire, and Yahoo! Finance.


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