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​‘We’re ready to help’: University students rallying volunteers to give free tuition

Published on: 15-Apr-2020

It was the second time in a row that Andy Teo’s tutee had cancelled on him. “Hope the (virus) situation gets better,” a text message from the student’s parent read.

This – and another student cancelling lessons for two weeks due to a stay-home notice – got Andy thinking about how he could best teach online.  

On Apr 3, it was announced that schools would move to full home-based learning (HBL) for a month. and this had Andy worrying further. What about other students who, like his tutees, struggled to keep up in class? Could it be even harder for them now?

How could he make himself available to those in need?

Then an idea struck: What if he rallied fellow tutors to volunteer their time for free?


Andy’s idea was simple: Tutors, in any subject from the primary to tertiary school level, would first register via a Google form. They could indicate how much time they wanted to offer – even if it were just 30 minutes.

Students who needed help would be able to browse the list of registered tutors, and contact their desired ones by email. The tutor would decide how to conduct the lesson remotely, be it using video conferencing tools like Zoom or text messaging.

The Temporary Academic Assistance (TAA) initiative is meant to be a resource platform that runs itself, explained Andy, 25, a final-year accountancy student at Nanyang Technological University.

“For example, if the student were struggling with algebra on a particular day and could not get to their teacher, they could find help here,” Andy said, noting that teachers might be swamped with preparing HBL materials every day. 

Every day, 10 to 20 people signed up. In just over a week, 250 volunteers were ready to serve.

“The generosity of the volunteers really touched me. I thought, if I could reach 50 tutors, that was more than enough,” Andy said.

What was also surprising was the wide range of volunteers, Andy said. Some had no tutoring experience but offered to help in wherever their strengths lay. So, besides the usual math, science and language subjects, there were those who could teach art, design and technology, music, and the humanities.

For students in polytechnic, ITE or university, there was help available in engineering, computer science and mass communication. One volunteer even specialised in teaching primary school children with autism.


Another similar initiative, Covid-19 Tutoring Support for Students (CTSS), also sprang up when HBL went into full swing.

Upon registration, students can indicate and rank the subjects they need help with. On their part, volunteer tutors choose what to teach from a list of examinable subjects in Singapore, and indicate their experience level.

The students and tutors will then be matched by the CTSS team, led by Quek Hui Ying, 20. Tutors are encouraged to conduct lessons via the online tutoring platform Bramble, which has been made free with the COVID-19 outbreak.

A week into the initiative, more than 1,400 volunteers have signed up, and more than 180 students matched with tutors.

“It has been very heart-warming to see Singaporeans stepping up to help each other,” said Hui Ying, a first-year history student at Oxford University. “Strangers can come together to do really nice things when they put their mind to it.”

CTSS is now run by a core team, all students aged 19 to 22 – three of them people whom Hui Ying didn’t previously know, but had approached her to help. 


Setting up his TAA initiative took Andy back to his secondary school days, when he needed to book a consultation with his English teacher every week to get better at the subject.

“Now that a lot of people cannot see their teacher, I can imagine how difficult it must be, especially for students who cannot afford tuition,” Andy said.

While this service is meant primarily for students who do not have tuition, it is open to all. Said Andy: “In these difficult times, I don’t think we should be so selective in terms of who we help. 

Likewise, at CTSS, the system is “based on trust”, Hui Ying said.

The team does not ask about the background of a student or their parents. But one single mother of four shared with them how difficult it has been to cope with the outbreak – she had lost her job, and it has been a struggle to juggle HBL for all her children.

So the team hopes to reach out to more Family Service Centres and student care centres, which are best able to identify families in real need. “To all students who really need academic support, don’t be afraid to sign up. We are ready to help,” Hui Ying said.

Source: Channel News Asia, 15 April 2020

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