What is a tuition agency?
Tuition agencies act as a go-between middleman between the tutor and parents. A tuition agency’s job is to help parents find a suitable tutor for their child. Normally a tuition agency would have a database of hundreds or sometimes thousands of potential tutors from which they would choose a few tutors whom they think are best suited for teaching your child.
Note that you as a parent do not have to pay anything to the tuition agency. Instead, the tuition agent collects their fees from the specified tutor once that tutor is selected for a particular assignment. Generally, the agent takes what the tutor earns in the first two lessons.
Advantages of using a Tuition Agency
Tuition agencies have become more popular in recent years because they provide relatively affordable 1-1 home tuition, and are one of the most convenient and quick ways to get a tutor.
Parents who are getting a tutor for the first time may be unfamiliar with the process, or some parents may need to get a tuition teacher as soon as possible (say if the exams are just round the corner). And these cases getting a tuition teacher from an agency would be the way to go.
Disadvantages of using a Tuition Agency
However, the disadvantage in using tuition agencies is the quality of the teachers. Most tuition agencies comprise tutors who are still studying themselves, usually in university or JC, although some do have a handful of full-time tutors. Many part-time tutors themselves are still studying, and give tuition lessons only to make additional income. As such, many of these tutors do not have the professionalism or the experience of a full-time teacher.
Additionally, because tuition agencies have to screen so many potential tutors, many tuition agencies simply conduct cursory background checks on their tutors. Some tuition agencies simply accept resumes and credentials, and do not even talk to the tutor before sending them out on assignments.
The Process of Getting a Tutor from a Tuition Agency
Here is the process for hiring a tutor with a tuition agency
1. Parent calls a tuition agency with their request (giving their location, and what they’re looking for)
2. Tuition agency “pings” a wide range of teachers in the database, and see who replies (usually done by SMS)
3. Tuition agency calls several tutors who replied that are deemed most suitable for teaching this student.
4. Tuition agency then calls the parents to give a list of the profiles of the available tutors (such as availability and fee rates)
5. The parent may pick a tutor immediately, or may request a phone interview with the potential tutor.
6. The tutor goes down for the first lesson.
How to Pick the Best Tuition Agency?
There are many, many tuition agencies in Singapore. Most of which have self-assigned taglines like “best tuition agency” or “most popular tuition agency”.
But how do you really find the “best” tuition agency in Singapore? Well, as with many things, there is no one quick easy way, and you’ll have to do a bit of homework. But here is a general checklist of things to look out for when speaking with a tuition agency:
- Customer Service : Is the agent reliable and quick in replying? Does he/she provide detailed information to you or just give cursory standard answers like “all of our teachers are very good” or “you won’t regret getting a tutor with us”.
- Quality of Teachers :How do they vet their tutors? (Having been tutors ourselves, we know a thing or two about this). Most agencies do not meet the tutor in person, and many do not even talk to the potential tutor over the phone! Most potential tutors simply sign up via email or by filling their particulars into a website form, and they are automatically added to the tuition database without so much as a phone interview. This is not to say that all tuition agencies do this, but a significant number of agencies (more than half) do.
- Size of Database of Teachers : Normally, one would think that the larger the database of a tuition agency, the more proficient that agency is at selecting the best tutor for you. However, this is not necessarily true (see point 2 above). Tuition agencies with huge databases tend to skim on their interview requirements.
- How they select the tutor : Again, based on our personal experience as tutors in the past) When agencies receive a tuition request from a parent, most agencies simply send out an SMS blast to all the tutors in their database, and see who responds. Thus, they are not actually “selecting” the best teacher for you, but are instead giving you a list of the teachers who have responded and are available.
Again, this is not to paint all tuition agencies in Singapore as being lazy or unethical. This is simply an informative article that gives you insight into the actual ‘industry practices’ of the tuition agency industry (much like our own unpleasant experiences with the ‘industry practices’ of the automotive repair industry.
A Note About “Supertutors”
“Supertutors” is a term coined by The Straits Times referring to tuition teachers who earn a lot of money, sometimes upwards of SGD 1 million a year. Many well known individual teachers have opened their own tuition centres. These are tutors who have good reputation and an established track record in helping students improve significantly. Many students themselves attest to the skills of these tutors in helping them improve their mathematics results, sometimes by a very significant jump in grades.
However a significant downside to learning with these teachers is the cost of tuition fees. Because they are in greater demand, and usually have students queuing up to learn under them, these teachers charge significantly higher tuition fees even for group classes. (Also, It is unlikely that these teachers would want to teach one to one home tuition).
Also note that the experience level and teaching ability of these tutors can vary greatly. A tutor that has many students may not necessarily be the best tutors for your child. Moreover, for most of these tutors their class size is so big that they may not be able to give individual attention to each individual student. This means that if your child has a particular question that is not being covered in the class syllabus, your child may not be able to get the question answered at all.
Finally, having an expensive and reputable math tutor does not guarantee that your child will automatically do well in the examinations. There are many cases of parents paying top dollar to place their child in the care of these very expensive tutors, only to find that their child’s grade improvement in the exams remains mediocre.