Tuition agencies are bad for us

Tuition agencies are bad for us. They are bad for the tuition ecosystem, they are bad for parents, they are bad for tutors. There are alternatives out there, and we should all be flocking to those alternatives rather than ensuring the continuing success of these tuition agencies.

(Tuition agencies are entities that offer matchmaking services for tutors, for a fee.)

Why tuition agencies are bad for parents

Parents can’t interview the tutors beforehand, can’t ask about their teaching methods, and can’t get a feel for whether the tutor would be a good match for their children. Tuition agencies are just interested in getting a match between the tutor and customer so that they can collect their fees. These agencies may boast that they have the best tutors in the world, but the best tutors in this island tend not to use tuition agencies anyway.

Dear parents, tuition agencies rarely interview us tutors. They just want to see if tutors are willing to teach, and they try to matchmake us. When I was just starting out as a tutor in 2003, I had a grand total of ONE tuition agency who grilled me about my qualifications and teaching methods. Wouldn’t you like to interview a tutor before you hire one?

Why tuition agencies are bad for tutors

Tuition agencies make tutors lazy. If, year to year, you are relying on agencies to ensure that you have students, you may want to examine how you’re going about doing things. If you’re a tutor and you’re reading this, listen to me. Do something else to ensure a steady stream of students.

You may want to have relief teaching stints every now and then so that you have access to a large pool of students who are already familiar with your teaching style. You may want to reach out to other tutors (who teach other subjects, of course) to recommend your services. You may want to set up a website, like me, aha! But please, stop relying on tuition agencies. Even if you ignore the lost income, you’re probably going to depress your own income in the long run, because of how agencies distort the market.

Tuition agencies do not encourage ‘high value’ tutors

Tuition agencies tend present tutors as equal substitutes for each other, which often means that the lowest priced tutor wins. This would be a good thing if tutors were truly equal. However, think about tutors in terms of value. Tutors should be offering, and parents should be demanding, the best value for their money. Often, the best teachers are not the ones who charge the lowest fees. The tutors who offer the most value are, in my estimation, those who offer group tuition classes at reasonable prices (like me, la!). Tuition agencies don’t promote value — they promote tutors who are cheap. They do this not because they are evil, but because they are responding to their customers (parents) who pressure them to lower prices.

Oh joy, there are alternatives!

Many tutors have their own websites. Look for them, contact them, and very often you’ll end up with a better tutor than what a tuition agency can supply. And yeah yeah, I’m about to promote the website that listed me as an expert tutor. The Domain of Experts. But hear me out, because what I’m about to present to you isn’t completely selfish.

Parents, this website allows you to contact tutors before you hire them. You can grill the potential tutor to your own satisfaction before you hire anyone. You can even grill a tutor for fun, but I won’t encourage that, ok? Tutors can get fierce too 😉

Tutors, if you want to get listed on the website, you have to make sure that you present yourself well. No longer can you be lazy and just go “oh, I have a degree, let’s do this!” You must be able to teach well, and you must be able to convince people of this.

I quote from their tutor submission guidelines (emphasis mine):
Note: High caliber part time tutors, as well as outstanding university graduates who previously studied in the local polytechnics or in junior colleges not mentioned above shall be considered on a case-by-case basis. Suitably qualified foreigners who have settled permanently in Singapore and till date sufficiently demonstrated expertise in professional tutoring will not be disregarded; however they shall be subjected to equally stringent screening.

If all the tutors in Singapore flocked to this website, many tuition agencies would go bust. True, it would mean that I’d be competing with many other tutors, but so be it. If it works for the country, it works for me. Ah, I’m hoping that happens.

 

Are you looking for an English tutor? For one-on-one lessons or group lessons, please send an email to kevinseahsg@gmail.com, or call/SMS/whatsapp 97700557 (Singapore only). I’m not always at my phone, so if I don’t pick up, please leave me an SMS to let me know you’re looking for a tutor.

TUITION CENTRE OWNERS, TAKE NOTE. If you do this, you are losing potential profits.

Tuition centre owners, listen.. if you are greedy, you will lose profits.

By all means, take care of your bottom line. No one is asking us to sink to bankruptcy just to teach. However, if you are already making a healthy profit, don’t go all out to fleece your employees and customers just so that you can go for long holidays in the North Pole. Yes, there are bills to pay just because a tuition centre is a brick-and-mortar establishment. Pay them off, take care of yourself and your family, but take care of your employees and customers too.

In my experience, tuition centres pay their tutors pretty bad rates. This, to me, is inexplicable. Yep, I tried working with tuition centres for awhile, and while I had a fairly pleasant experience with the people I worked with, my experience seems to be atypical. I honestly wonder how people can work for S$30 an hour, for 1.5 hours, especially if they know that they are good teachers.

Let’s think of this with the bottom line in mind. Imagine a tuition centre that gets a good tutor, and pays him a low wage, making profits off him while word spreads about his teaching abilities. Perhaps he will stay till the end of the year out of a sense of duty to the students, but once the tuition centre loses the good tutor (who stays for low pay, right?), the tuition centre is at the mercy of the next tutor. Perhaps the next tutor will come into class hungover everyday (you pay peanuts, you get monkeys).

Let’s spell it out: parents will figure out that they aren’t getting value for their money, and the tuition centre might go bye-bye.

I’m not asking tuition centres to run themselves like a charity. I’m asking tuition centres to run themselves as profitable businesses via the offering of high quality services (i.e. high quality teaching). You don’t get good teachers unless you pay them decent wages and offer a good working environment. (Aside: MOE, if you experience a perennial shortage of English teachers, offer higher pay and fix your systems!)

I’ve never run a tuition centre, so to be completely honest, I don’t know the pressures of running one. But if I were to run one, I would make sure -all- my employees were happy, so that they can concentrate on the job of delivering the best lessons they can. Who knows, perhaps one day I may step into the tuition centre biz.

If I do, I’ll post the results of my attempt. Something tells me I won’t fail.