The humidity was clearly evident by the trickle of sweat that ran down my back. The 20 minute journey to school took us out of our rather basic university residence and along roads and highways that appeared to be in a constant state of repair.
Buildings and shops were simple functional concrete structures. As third year education students from a foreign land, my teaching partner and I were fast becoming accustomed to the stares from intrigued commuters caught up in their never-ending traffic jam.
This was a far cry from our life on the Northern Beaches of Sydney and added to our uncertainty as to what to expect on our first day of teaching.
Entering those school gates opened up a whole new world. Every child was immaculately dressed in their blue and white uniforms. The girls’ hair styled into a short bob, whilst the boys sported short back and sides. We entered as training teachers, but soon realised we were in fact much more than that. We brought hope. We were their window into a world they would likely never see. This experience, this extra ‘tuition’ would undoubtedly stay with them for years to come.
Could extra tutoring bring the same feelings to Australian students?
My years in primary education have taught me many things. The core concepts of maths and English are developed from a very young age, and so too is the belief in one’s ability. If a child has a negative academic experience throughout primary school, chances are this will continue into high school.
Is tutoring the answer?
There are the issues of cost, quality and availability. Besides, primary school children are too young for this and who has the time to fit this into an already busy weekly schedule?
Across Australia in early May those children in the ‘odd’ years of 3, 5, 7 and 9 will be subjected to NAPLAN testing. We now expect the predictable mainstream media headlines surrounding the increased stress for students, teachers and schools to perform as they are once again placed under the educational microscope.
Who should we blame for these academic shortfalls - the school, the teacher, the child or the parents?
Could it be that society is setting the bar too high or that the questions set are just too abstract?
Perhaps we should not be pointing fingers at all and simply accept that there are no guarantees in education. A child may have a learning difficulty that restricts their progress. Parents may not be supportive enough at home. A child’s teacher may not be skilled enough to get the best out of the student.
Here is a thought. In the primary school arena, teachers are expected to be ‘Jacks of all Trades’. They are trained to teach maths, English, science, history, geography, art, music and PE (physical education). If these are the influential years in education, where core concepts are being taught and reinforced, what happens when your child’s teacher is proficient at teaching art, English and music, but lacks the skills and interest in teaching maths and science?
Before we start the ‘teacher bashing’, let’s also spare a thought for these individuals who have dedicated their lives to educate our children. Day after day they are in front of a class of thirty students, each with varying degrees of academic ability and interest, who sit at some point on the behaviour spectrum, ranging from angelic to ‘not-so-angelic’. Add to this, they are teaching from a curriculum so packed, it resembles the holiday luggage of a family of seven with newborn triplets.
So who picks up the slack? In this day and age we all lead incredibly busy lives. Gone are the days of making your own way home from school and riding your bike around to your friend’s house to join in the game of 44 Home. This has been replaced by organised ‘play dates’, after school care and private tutoring.
Tutoring. There, I said that word again. Unfortunately, somewhat of a taboo word in Australian culture. According to the Collins dictionary, a tutor is someone who is in the act of teaching or instructing. This can be remedial or additional teaching, designed to help people who need extra help with their studies.
Providing extra support to kids who need it.
How can this be viewed negatively?
Recently I spoke with a school principal about advertising our new business in their school’s newsletter. He suggested that the word ‘tutoring’ aroused too many connotations. Only one school we contacted agreed to include the advertisement. Thinking about it I realise that when I was in a executive position in a school, I probably would have said the same thing.
So why do our school leaders not seek to offer outside assistance to their students? Why do many parents not feel the need to push their children beyond the standard ‘drill and practice’ programs?
Is this the reason why our overall educational achievements are good, but not outstanding, by world standards? That principals feel the burden of educating our future generations is the sole responsibility of the school and that parents are too busy to devote any extra time towards their child’s education.
Perhaps in Australia it is the silent stigma attached to providing extra tuition? These connotations that were spoken of earlier. However, it is blatant for all to see that those sections of society choosing to provide additional tuition for their children are achieving results better than their non-tutored counterparts.
I have worked in schools for many years, there is no question that many students would benefit from extra support. I am of the opinion that a majority of Australian parents still hold onto the ideal that their child should be able to come home, relax and play with their friends without the added expectation of homework and tutoring.
Yet, at the same time we want to be up there on the world stage with regard to industry and progress. It probably comes as no surprise that those countries achieving these advancements also have an highly educated population. If an athlete is provided extra resources and puts in the extra hours on the training field, they will undoubtedly reach greater heights.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved my childhood and I believe that I turned out just fine. I would love my three girls to have the same childhood. However, what about those children who don’t quite grasp what Mr English said in maths class that day? Or that week? Is it okay for parents to accept this and let little Johnny run around with his friends because that is what he is good at?
The answer is yes and no.
Absolutely, we should be encouraging children struggling academically to shine in other areas of their lives, but should this come at the detriment of their learning? The message we are giving our children is, if something is too hard, just move on.
Australians love a sporting hero. An Olympic gold medallist or Rugby League legend. In order for these heroes to stand on their podiums, they have had to put in a tremendous amount of practice in order to achieve this success. And where does this start? In their childhood, with their parents signing them up for 5:30am swimming squads or driving them all over the countryside to watch them play cricket all weekend.
How is this different to a parent seeking extra academic support for their child? Perhaps if tutoring was a more accepted part of society we would not be discussing the stress, but instead the success of NAPLAN every year. Perhaps if we accepted that teachers have a mountain to climb every single day and that some days they will not reach the summit, then it would be okay to provide children with outside support.
When I was in the classroom I always spoke to parents about the triangle of success. It cannot solely be the teacher’s job to educate a child, but a responsibility shared between the teacher, student and parent.
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