Wednesday, June 7

Between the lines: The extra costs of education


Excelling at one’s education is a goal that has been naturally programmed into us from the day we were born.

It plays a vital role in ensuring skilled and professional human capital which is crucial for the development of a country.

With this awareness growing rapidly across the nation, the ability to be one step ahead in the learning curve would place an edge up in one’s ability to clinch professional or high-level employments.

As such, it is observed that there has been a growing trend amongst parents in enlisting their children into extra classes and early child education programmes.

Executive director of International Child Resource Institute, Ken Jaffe said: “We now possess research which shows the impact of the provision of quality early childcare and education on the productivity of employees, the economic growth of nations, the reduction of crime in later life, and the significant gains in the brain growth and development of children who experience the right forms of early care.”

Jaffe was saying this in his working paper at the conference of the United Nations Children’s Fund held in Kuala Lumpur recently.

“As an investment in workforce development, it is concluded that investment in human capital breeds economic success not only for those being educated, but also for the overall economy.”

Jaffe pointed out that it is imperative to change the way we look at education and therefore, parents or guardians should invest in the foundation of school readiness from birth to age five.

However, the cost of education is increasing every year.

In addition, in line with the rising average cost of living and the general increase in expenses, education centres and schools are compelled to increase the price of their classes to meet with the rising overhead cost.


Changing times

The cost of education these days differ greatly from that of a decade ago. In a public school, for example, the extra cost for a class can come up to approximately RM50 for additional learning equipment (excluding text books and work books).

This is an almost 70 per cent hike from a decade ago.

But with the employment pool being an even more competitive arena, it grows more imperative to stand out or be an outstanding student based on education and other curricular achievements.

Studies have shown that Asian parents are still more hard-pressed at seeing their children achieve academic excellence, compared with their Western counterparts.


Improving the system

Malaysia is also going through a transition to improve its education system, to produce more well-rounded students that excel not just in their academics, but extra-curricular activities.

However, World Bank Group (World Bank) reported that there is a chink in the armour for the education system in Malaysia of which the nation hopes to would push the country to a high-income nation.

World Bank in its report on Malaysia’s education quality dated December last year, said the quality of cognitive skills of Malaysian students, as measured by standardized international tests, is not on par with the country’s aspirations to become a high-income economy.

It said, based on Malaysia’s results in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), developed by the OECD, the country performed in the bottom third for reading, mathematics and science, well below the international and OECD averages, as well as the level of performance expected given Malaysia’s income level and that of high income economies that Malaysia aspires to join.

“More than half of Malaysian students do not reach basic proficiency levels in Mathematics, and even the top five per cent of Malaysian students perform only in line with the average Korean or Japanese pupil.

“Average performance is not driven by urban-rural disparities, as students from large cities similarly under-perform relative to peers in other East Asian cities. The evolution in performance between 2010 and 2012 was mixed, with significant improvement in mathematics, a small decline in science, but a large decline in reading scores.

“Performance was also well below that of lower-income Vietnam, which participated in the PISA for the first time in 2012,” it explained.

With that in mind, with that in mind and with the Government also pushing to improve its academic and curricular education, how much are parents willing to pay to ensure that their children are one step ahead in the learning pool?

Is spending the extra amount of money worth it especially now, in this new economy whereby academics is just a portion of a larger picture required to clinch a stable and high-paying job?

BizHive Weekly takes a look at the extra costs of education.

ECCE: The learning foundation

Kindergartens, preschools or daycare centres: Regardless of the name, early childhood care and education (ECCE) programmes are a crucial stepping stone before receiving formal, compulsory education starting from Primary 1.

In fact, most primary schools – private and public alike –  require parents or guardians to list down preschools their children have attended.

Preschool has generally been deemed as a key starting point in a child’s education life as it provides basic education on literacy and numerical skills to ensure a ‘smoother’ transition into compulsory learning in Primary 1.

Minister of Welfare, Women and Family Development Datuk Fatimah Abdullah said that it was necessary for children to go through pre-school so that they can learn the necessary skills to cope with education at formal level later on.

In Malaysia pre-school context, especially from the curriculum perspective, Fatimah said children learned through play such as structured play, planning and flexible play in meeting the need of cognitive, psychomotor and affective learning.

According to the Ministry of Education, research evidence from the OECD (2011) had also linked preschool education to increased lifetime earnings and other beneficial life outcomes.

It said that there has been rapid expansion of preschool education over the decades. As at 2011, around 77 per cent of children aged four and above are enrolled in some form of preschool education.

According to statistics by the Ministry of Education, as at November 2013; 192,183 children have been enrolled into pre-schools across the nation.

In a media report, Fatimah said as at 2012, Sarawak had 117 Taska (preschool centres) having a total of 2,186 pupils and 346 teachers while the number of Tadika (kindergartens) was 3,331 with a total of 77,002 pupils and 5,243 teachers.

Statistics by the State Education Department showed that between 2010 and 2012, 97 per cent of primary one pupils attended pre-schools and kindergartens.

On average, the rate for private pre-schools, tadika and/or daycares in Kuching range from RM100 to RM400 per month, depending on the programmes and age of the toddler.

Most schools in Kuching also offer adjoining preschools to make the transition between schools more comfortable for the children and also to offer an affordable alternative for parents.

Additionally, BizHive Weekly observed that most pre-schools would provide basic literacy and numeracy programmes while some would provide additional non-academic education and basic self-grooming education.

On the cost of enrolling their children, we observed that parents and guardians were generally of opinion that the cost is rising each year, especially for private childcare schools.

Nevertheless, they said that this was a given due to the increase in the cost of living and the increase in intake of qualified teachers spurred by the Government’s effort to improve its education system.

They also gave some of the reasons they enroll their children in different preschools based on its location, the qualification of its teachers, as well as the facilities in the school.

