Tutoring children who don’t need it is a booming business
Many relatively well-off parents drive their kids to special activities after school.
On top of trips to soccer practices and games or piano lessons and recitals, they increasingly make one more stop: a trip to their local after-school tutoring center.
In most cases these children don’t attend underfunded schools or need help competing with those in affluent districts. Nor are they high school students looking to boost their results before applying to university They are typically doing just fine at their schools or are ahead of their classmates. And yet they get private, long-term tutoring on a regular basis.
I’ve been researching this intensive after-school tutoring, which I call “hyper education,” for eight years. It’s becoming a more common extracurricular activity for children of all ages.
Even if public schools provided the same quality of education for all, which is demonstrably not the case, I fear that this trend is increasing the advantages that the children of affluent families already have over their peers.
Tutoring, of course, has long been commonplace to help kids who are struggling to keep up in class.
Franchised chains of after-school learning centers, such as Kumon, Sylvan, Kaplan and Mathnasium, operate in over 50 countries.
Parents pay these multinational corporations around R3 000 per month for each child to get math, reading and other kinds of lessons once or twice a week with their own curriculum and homework assignments intended to be more challenging than what is offered by the schools.
Getting further ahead
Parents are keeping their kids enrolled in nonremedial tutoring for years if they feel like it’s getting results.
“We just kind of kept her in the program, because it was working,” the mother of a fifth grader told me. “It seemed like the public school math program just wasn’t anywhere near stretching her capability to do math. So, it felt, like let’s keep doing this.”
Children enrolled in after-school academics can get confused about which kind of learning matters more. For instance, a fourth-grade student mentioned that her regular teacher counted her private math center assignments as satisfying her school homework. That raises good questions about which curriculum was more relevant and conducive to her learning.
Despite this industry’s growth and what parents may believe, the effects of tutoring generally are mixed.
Troublingly, educators believe that the growth of private tutoring is contributing to a sense of academic pressure that can contribute to emotional problems, even for kids who aren’t getting this extra instruction. The students who take classes outside of school “make other kids feel bad, because they’re brighter, more capable, and they do more, and they can do it faster,” a primary school principal told me.
As a result, I’m seeing a growing education arms race, of families feeling pressured to ensure their kids learn enough to be above their grade level and ranked at or near the top of their classes. This is starting at younger and younger ages. Many parents told me they enroll their elementary school children in hyper education simply to “keep up” with those who do.
In 2016, Mathnasium teamed up with the National Parent Teachers Association to help boost student performance in mathematics by hosting math games inside and outside of schools – a step that further embeds for-profit businesses into the public schools. Hyper education is growing. And as it does, it’s seriously changing what it means to go to school and be a child.