SINGAPORE – For 16-year-old Sheryse Siah, online tuition saves about three hours of travelling time, which means getting some precious extra sleep.
As the Covid-19 situation worsened in March 2020, Sheryse’s mathematics tuition classes at Mad4Math pivoted from in-person group lessons to virtual classes.
Now, as Singapore eases restrictions, some classes, including Sheryse’s, are moving into a hybrid mode, where some students are present physically, while others attend class through Zoom.
But for some students like Sheryse, the idea of attending tuition classes in-person seems increasingly unattractive.
This makes it likely that online or hybrid-style classes will continue after the pandemic ends.
She said: “I don’t see a reason to go in unless there is a pressing need, like if I wanted help with my graphing calculator. But even then, my tutor can send me videos.”
To her mother, consultancy co-owner Siah Tsu Lyn, 45, having her daughter attend classes online also means convenience and access to tutors who are farther away. Mad4Math is in Bukit Timah, while they live in Kovan.
She said: “It saves a lot of time for me as well, because I am her driver… Online classes also seem to have no detrimental effect on her grades, so I’m happy with this arrangement.”
Ms Chyroline Tan, who owns and operates Mad4Math, said online or hybrid tuition lessons are here to stay even when the Covid-19 pandemic recedes.
Embracing technology has made things workable or even easier for her and her students, Ms Tan, 45, told The Straits Times.
“Only about a third of my students come in for lessons, the rest dial in on Zoom.”
She has them send in their homework via messaging app Telegram, marks it on her tablet, then sends it back.
She teaches mainly secondary school students and pre-university students up to their O-level, A-level or International Baccalaureate examinations in groups of up to 13.
However, she has found that online classes do not work for every student, especially younger ones.
Ms Tan said: “Some kids are difficult to read over Zoom and it’s hard to tell if they really understand something.
“It’s also sometimes difficult to get younger ones to pay attention, particularly those in their early teens, like Secondary 1 or 2.”
Parents of younger children have also found online tuition tricky at times.
Mother-of-four Alexia Ho, 44, said that while online tuition has worked well for her eldest son, a Secondary 2 student, it is not easy for her younger children, who are in Primary 6, 4 and 1.
Ms Ho, a former fashion designer who is now a stay-at-home mum, prefers to help her kids with their work herself.
However, tuition is a must-have for some subjects like their mother tongue, as “Chinese has always been a struggle for all my kids”.
She prefers having her children go for in-person lessons, but would be glad to have the option for online classes in the future.
“I think online tuition is less effective when they’re young – they have a harder time focusing for long periods of time without intervention.”
Online teaching also does not suit every tutor’s style or class set-up.
Physics tutor Bai Kelei, 38, told ST that as he teaches small groups of two to three students, he relies a lot on visual cues and conversation to check if his students understand the content.
“Online lessons are better than no lessons at all, but, for me, it is more of a stop-gap measure.”
While online or hybrid classes may become the norm in the future, it appears that students and parents must make a decision based on what works best for them, tutors said.
Ms Tan, who has been tutoring for 26 years, said: “In the end, it really depends on what the child is like. Is he able to focus by himself, pay attention and do the work, or does he need more supervision?”
She added: “Having classes online or offline doesn’t really change what the child is like – my students who used to be late in-person are still late for class, even though they just have to dial in.”