FOURTEEN-year-old Faiz leaves school at a quarter to two. There is just enough time for him to have lunch at home and be out again. His real day has just begun. Many children like him attend school, followed by a round of tuitions that sometimes takes them up to their bedtime. Students have accepted it. Parents are caught in the vicious cycle of fear that their child will not manage the desired grades unless they invest in tutoring. Teachers know that the responsibility for the students’ results rests on someone else’s shoulders. The teacher-student-parent team that should work together to support students has come apart at the seams, given the growing power of tutors who now function as a parallel school market.
The demand for the more popular tutors rises with the success of their students, be it in high-stakes exams or entry into a competitive private school. One wonders what it is about teaching at schools that makes external tutoring necessary. Are we not giving students enough individual attention in class? Are the teachers no longer skilled enough to support children of varying ability? Are teachers no longer held responsible for delivering results?
Regardless of the reasons, there is much that schools can do to combat the menace of the ‘tuition culture’. Schools can successfully create time to give extra help to students who need it. Often, this may mean overtime pay for teachers who stay back after school and run a booster programme or use library hours to teach students. Most students can bounce back with a little help and don’t need ongoing tutoring. Those that do, may have slipped through the cracks and developed learning gaps in concepts along the way.
Learning gaps usually occur when a struggling student doesn’t get timely help and attention. One reason for this may be the lack of teaching assistants; often a single teacher is expected to manage a large number of students. Classrooms are not designed to facilitate pair or group work, which is essential for collaborative learning. Digital learning is not incorporated in our teaching methods, which continue to rely on the expertise of a single teacher.
Tutors now function as a parallel school market.
Historically, in our classrooms, students get very little opportunity to do any hands-on activities that allow learning through discovery. Most of their learning comprises listening to the teacher, note-taking, and answers copied from the board. In doing so, we skip the essential steps of involving students in a proactive learning experience, which is a gap that private tutors manage to fill. Not only do students get to sit in small groups and have their tutors’ individual attention, but they also talk, question, practise and correct their work together with their peers, test their understanding and then complete the written work. They also tap into internet links with quick quizzes and interactive learning opportunities.
The entire experience reinforces their learning and improves their confidence in their ability to tackle the subject demands. The same students who are left frustrated in class spring into action with tutors. There is lots going on at tuitions that is working well enough to pay its dividends. School managers may benefit from replicating some of those factors from the tuition model. Most students find themselves comfortable asking their tutors repetitive questions — no question is too silly to be answered. If schools could manage to provide a comfortable, non-judgemental environment where every student is consistently supported with follow-up, perhaps we would see different results.
In most classes, teachers follow a strict schedule that is quite like a moving tide that waits for no one. Those that learn to ride the tide are the lucky few. If we were to focus more on quality of content taught rather than the quantity, and if the students were involved in learning as an experience and not a chore, perhaps external tutoring would not be required at all.
In most jobs there are targets and key performance indicators; at universities students get to evaluate their teachers. Career progression, pay raises and bonuses are tied to these evaluations and research publications. Unfortunately, for most schoolteachers little training and few research targets exist. Not much is done to follow up on the quality of teaching and associated skills. Many schools are hesitant to invest in teacher training due to the high turnover. Not surprisingly, schools that have done well are those that manage to train, retain and reward teachers for their hard work.
Revisiting frameworks of reward and recognition, improving appraisal methods and raising performance expectations may be part of the solution. If teachers rise to the challenge, it may well reduce the unnecessary workload on students.
The writer is a teacher educator, author and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, UK.
Published in Dawn, June 11th, 2023