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** For foreigners who are not familiar with the country, education and tuition culture in Malaysia, you might find the following guide useful - Malaysia, Education & Tuition: A Background Guide.

Tuition vouchers: burden or boon ?

         The tuition voucher scheme (Skim Baucer Tuisyen, SBT) can be truly described as something uniquely Malaysian. On the one hand, it is a sincere effort of the government to help financially needy students. On the other hand, the scheme also represents an affirmative nod to the concept of tuition as a whole. The government, in effect, is recognizing tuition as an effective way to improve academic performance. But in order to gauge just how successful this particular implementation of tuition can be, we need to look into the mechanics of the scheme itself.

The tuition divide
         Since the 'tuition boom' in the 1980's, the popularity of tuition among pupils in Malaysia has been growing unceasingly. From its early beginning as something of a luxury for well-to-do families, it has now established itself as one of the status symbols of the middle class. Tuition enjoys wide and deep adoption in our society, especially among urbanites. However, up until now, it has still remained beyond the grasp of low-income households. Due to this disparity, tuition has unwittingly become yet another nail in the coffin for them. By being left out, it works against the poorer students - making them disadvantaged in school compared to the rest of their classmates who can afford the extra coaching. It is with the intention to counter this inequality that the government introduced the tuition voucher scheme.

Tuition voucher scheme
         The tuition voucher scheme (Skim Baucer Tuisyen, SBT) started in early 2004. Under this scheme, primary school pupils from poor families who are academically weak will get extra tutoring after school hours. Only poor pupils in Primary 4, Primary 5 and Primary 6 are eligible. In this first year of its initiation, the scheme targets 500,000 students only. Due to the limited implementation, its beneficiaries must not only be poor financially but also in the academic sense as well. School principals will select the candidates worthy of this aid. These students are then provided with vouchers that will entitle them to extra coaching after school adjourned. The tuition classes are to be conducted by school teachers using school facilities. Students are tutored in the four main academic subjects of Bahasa Melayu, English, Mathematics and Science. The government pays teachers who volunteer for the scheme through the vouchers, thus enabling them to earn some extra income.

Nothing different
         On the surface, every party stands to benefit. The government achieves its aims, the students improve academically and the teachers earn more money. That will hopefully be the eventual outcome. But in the meantime, there exist a number of potential weaknesses in the scheme. One of them concerns the format of the tuition session itself. The students are taught in a classroom of their own school, by their own school teachers. In fact, it's not much different from their normal school session earlier in the day. What's more, if the teachers are merely teaching in the same manner as they have done before, then these tuition classes are nothing more but repetitions of a prior classroom experience. And since classroom lessons have not been sufficient for these students in the past, how could the same repetitions do any better now? For improvements to take place, tuition classes must be substantially different from the usual school lessons.

Sending wrong signals
         An even more important factor is the attitude of the tuition participants, students' and teachers' both. Since the tuition session resembles very much their normal school session, and because they don't have to pay for it, students may come to regard the tuition session as just an extension of school hours. With this perspective, the students would likely resent the extra time in the classroom. Even if they don't disdain it, they would be less appreciative of the tuition lessons. Similarly, the attitude of the school teachers also matters. These school teachers would be hard-pressed to transform themselves into tuition teachers as required. The compensation of an actual tuition teacher is closely tied to its teaching performance. That's why tuition teachers work hard to meet or surpass the expectations of their 'customers' - the students. Under the tuition voucher scheme however, there is no such performance pressure applied on the school teachers. Therefore, a school teacher is usually not as highly motivated as a tuition teacher when it comes to helping students succeed.

More and better, please
         While the government's initiative is deservably laudable, it is still not a fully accomplished one. The government, on its part, concedes that the success of the scheme ultimately depends on four parties. They are, namely, the school principals who must identify students truly worthy of this aid; teachers who must help these students succeed; students who must attend all their tuition classes and study hard; and parents who must push their children to make full use of this opportunity. So far, a total of RM200 million has been allocated for this tuition voucher scheme. With so much funds committed and more expected still in years to come, better efforts in planning and execution should be made so that every sen spent really counts.

