29 September 2013

The Great Singapore 'Tuition' Dilemma: How to pronounce it?

“90 marks is never enough.”

That was the headline last week for a Straits Times report about how even straight-A students are going for tuition.

Only 90 marks? I remember a time when even 99 marks wasn’t enough for my mother.

Oh, how our standards have fallen.

When I brought home a test score of less than 100 per cent, the only tuition I got was the beating of my life from my mother.

But since I was very young then and hadn’t lived many years, any beating would’ve been the beating of my life.

I used to believe that as a child, I was made to wear short pants instead of long pants to allow my parents to strike the vast exposed flesh of my legs with a rattan cane at greater convenience.

Perhaps our hot climate was also a factor, but easy access to cane-able skin surface was the main goal.

If I beat my own kids every time they get less than full marks in school, I would be typing this column on an Asus computer in prison where I had been sent for child abuse and the unrelated fashion crime of wearing Crocs.

Yes, I imagine I would have the use of an Asus computer in prison. A Macbook Pro would be too pie-in-the-sky.

Luckily for students nowadays, tuition rarely involves much physical trauma.

So instead of beating them, I send my two kids to tuition classes. I’m not sure if tuition does them any good, but it makes me feel as a parent that at least I’m doing something, no matter how futile it may seem sometimes.

And even if my kids’ grades don’t improve, I’m afraid to stop the tuition for fear that without tuition, their results would be even worse.

And that’s how the great tuition industrial complex sucks you in.

Beating my kids would’ve been cheaper. I’m spending a small fortune on these tuition classes.



One evening, I went to wait for my daughter outside the tuition centre and got worried when she didn’t come out after more than half an hour after her class was supposed to have ended. All the kids who came out were not my daughter.

My wife called and demanded to know where I was.

I said I was waiting outside the tuition centre. My wife said I couldn’t be because my daughter had just called her and had been waiting for half an hour outside the tuition centre.

That was when I realised I was at the wrong tuition centre! My daughter was at the Chinese tuition centre while I was waiting for her outside the maths tuition centre.



I need tuition to keep track of what tuition classes my children are taking.

But my biggest problem with tuition is the way it’s pronounced.

For a while, my son insisted on pronouncing it as three syllables, as in “too-ish-uhn”, for the unreasonable reason that it’s the correct pronunciation.



It made him sound like a prig (which is a polite alternative to another similar sounding word I wanted to use).

What hast thou wrought, Speak Good English Movement?

The movement’s website says that “tuition” is commonly mispronounced as “tu-tion”, which is of course how most Singaporeans pronounce it.

Have you tried correcting someone’s pronunciation? They seldom say “thank you” afterwards.

An argument about whether it’s the British or American pronunciation is more likely to ensue.

I remember when I was in the navy, an officer was briefing the crew on the procedure for abandoning ship, but he kept mispronouncing it as “abundant ship” until I couldn't take it any more and interrupted him to tell him it should be “abandon ship”.

Everyone looked at me as if they were going to throw me into the sea.

But my son’s too proper pronunciation of “tuition” presented a slightly different problem.

My dilemma was, should I correct his correct pronunciation?



Is it so important to be right? Or is it more important not to be the odd one out?

I decided to tell my son that although his pronunciation of “tuition” was correct, be aware that being correct could get him thrown into the sea one day. The choice was his.

My 16-year-old son has since caved and is now mispronouncing “tuition” like every full-blooded Singaporean should. It’s our right to be wrong.

I’m glad I didn’t have to beat him. He’s already wearing long pants.

But it’s also a little sad that my son had to give in to fit in.

What hast thou wrought on our country’s children, “tu-tion”?

Fortunately, I’m a good swimmer.

- Published in The New Paper, 29 September 2013

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