Private tuition – boon or bane?

Anuradha C

I was in for a surprise about three weeks ago when I found my neighbour Priya at the door. My apartment opens out directly into hers but even so, there are times when I don’t get to see her for days. Trust me, we big city people do not land up at each other’s doorstep unless there is a dire need. We prefer to call it respect for privacy, but actually it is just an excuse for poor social skills!

From the expression on my neighbour’s face, I could tell that she was agitated. As soon as I opened the door, she burst out “Anu, can you help me out with tuitions for Adi?”

It took me a few minutes to calm her down and get the whole story out. Her 10-year-old son, Adi, was in need of a new tuition teacher. The previous one had quit just when it matters most – before the exams. Having tried a few quick replacements through the ‘mommies’ network, she figured it was too late to bring in a stranger and expect the kid to build a rapport with the new teacher at such short notice. That’s when it occurred to her that I might come in handy.

I am a corporate technical trainer, I teach for a living. More importantly, I love teaching! In supreme over-confidence, I worked it all out in my head “When I can deal with advanced engineering subjects, how tough could it be to teach math and science to a 10-year-old?” Scoffing at the difficulties that might arise, I decided to play knight in shining armour and promised her that I will help her out for the rest of the academic year.

Priya recovered from her gloomy mood instantly and began to profusely thank me. Hearing her words of gratitude, I was left to wonder why she was being so expansive in her praise. Was my gesture of support really deserving of all that? With the benefit of hindsight now, I totally concur with her. But more on that later.

Next in the deal was the touchy payment talk. I refused outright to accept a tuition fee, and she was totally against a free-of-cost arrangement. She said she had been paying the previous tuition teacher a whopping Rs. 500 per hour. She also pointed out that if the tuitions were handled by a school teacher, the rates were higher. After all, they were the masters of the trade, they knew exactly what needs to be taught and how. Even post-graduates did not command the rates that a school teacher did!

I made a righteous assertion that the RTE (‘Right to Education’) Act prohibited school teachers from taking up private tuition. The goal was to prevent school teachers from deliberately lowering their teaching standards at school in order to nudge students to approach them in a private capacity. Priya laughed at my naivety and explained how impossible it was to implement and enforce that legislation, however well-meaning it might be.

Right to Education, Ministry of HRD
(Excerpts from the Act)

The Constitution (Eighty-sixth Amendment) Act, 2002 inserted Article 21-A in the Constitution of India to provide free and compulsory education of all children in the age group of six to fourteen years as a Fundamental Right in such a manner as the State may, by law, determine. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, which represents the consequential legislation envisaged under Article 21-A, means that every child has a right to full time elementary education of satisfactory and equitable quality in a formal school which satisfies certain essential norms and standards.

The RTE Act: prohibits (a) physical punishment and mental harassment; (b) screening procedures for admission of children; (c) capitation fee; (d) private tuition by teachers and (e) running of schools without recognition.

Hearing the payment rates she was quoting for various categories of tuition teachers, I did some mental math and realized the payment was almost in line with the corporate rates we were earning! Given that it was a ‘work from home’ job involving zero expenditure, it was comparable to most well-paying freelance jobs in the market. No wonder so many techie women drop out of formal work and settle for private tuition to bolster their family incomes.

After a bout of friendly haggling we settled for a compromise. She would get me a Lucknowi Chikankari salwar suit straight from her home town. My noble resolve melted at such a tempting offer and I relented.

After the payment issue was sorted, it dawned on me that I had no idea what is part of the syllabus for maths and science for a 10 year old! I asked Priya to give me a brief. She blinked in incomprehension for a while and then made some vague guesses, frequently looking for affirmation from her son. I was quite taken aback and had to school my expression of disapproval. A highflying career and other family responsibilities cannot be an excuse for entirely outsourcing your child’s education to a third party.

A tuition teacher can at best be a supporting actor who fills the gaps in learning that school teaching may be unable to cover. At school, kids with varying degrees of intelligence and academic interest are clubbed together. Efficacy of learning is affected when dealing in large numbers. Tuitions are meant to be a smaller, intimate affair where a handful of kids learn from a familiar, parent-like figure in the informal home environment.

However, nothing can replace a direct parent-child interaction, where the parent is entirely aware of the child’s learning abilities, interests and motivations so that they can tune their teaching methods accordingly.