They also noted that word-of-mouth play a vital role in their decision in enrolling their children in certain preschools.

Despite its importance to the development of a child, ECCE programmes is a luxury most urban dwellers enjoy as most rural areas particularly in Sarawak, have limited or no access to preschool programmes.

Nevertheless, aware that ECCE plays a role in increasing the nation’s gross national income via producing skilled and talented human capital, the Ministry of Education in its preliminary report on Malaysia’s Education Blueprint 2013 to 2025 said it remains committed to ensure a universal participation in preschools across the nation.

“As students from low-income families are less likely to have attended preschool, they will enter primary school without the advantages of the preschool education that their more affluent peers enjoyed. In order to promote greater equity, the Ministry is already investing heavily in encouraging preschool enrolment as part of the Education National Key Result Area (NKRA),” it said.

In line with existing NKRA preschool initiatives aimed at increasing enrolment, the Ministry said it will collaborate with the private sector to ensure that there are sufficient places available to meet growth in demand.

“The private sector is expected to support delivery of enrolment targets, with 70 per cent of new preschools expected to be privately run.

By 2020, half of all preschool seats will be in the private sector. To support this growth in private preschools, the Ministry will increase fee assistance, launching grants, and preferential loans for start-ups and expansions,” it highlighted.

While preschool will not be made compulsory, the Ministry of Education pointed out that it will continue to encourage enrolment and attendance by lowering barriers to access. This includes raising parental awareness of the benefits of preschool education and providing financial assistance to low-income families. Income thresholds for fee assistance will also be revised to support increased attendance.

According to the blueprint, the Ministry’s target is to drive enrolments to 92 per cent in registered preschools by 2015. By 2020, the Government hopes to achieve universal preschool enrolment with approximately 900,000 students enrolled in preschools across the country.

The extra edge

The costs of extra education such as tuition classes can be seen as an expense that is becoming essential when parents want to ensure that their children can keep up or stay ahead of their performance in school.

There is strong demand for extra classes or tuition after-school hours and it is becoming a growing industry within Malaysia, affirms Lee Khee Chuan, licensed financial adviser representative and director, advisory and practice management for Standard Financial Adviser Sdn Bhd and father of two (aged nine and 13).

In a brief survey by BizHive Weekly, extra classes or tuition have been viewed as an investment for parents or guardians’ future.

Chan, a housewife and mother of four, says she sends her children to tuition centres as she wants to see them achieve good grades and enter a good university.

“They have qualified teachers there. And the good ones usually teach more than what they teach at school,” she said.

Meanwhile, some parents were of opinion that the national school syllabus is not sufficient to equip their child for tertiary education.

In some cases, schools are unable to provide quality teachers who lack the skills to give proper education to a class of 50 or more.

In Kuching, BizHive Weekly surveyed that on average, the rate for tuition classes, per subject and month range from RM80 and above.

“RM50 would be the ideal rate for tuition classes. But nowadays, you can’t find tuition schools at that rate. It has gone up to more than RM80,” said Hanna, guardian of three children aged 10, 13, and 16.

Meanwhile, Lee opined, “The market price is very much set by the market demand and supply forces; and to what extent the parents are willing to pay. I think the price is reasonable.”

Generally, most Kuching parents send their children for compulsory examination subjects such as Bahasa Malaysia, Mathematics, English, and Science.

Most students, BizHive Weekly observed, were placed into tuition/extra classes by their parents but only a handful were willing to attend the classes or had taken the initiative themselves to enroll themselves.

In addition, most top-grade students have attended tuition classes at some point in their schooling years. It is clear that tuition/extra classes is an industry that leverages on the demand from both parents and students.

While extra education in the form of tuition classes can be seen as a method to gain the extra boost in their studies for students, what good are extra classes and/or tuition when students are not interested in the subject or have shown little progress in the subject they are tutored for.

“Parents would be better off doing their own homework and thinking about what’s best for their children, rather than just simply sending their children to tuition classes assuming that their children need the ‘extra’ apart from the normal school hours.

“If the tuition classes are just an extension of what the normal school are doing, then the danger is that the students may find tuition boring and may feel that learning becomes a chore,” Lee pointed out.

“Academic tuition does have it role to play. Parents need to be clear on the reasons or objectives they sent their children for tuition. If the children are in exam year and they need to beef up on certain subjects, then it is good to enroll for tuition classes,” he advised.


More than just exams

Malaysia’s education system is currently going through massive transformation whereby it is slowly transitioning itself to fit the international standard of education.

This includes less emphasis on exams and more on the overall development of the students.

Lee noted that the Ministry of Education has been slowly transforming the education system in order for it to not be exam oriented (as in the case of the abolishment of UPSR and PMR exams).

“Then, parents should rethink of the reasons why we send students just for academic tuitions. Perhaps it is time to look at enrichment classes that use a more holistic approach to education and help children to be more confident and effective learners,” he said.

Looking at an unconventional approach, Hanna opined that while she would still put her charges through tuition classes to improve their academic performance, she would prefer for them to improve themselves as she believes education is mainly discipline, application and practice.

However, she said, tuition schools can help in the sense that the children will be placed into classes, away from distractions such as the television, smart devices and others; hence, fulfill the role of disciplining a child to study.

But in terms of application and practice, effort still needs to come from the child itself as well as his/her teacher/tutor.

The linguistic graduate and software quality analyst also noted that linguistic skills is important in the educational development of a child as it opens up a world of opportunities for them.

Lee further outlined that extra education can also come in the form of non-academic education. He added, “it is always good to expose children to different kind of activities, hobbies and special interest. That will help children to develop both their left and right brains, rather than just predominantly left brained.

“The new economy in the future require talents who are creative and innovative.”