Sunday, December 25, 2011
This flat is a tuition centre
ABOUT 30 children were present in the classroom, heads bent over books while listening intently to their tutor as she barked out her instructions.
A bespectacled woman, who appeared to be in her 40s, stood at the front of the class, teaching mathematics to the children.
There were about 10 tables in the classroom and the students were seated on stools - furiously writing down the answers to the woman's questions
But this was no ordinary tuition centre. It's in an eighth-storey HDB flat in Yishun.
The whole living room in the four-room unit had been transformed into a classroom.
There were no sofas or armchairs in the living room.
Instead, the space was filled with tables laid out in neat rows.
A few children were even seated in the kitchen, trying their best to follow the lesson.
There was a whiteboard on the living room wall and high on another wall was a sign which said: "Ming Yuan Learning Centre".
The owner of the flat could be committing an offence by transforming it into a tuition centre.
Under HDB's Home Based Small Scale Business Scheme, home owners are permitted to conduct private tuition in their flats, but they can teach not more than three students at a time.
The flats cannot be used as tuition centres as they are meant for residential use.
HDB said yesterday that this is because a large number of students may cause noise or other form of nuisance to the neighbours when they move in and out of the flat while attending classes.
It added that cases of tuition centres operating from flats have been rare in the past three years.
It said that in 2008, there was an isolated case in Bishan where the flat owner converted the master bedroom into a "classroom" to conduct tuition classes of between eight and 10 students per class.
HDB warned the flat owner and he relocated his tuition centre to commercial premises.
As for the Yishun flat, HDB said it has made some discreet checks but it needs to conduct a more thorough investigation as its officers were unable to gain access to the unit.
HDB said that if the lessee is indeed using the flat as a tuition centre for more than three students at any one time, it will not hesitate to take enforcement action.
Posing as a parent interested in enrolling a child with the centre, this reporter checked out the flat last week.
Near the front door, facing the corridor, was a colourful display about the size of a dining table.
Pasted on it were copies of certificates and testimonials, believed to be from the tutor's students.
The tutor, who is also the flat owner, said she teaches English, Mathematics and Science to primary school students.
"I teach all three subjects at $64 per student a month, about two hours per lesson, twice a week," she said.
"I don't teach just one subject - it's $64 for all three subjects."
While I was there, the woman spoke sternly to the students and even hollered at some of them for not listening to her instructions.
She had asked the students, who will be in Primary Four next year, to list the multiples of certain numbers as part of their lesson.
After about 30 minutes, she said it was time for me to leave. When asked about her qualifications, she snapped back: "I have a diploma in teaching."
As for whether she had received her training at the National Institute of Education, she replied that she is not a teacher
Asked where she had obtained her diploma, she said curtly: "If you want to try, you can try lor... If you don't trust me, then you don't come lor... It is as simple as that."
At the void deck of the block, one of her students, when approached, claimed that she canes students who misbehave.
The parent of another child was surprised when told of this, but said the learning centre offers one of the cheapest packages around and that it was "value for money".
Yesterday, TNP called the tutor and asked if she is aware that she could be in breach of HDB rules.
She said she is confident she is not. She said she is a single parent and has been conducting tuition for 19 years as she needs the money to support her son who has a mental problem.
The woman added: "My neighbours have never complained about my classes. In fact, they are very friendly with me."
A check with two tuition centres showed that her fees are much lower.
Mavis Tutorial Centre, which has 16 branches islandwide, charges up to $90 per subject per month for primary school students.
Its human resource manager, Ms Kelly Sim, said each weekly lesson lasts 90 minutes.
She added that the centre is transparent about the qualifications of its tutors.
Mr Max Tan, a tutor at True Learning Centre, said it charges up to $125 per subject per month for two-hour weekly classes.
Mr Tan, who used to head the Mathematics Department at Hwa Chong Institution, said: "Our tutors are all extremely qualified and their credentials are clearly stated on our website."
Need to register
Tuition centres are required to register with the Ministry of Education (MOE) as they operate as schools.
Tuition agencies do not have to be registered with the MOE, but have to be registered with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority.
They supply and deploy tutors to students.
Between January and July this year, the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) received 11 complaints against tuition centres and private tutors, mypaper reported on July 7.
Nineteen such complaints were filed with Case last year, four more than in 2009
The New Paper | Thu Dec 22 2011