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Glossary of Terms :
(1) Tuition - Tutelage, the act of tutoring or teaching a student (pupil); Fees paid for instruction (especially for higher education). In Malaysia, tuition is more popularly used to denote tutoring rather than fee. Common Malaysian misspellings: Tiution, Tution. *(BM): Tuisyen, Tiusyen, Tusyen, Tuisen, Tiusen, Tuisyan, Tiusyan, Tusyan. | (2) Home Tuition - Tutoring that takes place at students' or tutors' home as opposed to at tuition centers; Also: Home Tutoring, Private Tuition, Private Tutoring. *(BM): Tuisyen Di Rumah, Tuisyen Swasta. | (3) Personal Tuition - Tutoring on the basis of one tutor catering to one student. Also: Personal Tutoring, Individual Tuition, Individual Tutoring, One-to-one Tuition, 1-to-1 Tutoring, One-to-one Tutoring, 1-to-1 Tuition. *(BM): Tuisyen Peribadi, Tuisyen Persendirian, Tuisyen Perseorangan, Tuisyen Individu. | (4) Group Tuition - Tutoring on the basis of one tutor catering to several (small number, but more than one) students. Also: Small Group Tuition, Small Class Tuition, Group Tutoring, Small Group Tutoring, Small Class Tutoring. *(BM): Tuisyen Berkumpulan, Tuisyen Kumpulan Kecil, Tuisyen Kelas Kecil. | (5) Tutors - Tuition Teachers, persons who conduct tuition. In Malaysia, teacher is more popularly used to denote a school teacher whereas tutor usually means a non-school teacher. Also: Tiutors, Tuitors. *(BM): Guru Sekolah, Cikgu Sekolah, Pengajar Tuisyen, Guru Tuisyen, Cikgu Tuisyen. | (6) Home Tutors - Tutors who provide home tuition as opposed to those who teach at tuition centres. Also: Private Tutors, Personal Tutors, Individual Tutors, One-to-one Tutors, 1-to-1 Tutors, Group Tutors, Small Group Tutors, Private Teachers, Personal Teachers, Individual Teachers, One-to-one Teachers, 1-to-1 Teachers, Group Teachers, Small Group Teachers, Private Tuition Teachers, Personal Tuition Teachers, Individual Tuition Teachers, One-to-one Tuition Teachers, 1-to-1 Tuition Teachers, Group Tuition Teachers, Small Group Tuition Teachers. *(BM): Pengajar Di Rumah, Pengajar Swasta, Pengajar Peribadi, Pengajar Persendirian, Pengajar Perseorangan, Guru Di Rumah, Guru Swasta, Guru Peribadi, Guru Persendirian, Guru Perseorangan, Cikgu Di Rumah, Cikgu Swasta, Cikgu Peribadi, Cikgu Persendirian, Cikgu Perseorangan. | (7) Tuition Centers - Private institutions that conduct tuition on classroom-like settings. Also: Tuition Centres, Tutorial Centers, Tutorial Centres, Tuition Classes, Tutorial Classes, Tutoring Classes. *(BM): Pusat Tuisyen, Pusat Bimbingan, Pusat Tutorial, Kelas Tuisyen. | (8) Home Tuition Jobs - Home tuition vacancies; Posts to be filled by home tutors. Also: Private Tuition Jobs, Home Tutoring Jobs, Private Tutoring Jobs, Home Tuition Assignments, Private Tuition Assignments, Home Tutoring Assignments, Private Tutoring Assignments, Private Tuition Vacancies, Home Tutoring Vacancies, Private Tutoring Vacancies. *(BM): Jawatan Kosong Tuisyen, Pekerjaan Tuisyen, Kerja Tuisyen, Tugasan Tuisyen. | (9) Home Tutees - Home tuition students; Pupils receiving home tuition from home tutors. *(BM): Pelajar Tuisyen, Murid Tuisyen, Penuntut Tuisyen. | *(BM) denotes terms in Bahasa Melayu or Malay Language.