Axed 2 major school exams, a double blow for tuition centres

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GEORGE TOWN: Tuition centres appear to be the biggest losers following the government’s announcement that two major school examinations – the Year 6 Primary School Achievement Test or UPSR and the Form 3 Assessment or PT3 – had been cancelled.

With the movement control order (MCO) already affecting tuition centres, the cancellation announced by the education ministry this week could be the death knell for an industry that has long thrived on the importance of passing these two examinations.

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Many have already been reeling from nearly zero revenue since the partial lockdown started on March 18.

A check by FMT revealed that several large tuition centres in the Klang Valley could lose up to RM50,000 a month in student fees, based on a rough calculation of fees charged for four subjects.

The bigger ones have some reserves due to the advance fees requirement, but not the smaller tuition centres which rely on month-to-month fees.

At least 10 tuition centres in the Klang Valley and Penang said they were struggling to pay rent, utility bills and salaries for support staff.

Tutor KK Lee, well known for his mathematics classes catering to those sitting for the SPM and STPM examinations which have been postponed, has taken his classes online.

But he is worried about the number of future enrolments.

Since the MCO, 40% of his 300-plus students have dropped out, and the number is expected to drop further.

“My worry is if schools will reopen at all this year. If schools don’t open, students won’t come for tuition,” Lee, who runs the Ai Tuition Centre in Kuala Lumpur, told FMT.

Schools in the country have been closed since March 14 due to the first-term holidays when the MCO was first announced.

The cancellation of UPSR and PT3 was announced by Education Minister Radzi Jidin on Wednesday.

Radzi also said the Form 5 SPM examination for this year would be postponed to the first quarter of next year, as would the dates for the Form 6 STPM examinations.

Radzi said the cancelled exams would be replaced with other methods to evaluate students.

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Lee said the next three months are critical for tuition centres such as his.

The month of May usually sees more Form 6 students enrolling, when they start their term at schools nationwide.

The months of June and July meanwhile would see an uptick of Form 4 students enrolling to ready themselves for the following year’s SPM examination.

“Now I am not sure if we will get new students at all. And as we are in the city centre, most would have to take public transport to get here. With the lockdown, I don’t think that’s ideal for us.”

In Penang, the MCO forced the Gelugor Tuition Centre to close its shutters for the first time in 30 years.

Its principal Mohammed Thajudin Abdul Muthaliff said it did not take the “digital classroom” path as it had thought the lockdown would not last long.

He said converting to online classrooms would be costly and tedious, given that some teachers do not have proper access to the internet and devices.

“Some of our students are not from well-off families. They don’t have internet access at home and rely on mobile phones. Online classes are not really possible for them.

“So for the time being, our students are given questions by their teachers as homework via WhatsApp and they are to hand in their work by the week’s end,” he said.

Thajudin said during better times, the centre had 15 teachers and a clerk, with some 300 students from primary and secondary levels.

He said under the lockdown, he had had to bear the cost of rental and utility bills in addition to salaries.

But the biggest casualties are the tutors, who would lose their income.

In Thajudin’s case, his teacher could lose on average RM1,500 a month.

Thajudin hopes tuition centres like his will get a slice of the government’s Covid-19 aid package.

“I hope aid will be given to registered tuition centres like ours, especially ones that have been running for more than 10 years.” – FMT

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