Daily Management Review

Clamor for Top Grades Breeds a Band of Super Tutors in Singapore who make $1 Million a Year


Clamor for Top Grades Breeds a Band of Super Tutors in Singapore who make $1 Million a Year
Private tutions is big business in Singapore.
The growth of this informal sector is epitomized by the JC Economics, founded by Anthony Fok, one of the best-known faces of Singapore's booming private tuition scene. And it has been just three years that this one-man operation is bringing in more than $1 million dollars a year, reports CNBC.
"That's for total revenue per year. When I started in the year 2013, there were only about three to four students. It was a very small class size and I knew the students personally. Soon the word of mouth grew and now I teach about 200 to 300 students a year," he tells CNBC outside his shop-front-cum-classroom, which is covered in clippings from his press appearances.
Singaporean "super tutors" charge top dollar for top grades and Fok is part of that elite group. And the hope of giving their teenager a leg up in the city-state's highly competitive education system, the parents are more than willing to pay.
To get a spot in Anthony Fok's class at JC Economics, one parent reportedly offered as much as $25,000 for their child.
"There is huge demand from parents. It's fuelled by competition and it's fuelled by ambition to get the students to top schools in the country. So parents are willing to splurge money on tuition services. It's a big industry," Fok, a former Ministry of Education teacher, explains.
Fok says he's encountered parents who are willing to pay up to $25,000 just to guarantee a spot for their child given the limited vacancies in his class near examination time.
At the time when the super tutor first started his business, Christopher Chen and Nicholas Ng had joined Fok's classes.
"Before I had tuition classes I was failing my econs. After coming to Mr. Fok's classes, I find economics very interesting and it helps me a lot to understand how economics works in real life," Chen, now first-year business student at the National University of Singapore, recalled talking to CNBC.
"What makes him a super tutor? To be frank, he can deliver results. Parents in Singapore are really result orientated. They look for tutors that can deliver results for their kids and if a tutor does that, the parent will sign his or her kids to the class," Ng agrees.
A culture that demands academic success is being cashed in by the likes of Fok. Janice Chuah is midway through her Primary 1 mathematics class in nearby Novena.
"Children, let's analyze," she tells CNBC.
About seven years ago Chuah tried her hand at home-based tuition seven years ago after having left her full-time teaching job. She grew her business into a brand through word of mouth after she had began with just four fee-paying students. She launched Concept Math in 2011.
"That year I recall we had close to 200 students and then we took another two years to make our first $1 million," she tells CNBC.
The success of private tutions is shown by the figures at Concept Math which is planning to open a second facility to cater to growing demand  as it can barely cope with the almost 1,000 children now enrolled.
The recent reforms aimed at moving away from an excessive focus on academic results and introduced to the Singaporean education system is welcomes by Chuah.
"The Ministry of Education has introduced a more broad-based way of banding the children, so the focus is definitely moving away from just grades, grades, grades, to a more holistic education."