Accused of ‘enabling racists,’ Singapore tutor firm to drop racial preference

Tutor application pages of several home tutoring agencies with options to select a tutor’s race. Images: Wake Up, Singapore/Facebook
Tutor application pages of several home tutoring agencies with options to select a tutor’s race. Images: Wake Up, Singapore/Facebook

A Singapore tutoring agency said it would remove an option for clients to choose the race of their tutors after being accused of encouraging racism.

SmileTutor, which provides private home tutoring up to the tertiary level, announced yesterday that it would remove the option from its booking system within the day after it and other firms were assailed for “enabling racists.”

In its announcement, the firm justified the feature as something many parents sought.

“The reason for having this option in the first place is because many parents request during our prospecting phone calls (about 20-30% of parents have racial preference),” it wrote.

The company made clear it felt the pressure campaign was unfair.

“In fact it’s quite standard industry practice in our rather small industry. Our competitors also have this on their website so it’s not 100% fair to just single us out. And this has been on our website for many years too.”

It had originally allowed clients to choose from Chinese, Indian, Malay and others when booking a tutor.

The episode erupted when it and other agencies such as ChampionTutor and BrightTutor were called out for enabling discrimination by making race a factor for subjects other than language.

Neither ChampionTutor nor BrightTutor responded immediately to Coconuts’ messages requesting comment.

SmileTutor called upon parents to be “more open-minded” to all races of tutors and further defended its service, saying it was just meeting the “needs and requests” of clients to be competitive.

“But ultimately, we are just an agency that needs to meet the needs and requests of our clients (or they will simply choose the tutors offered by our competition),” it wrote.

Reactions to the issue were split, with some agreeing the racial criteria do spur racism, while others thought it was an overreaction. Some noted that gender preference options could be equally problematic.

“Preference for a race should not be equated with racism,” Susan Ng wrote.

“Not sure why need to bring up such unnecessary stress, it’s just life preference! Come on! If you called this racist, let’s talk about AGE, GENDER, EDUCATION REQUIREMENTS!!!!!” Jessica Ho wrote.

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