The other reason parents readily offer is that they are unfamiliar with the subject matter especially when kids reach higher classes. This reasoning is admissible from parents lacking of formal education, or from working class households who are slogging so that their children get an opportunity to live a life that was denied to them. But for all others, if you don’t know, just learn along with the child! Learn enough to be able to act as a counsel and sounding board so that the child can feel the involvement in their learning process.

Finally, we worked out the weekly schedule of two hours a day, three days a week. Adi magnanimously offered me ‘leave of absence’ from our sessions whenever they clashed with my corporate training schedules. I was seriously impressed with the child’s thoughtfulness.

Negotiations over, it was time to get down to business.
Day 1

BoyAunty, let’s start with HCF, LCM.
AuntyBreaking down the idea to simple first principles, I start with ‘Factor’, ‘Common Factor’, ‘Highest Common Factor’, giving interesting real life examples for all cases.
BoyAunty, that was so cool! But you spent the entire time on one topic. What to do about “The skeletal System”?
Aunty!!#@!@#@!@! Oh, let’s try and fit it into the next session.

Day 2

BoyAunty, we’ve got to finish “The skeletal system” first. After that, today’s topic is Measurements – from Page 23 to 33 only.
AuntyBut why only 10 pages, that’s the middle of the chapter, no?
BoyOhooo, Aunty! The unit test portion only covers the first 10 pages, why waste time on the rest now?
AuntyOk, got it. JUST IN TIME learning. Not a great way to learn, but …

Day 3

BoyAunty, you missed yesterday’s class due to your training. So we need to have an extra hour this Sunday. My unit test is on Monday, remember?
AuntyAlright, Adi.
Silently musing to myself “And there goes my Sunday movie plan.” These tuition teachers do sacrifice a good part of their social life to accommodate the children’s work schedule.

Day 6

BoyI got 7 out of 10 in the unit test, Aunty. The teacher said the answer for HCF was correct but the steps were different from ones she taught in class!
AuntyAdi, how were the earlier tuition teachers managing this issue?
BoyBoth my previous tuition teachers were also school teachers Aunty. They always followed the same steps as in the textbook, no deviations.
AuntyAah, so you are being penalized for doing things your own way. That’s not fair.
BoyAunty, you are right. My answer in the test was also correct. But what’s the use? I lost marks!

Day 10

BoyAunty, after you explained to me about the good things in vegetables during the “Balanced Diet” lesson, I have started eating carrot and cabbage.
Aunty(Beams in satisfaction!) Priya told me yesterday, she is mighty pleased with you Adi.
BoyBut my friends made fun of me in school today. They called me mama’s boy!
AuntyJust wait and watch their reaction after you consistently beat them in your tennis practice. They will start with the healthy food thing too, not to worry.

Day 15

BoyAunty, by the time we finish the lessons and revise for exams, there is no time to complete the homework. What do we do?
Aunty(Sighs in frustration) I know Adi, every day we leave something pending for the next day. That’s not good.
BoyMy class teacher praised me in class today because I explained the “Balanced Diet” part nicely in class. But she also scolded me for incomplete homework.
AuntyPriya told me she will help out by sitting with you each night to finish the homework henceforth. I am sorry about you getting scolded in class Adi.
BoyChill, Aunty. The boys overheard my teachers saying nice things about me among themselves. They think I am SMART!

Day 20

BoyAunty, I really like the way you have been explaining things to me. But I have spoken to my old tuition teacher. She was unable to come to our apartment to teach earlier. Now she is willing to accommodate me along with the other guys from another apartment.
Aunty(Stumped!) What! Are you dismissing me from the job Adi?!
Boy(Laughs) Don’t be silly Aunty. As soon as my exams are over, let’s get back to our fun learning sessions. Let me just have the marks in the bag first, then I can enjoy maths in peace.
Aunty(Grudgingly admits defeat) Right, I did make a lousy tuition teacher didn’t I?

And with that, my grand foray into tuition came to an abrupt close. I managed to kindle the ‘fun in learning’ in the boy’s mind. But I also failed spectacularly in adhering to his daily rigmarole. The boy was prudent enough to realize that before I did.

Irrespective of the criticism private tuitions may attract, they are here to stay. As long as there is a gap left between what the school delivers and what the parent can handle, a tuition teacher is required to fill this gap. We can only hope that the child’s natural ability to enjoy learning is not crushed under the weight of a hectic and regimental routine.

The author is an IT industry drop-out after several years of slogging and money-making. She is now working freelance as a corporate technical trainer and content writer. She is hoping to channelize her passion for writing into a satisfying experience for herself and a joyous experience for her readers. She can be reached at anuradhac@gmail.com.

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