Studying in a government school back in the 1970s and early ’80s, I didn’t know of anybody who went for after-school tuitions. But tuitions, nowadays, are seen as an essential part of children’s education.

Regardless of whether your child studies in a low-cost government school or an elite private school, there is now an apparent need for him or her to take extra tuitions. But if the government schools are supposedly providing poor quality teaching due to lack of funding and other issues, then it makes you wonder why private schools aren’t doing any better?

Not all students have an equal aptitude for a given subject. So when a teacher, even a good one at that, delivers a lecture in class, only a certain percentage of students fully understand it the first time. The rest need some extra help afterward in order to fill in the gaps in their understanding.

Students all over the world face the same issue but teachers in developed countries provide high quality and engaging lectures that increase students’ understanding. These teachers also make themselves available for one-on-one guidance either immediately before or after regular school hours, which usually is enough for a majority of the students. And, a smaller percentage of students end up taking help at home from siblings and parents. That is why after school tuition is unheard of in these countries.

But the situation in Pakistan is very different. The quality of teaching in the classroom is very bad so most students are unable to understand the lectures. And then the teachers do not provide any extra guidance during the school hours as they expect the students to take after school tuition from them. The parents, too, in most cases do not have the education or patience to help their children at home. So there is no other option but to get extra help after school.

In all the things mentioned, I believe the most important aspect of this problem lies in the teachers providing very poor quality of teaching in schools here. This I believe is due to a number of reasons. First of all, a majority of the teachers here are not qualified for their job. They do not have command over the subject matter and they do not have proper teacher’s training that would enable them to provide quality lectures.

Second, and more importantly, a majority of these teachers are not motivated to teach well in the school. The reason for this is purely economic. Teachers in both government and private schools are not paid very well. And, although there are countless teachers who are truly dedicated to their profession, they are also human with real financial needs. So when you combine low teachers’ salaries with lucrative after-school tuition income, you have a formula for disaster. Ironically, we’re unwilling to pay teachers a decent salary; even private schools don’t pay teachers well though they may be minting money themselves. At the same time, we are more than willing to directly pay the teachers an even greater amount for providing after-school tuition. In other words, we’re telling them through our actions not to teach well in the school so that they can guarantee an income through tuitions.

For many well-to-do families, this is only a small increase in the cost of education. But, the biggest losers are the vast majority of students of poor families who cannot afford after school tuition at all and those who pay for it with extreme difficulty. These students are not learning much in school because their teachers now have a financial incentive for not teaching well in the school.

The other day, I was talking to somebody who was trying to get his son admitted into ninth class. He was on a very tight budget and therefore his options were either government schools or lower cost private schools. He told me that he didn’t want a private school because he knew he would have to pay for after school tuition regardless of whether his son gets admitted into a private or government school. So, why also pay a higher fee for a private school? Such is the sad state of affairs in Pakistan.

If we want to see students of all backgrounds succeed in education, then we must ensure that this after school tuition cancer is removed from our society. But, how can we achieve this? I do not think any law or regulations can put this genie back in the bottle. The power of money has become too strong. Schools are not going to significantly increase teachers’ salaries and teachers in any case will not agree to abandon such a lucrative side income.

The only option in my opinion is to empower the parents and students with a powerful alternative that is either free or much cheaper. Parents feel trapped because they know that even if a teacher is talented, he won’t teach well in school because of the financial incentives in providing tuitions afterwards. So if their kids didn’t take evening tuition they would not get good marks in their exams. This is where I believe the use of technology can be a game changer. With the help of computers, one can develop short and high-quality video lectures on technical subjects. And, with the help of the internet, these lectures could be made available to students free of cost. Even low-cost DVDs could be created so that the students who don’t have internet can access and watch them also. This way, the students can watch these videos at home day or night and as many times as they want until they get the concept.

Two separate non-profit organisations (one in the United States and one in Pakistan) have started this revolutionary concept with success. Both have developed world-class videos that are actually better than after-school tuitions. And, both make their videos available free of cost through the internet.

Khan Academy (www.khanacademy.org) in the United States provides video lectures on Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and other subjects. They are very popular in the United States and are good even for students in Pakistan who are very comfortable with the English, although some effort is being made to translate them into Urdu.

Sabaq Foundation (www.sabaq.pk), based in Islamabad, also provides video lectures that are focused on the Pakistani curriculum and delivered in simple Urdu so that the students can easily understand them. Their videos cover all topics in Islamabad, the Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan education boards. All their video lectures are also available on DVDs.

I believe non-profit initiatives like Khan Academy and Sabaq Foundation could provide world-class teaching to students that is actually better than most government and private school teaching in Pakistan. And since they do this for free, they can enable a vast majority of students from poor families to also benefit from this revolutionary idea.

Schools and governments can also use these videos to train teachers who, in many cases, do not have command over a technical subject and their students suffer as a result.

Pakistan cannot truly prosper until a student from a poor background is able to get the same quality of teaching as a well-to-do student. And, the use of technology can help us make a giant leap toward that goal.

iqbal.mustafa.khan@gmail.com