Tutoring Culture in Hong Kong

Published on January 30th, 2021

Introduction (Ishita Gupta)

If one searches up “Hong Kong Tutors” on Google right now, they will get tens of thousands of search results from private tutoring centers promising the most advanced academic achievement for ages ranging from as young as kindergarten to high school. Scrolling down, they will then find google maps directions to the most prominent of these locations. Somewhere, probably in the first two lines on their about page, in every one of these websites, the words “best”, “largest”, “only”, “#1” or any closely related synonym can be found with ease. The Tutoring Culture in Hong Kong is one of the largest in the world. The rise of Hong Kong’s tutoring industry began in the 1980s as the population started to get wealthier. As primary education became compulsory in the 1970s and secondary education started to expand, more and more students were in school and therefore the more economically stable parents were more willing to enroll their children in such tutorial classes. Soon, small tutorial centers began opening up all over Hong Kong offering hourly classes either privately or in-group. The Golden Age of tutoring in Hong Kong, however, did not begin until the 1990s as the race to be accepted into the most prestigious of universities started to pick up pace and the need to fulfill their parent’s traditional values of having strong academics significantly increased the number of students attending tutoring. A stark increase and improvement in tutorial classes advertising the need for their service acted as a major catalyst as well. Today, 69% of Hong Kong students attend a tutorial class after school. The percentage of students who have at least attended one in their life is likely to be significantly higher. In the end, we must step back and question what is driving the industry, and its benefits or the toxicity caused by the rise of the tutoring culture.

Nicole Chan

With the increasing popularity of cram schools (intensive tutorial centers), it’s rare to see classmates around us who don’t enroll in one. Almost every student struggles to achieve the highest scoring band. Walking on the streets of Hong Kong, it’s hard not to see at least one ad for cram schools, advertising the scores of their outstanding students and the grades they have achieved. They are often referred to as the “Tutorial Kings”. Many students blindly follow them, believing that their exam scores will be boosted to the highest level. This has thus caused an increase in the number of cram schools in Hong Kong.

During my junior years, I avoided cram schools and had sufficient time to do extracurricular activities, finish my homework and finish my revision for the day. It was hard to face the peer pressure of not enrolling in a cram school but I ended up with grades above average. However, things changed when I started senior year. With everyone competing for a spot in the best university possible, everyone around me was aiming for better grades. Eventually, I gave in to the peer pressure and begged my parents to enrol me in a cram school. These cram schools were unnecessary, but as many other students would have agreed, they gave me more confidence in exams and provided consolidated notes so that I didn’t have to repeatedly flip through my textbooks.

Despite the fact that cram schools can be useful for those who want to improve their grades, we cannot ignore the stress that it gives students. Enrolling in cram schools exerts an intangible pressure on students, which can increase the risk for mental illnesses. Effective time management would undoubtedly reduce the stress of homework and revision while allowing time for relaxation.

Joanne Yau

As one of the many students in Hong Kong who attends tutorial classes, I am obviously very much influenced by the tutoring culture as well. Ironically enough, even though I myself am a perpetrator in Hong Kong’s tutoring culture, I do think the rising popularity and reliance on tutorial class are doing more harm than good.

I myself have had different experiences with tutorial classes, both positive and negative. I still recall myself in primary school, struggling with maths so badly that I was at the brink of failing my exams. More importantly, the coming Pre-S1 entrance exam for secondary school was not to be undermined. Fortunately, I found an fantastic maths tutor through a friend’s referral, and eventually my grades were satisfactory. I ended up attending his tutorial classes until Form 3, and the improvements were astounding, to say the least. Sadly enough, he wouldn’t teach F4 classes and I was forced to switch to another tutor. To my dismay, my new tutor fell far short of my expectations. I put a halt to his classes after a month of annoyance and exasperation.

Despite my unpleasant experience with the other tutor, I realized the more serious issue that was raised. I used to go into class confidently and with ease, as my tutorial classes would usually get me at least a unit ahead of the content being covered at school. But without the help of tutorial classes, I was left stranded and lost. I tried following my teacher’s teaching, just as the majority of my classmates did. But I couldn’t. I was completely lost. Certainly, I was no math genius, but my grades were still on the higher end of the class. Yet I was left confused in surds and fractions after the double period of maths. It was this exact moment that I realized my reliance on tutorial classes had become an actual problem that could not be overlooked.

The underlying problem of the growing tutoring culture is not to be ignored. The more popular tutoring culture becomes, the more it reflects the systemic issues with our education system. We must ask ourselves: Why do tutors outcompete teachers? Why do tutorial centers outrun mainstream institutions? Is it the fault of our schools, or the entire education system? As businesses, it is justifiable for the tutoring industry to take advantage of our failing education system. But for educators and the government, who should be making education universally accessible for all students, it is their job to ensure such things do not happen. Growing inequality between students who can and cannot afford tutorial classes ; the commodification of education - these are all reflected in the rising tutorial culture.

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