Kyaw Soe, an innocent six-year old, put his head down on his study table and fell asleep without eating any dinner at 8 pm, exhausted. His day begins at 7 am when he goes to school, and immediately after, he has sporting activities, followed by tuitions, two hours a day, 5 days a week. Phyu Phyu, an 11-year old student of grade 7, looks tired with puffy eyes and dark circles under them, as she enters school every morning. Her weekly schedule, besides school and weekend Chinese school lessons, includes 20 hours of private tuitions.
These are just two out of tens of thousands of young school-going children, burdened not just with the rigors of school learning, but additional private tuitions, most often at homes of fellow students, to add to school lessons and ‘prepare’ them for success. Success here simply implies good scores in the crucial matriculation or international board exams. High parental expectations are not being met by the network of government and private schools following the state-regulated education system.
Myanmar boasts of a very well-established private tutoring network which is growing and becoming more professionally run. A vast network of home tutors fills in the gaps in learning left by schools, and provide the practice needed for concepts learnt, and to bring the theoretical and the practical closer together. The tutoring industry has grown largely due to the existing schooling system having a gap in the teacher student ratio, lack of individual attention, insufficient facilities in government schools due to limited funds, and the highly competitive environment pushes parents to find all possible resources to ensure better grades for their children. Ideally, educated parents should be investing in their children’s learning, but it appears so much easier to find a teacher, who has the ‘skills’ and knows the ‘technique’ of teaching, and for the money he is paid, has higher patience levels.
Private tutoring is a global phenomenon now, found in every country, even with the best education systems. Countries like Singapore and Hong Kong also have thousands of private tutors and scores of tuition centers that children rush to, straight after school. However, there are always students who do cope on their own, with parental help and support, and may not use any private tutors throughout their school years.
The benefits of tutoring that make it a boon
It is indeed a boon for a student to gain access to a teacher who has the knowledge to answer his questions, clear his doubts and feed his inquisitive mind with the right information, and help him reach a higher plain of learning. It improves his self-confidence, makes him more comfortable in challenging environments, and at ease in his school classroom. Better grades make parents happy too, and the prospect of a bright future looms ahead.
The tutoring concept has presented a tremendous business opportunity to numerous budding entrepreneurs who are professionalizing this new industry, resolving issues and offering solutions for some of the problems faced by parents and students. Online tutoring services are a time saver, and so convenient for both tutor and student, both not having to waste time commuting and being able to focus in a comfortable environment.
Tutoring agencies like mmtutors.com, and m-tutors.com are actually tutor-matching platforms, where student requirements are matched with the best possible tutor, at acceptable rates and convenient timings.
This makes tutoring a system of parallel schooling where what is left out by the school, is completed by private tutors. The industry provides a source of livelihood to all those who wish to have flexible work hours and operate from home. Weaker students learn better because the same concepts are taught twice, and the individual attention of the tutor leaves little room for doubt. The practice questions given are customized to the child’s level of understanding. The end result is better understanding, improved performance and a greater interest in learning.
The invisible damage
TheState Counsellor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has been consistently critical of the tuition culture prevalent in Myanmar, and she is not alone. At a superficial level, it seems beneficial to have teaching assistance at your beck and call, that takes on the responsibility of helping children with their homework, filling in the gaps left out at school, making up for lack of attention in class, and reminding the child what he needs to know and what all he needs to complete. The tutor prepares a schedule, finds assignments, focusses on weak areas, pushes up the child’s grades, even if it means doing most of the work for the child. The grade at the end of the exam then, is that of the tutor, not the student. But few think this way, and both parents and students remain happy.
If we think about the impact of private tutoring, in one-on-one sessions or in groups, it dilutes the responsibility of school teachers and students alike. The classroom teacher will only go so deep, and only teach at a level understood by the average student, not fuel the thirst of the brilliant few. The same is true for students, they need not always be attentive in school, and can even waste classroom time, fully aware that a tutor is waiting at home to teach them the same topic in greater detail and in a manner he understands. School times then become fun times. The select few who do not have access to private tuitions, will be more attentive, listen carefully, ask questions to resolve doubts, because they have no one besides the school teacher to turn for clearing concepts, and these questions are not always well received, because some teachers feel they disrupt the pace of their teaching.
It is sad that grades remain the indicator of brilliance and hold the key to success. Talents for the arts or other activities beyond academics have little place in a child’s life. The purpose of education is to help children build all round personalities which have a balanced set of achievements based on their interests, and not what they are forced to learn and achieve. Many conscientious students seem to be studying to please their parents, to achieve the goals set by the family, and for this then, they need tutoring beyond school.
For all its benefits, it hurts to see education becoming commercialized, driven by the profit motive more than the commitment to imparting knowledge. Private tuitions may be doing the work of schools, to make up for lower quality of education no doubt, but it comes with its own baggage of damage. Neither the tutors nor the system encourages children to think, observe and analyze. It fosters a system of spoon feeding throughout school years, and even students in higher grades do not need to draft their learning schedules, search for additional resources, plan preparation for exams, or find ways to improve.
Deep thinking individuals notice that children no longer have the inclination or the time to sit and think, observe the world around them, ponder about what appeals and what seems incorrect to them, or find time to pursue passions. Of course, private tuitions and academic rigors cannot be blamed alone, the devices that define their existence, are also responsible.
Knowledge sharing begins at home
Companies and organizations now have a knowledge sharing culture for their employees, but the system of imparting what we know to our children, seems to be disappearing. Lesser number of parents invest the time and effort needed to share with their offspring all that they know. Reprimands and sermons apart, more time is spent on devices and social media than with children. Educational experts believe that 50% of learning and education must happen at home, the ideal and most conducive environment to absorb what there is to know. Unfortunately, parents feel that if they spend a substantial amount of school fees and hire tutors, they are absolved of the responsibility of teaching their kids anything at all. A parent who cares, is the best person to know what his child’s learning needs are, and if he can put aside his own ambitions and aspirations, his unfilled dreams, he can see his child’s capability and potential and steer him towards excellence in the child’s preferred field.
Knowledge sharing has become an integral part of organizations and involves exchange and passing on skills, experiences and all that employees know, which in turn improves productivity. If only parents would remain committed to passing on everything they know, to their children, condensing their lifetime of learning into interesting stories, children would imbibe this wisdom. This would of course entail spending more family time, giving up on certain activities and being always engaged and involved in childrens’ learning – something not many parents seem to be doing now.
The way forward
The need to revamp the education system is not being ignored by the government, which is taking small steps to solve the big problem of capability building, the starting point being schools. Even as economic betterment sets in at the micro level and bigger budgetary allocations flow into the educational sector, the results will be evident in a few years. If teachers’ salaries increase to acceptable levels at par with other sectors, more qualified individuals will be tempted to join. Accountability of teachers and the knowledge they impart in classrooms will benefit the students directly. The government acknowledges the need to increase the number of teachers and recruit quality teaching personnel and feels that this would actually help cut down on the need for private tuitions.
Teachers deserve more since the future of a nation, that is, the millions of future citizens, come to them to learn and molding their personalities to bring out their best, is a gigantic task. This determines the level of peace and well-being, the crime-free and corruption-free culture of society.