16 June 2020: Learning to teach while helping others learn through the peer tutoring programme

By Evan See

(From left) Peer tutors Xie Yihui, Scott Lee Chua, and Rayner Ng. Image by Ashbel Chioh for Yale-NUS College.

Since its inception, Yale-NUS College has had a strong emphasis on peer-to-peer support systems for its students, including Residential College Advisors, student government representatives and orientation group leaders. Students have opportunities to support each other in different areas at College, including their academic needs.

The Peer Tutoring programme was established in 2015 to bring additional academic support to students, while simultaneously giving students the opportunity to teach their peers. The programme provides language tutoring, subject tutoring in the STEM fields, and writing support to students through the Writers’ Centre – all of which are conducted by students, for students. These tutoring sessions are available to all students via an online portal, and are fully funded by the College.

Data Science tutor Rayner Ng (Class of 2022) is motivated by the opportunity to guide his fellow students academically. “Being an OGL (orientation group leader) as well, I wanted to take on more peer support roles,” he said. “I see peer tutoring as just an extension of that.”

Rayner has often found his tutoring sessions very fulfilling. “I’ve found myself learning a lot from my tutees as I guide them,” he said. “Sometimes when I try to work through problems with them, I face obstacles too, and I can learn in the process as well.”

Ian Duncan (Class of 2021), who tutors Introductory Data Structures and Algorithms, shared the same sentiment. “The problem sets given in the course this semester are similar to the ones I completed when I took the course, so I’ve had the opportunity to see new solutions and approaches to the problems I worked on.”

Xie Yihui (Class of 2023), a Chinese language tutor, finds the process of helping students with their learning particularly enjoyable. “For languages, it’s always very daunting as a beginner since you are entering a whole new linguistic system,” she said. “It’s very rewarding to provide that little bit of help for them in their learning journey.”

Yihui, who herself receives peer tutoring in Japanese, is grateful that the College’s small yet diverse student body makes the peer tutoring programme possible and meaningful. “It’s really helpful to have a native speaker who is familiar with how different words are used, especially one who is a peer,” she said. “And it definitely helps that it’s free for students too.”

Aside from help with specific subjects, the programme also provides more general writing support to students through the Writers’ Centre.

Scott Lee Chua (Class of 2020) who tutors at the Writer’s Centre, has seen students come in for consultations for all sorts of writing – from academic essays to creative writing pieces, and once even a music album. “I try to respond to students with feedback that is honest, constructive, and kind”, he said. “The driving philosophy behind a Writers’ Centre is that writing is a skill, not a talent. Many people we consider ‘talented’ at writing have just had lots of practice. I try to convey to students that it’s never too late to practise, or even to begin.”

The peer tutors acknowledge that it can at times be difficult for students to seek academic help when they need it – but actively encourage students to make use of the programme for the support they need.

“It takes a lot of courage to open yourself and your work to criticism, but that is what every student does in every Writers’ Centre consultation session,” Scott said. “Small but beautiful acts of vulnerability and honesty happen at the Writers’ Centre every day, and it means a lot to be a part of that.”

Rayner agreed, saying, “Knowing that there are parts of your content that you want to remedy is a very brave first step to take. It’s empowering for students to take that step, opening up to the idea of clarifying one’s understanding.”