Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Other School

Due to competition, tuition providers have resorted to putting up banners at bus stops near schools and public areas to advertise their centres and services.
Secondary school students walking up the stairs to their tuition centre. Most centres are located in rented shoplots.

Whether tuition is conducted by individuals or at a centre, it is evident from the large number of students attending such classes, that it is a service that most Malaysians cannot live without.

STUDENTS these days are expected to excel in everything they do, and for the generation born with a silver spoon, it is only natural for the expectations to be higher. In the pursuit of academic excellence, parents are willing to go to great lengths to ensure their children are “fully equipped” to stay ahead of the game.

Those who can afford to have opted to send their children to private schools for the sole purpose of getting a quality education. But for the majority of middle-class Malaysians, it seems that the more viable option would be to send their child for tuition.

Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim believes that the number of students attending tuition classes has increased in recent years because of the different teaching standards in the classrooms.

“I believe if the teaching quality had not declined over the years, the number of students seeking tuition would not have increased so quickly.”

However, she says it is not the fault of the teachers, as they have more non-teaching responsibilities today compared to teachers in the past.

“If we can take away their clerical and co-curriculum responsibilities, they would be able to focus on teaching.”

At the same time, Noor Azimah is also of the view that there seems to be a weakness in teacher training in recent years and this has affected the quality of teachers.
Schools are unable to function effectively as centres of learning because of the poor teaching standards and this has compelled parents to look for private tutors or tuition centres to help their children.

Some parents feel that teachers in government schools are becoming more like office employees where they have to deal with paperwork and administrative chores.

“They are forced to complete the syllabus which has to fit in into the academic year. There are hardly any allowances made for weaker students who can’t follow the lesson plan,” says Anusha Nathan, a parent.

To have a better understanding of their school work and for fear of being left out, they have no choice but to seek help outside, she adds.

It is indeed sad that many do not have faith in their teachers and the education system and have resorted to seeking help elsewhere. It has been said that the single most important factor determining how much students learn is the quality of their teachers.

However the Education Ministry’s Private Education Division director Khairil Awang, says that it is not fair to say that all school teachers lack quality.

He reiterates that many of them demonstrate a high level of professionalism and integrity.

Minimal effect
Based on the statistics provided on tuition centres registered with the ministry, the contribution and influence of such centres seems to have a minimal effect on the overall education of school-going children in Malaysia.

According to the figures provided by the department’s data and information centre, there were 2,967 registered tuition centres with 194,567 students as at Dec 31, 2010 throughout the country, compared to the previous 2,487 centres with 202,327 students in 2008.

While the number of registered centres had increased during this period, the number of secondary and primary school students seeking help at these centres had reduced from 3.76%, in 2008 to 3.71% in 2010.
As for the number of home tuition providers, Khairil says they are deemed illegal, as they are not registered and the department has no records.
Form Four student Sheryl Teoh, who attends tuition for Bahasa Melayu, Additional Maths and Chemistry is an example of a typical secondary school student in Malaysia. While she admits that she is not happy with tuition, she knows she cannot do without the extra lessons.

“I think tuition classes are necessary for me because I don’t easily grasp all that the teacher explains at once ... I need to listen, understand and slowly absorb what has been taught to me.

“Not every school teacher’s teaching methods are suitable for every student, but we can’t choose our school teachers the way we choose our tuition teachers.”

She adds that tuition is also a way to “force” herself to study, as otherwise she tends to procrastinate when revising at home.

However, Ain Anisa Abdul Samad, 15, considers tuition a big help. “Tuition has helped me a lot in my studies, and I really enjoy the sessions because I can understand the tutors better than the teachers at school.”

Since there are fewer students in her tuition class compared to her class in school, Anisa feels more comfortable discussing her work with the tutor and is able to open up.

“I feel a little intimidated to ask the teacher in school for fear that those who know the answer may think I’m stupid.

“ It is different at tuition, as the tutors tend to me more patient and are willing to explain a topic over and over again compared to teachers in school, who have time constraints.
Another student Samantha Gomez* says tuition teachers often teach students better methods of solving questions and problems.

She adds that such techniques give the students an extra edge over their classmates as their approach in dealing with a question may be more current and superior compared to the conventional methods taught by teachers in schools.

A Bahasa Melayu tutor and parent, Anisha* believes that the purpose of tuition is to help the weaker students learn, understand and improve, and not just master examination techniques.
“To gain a better reputation, some tutors spoonfeed their students with examination questions and techniques to obtain better grades. But often, the child does not learn anything. They are simply regurgitating the facts in their exams,” says Anisha.

The unfortunate situation she says is when when parents are aware of the situation, yet do nothing to change it because they want their child to do well in school.

She said: “Weak students need to be coached, and teachers should not lose hope in them. If a teacher has made up her mind that the child is hopeless, the child will not improve.”

With smaller class sizes, and a cosier classroom environment at tuition centres, students are able to focus better on what is being taught.
Only the best
Housewife and mother of three teenagers, Nadia Lai believes in giving her children the best when it comes to education. She does not mind sacrificing her time which is spent driving her children to tuition classes.

“Almost all my time is spent taking my children to private tutors instead of tuition centres.”
Lai, who spends about RM500 to RM600 each month on tuition fees says that she selects tutors based on references by friends.

She added that tuition has become a necessity for her children, especially her eldest son who is in Form Four.
“My son is in the first class, and all his classmates had straight A’s in their PMR.
“So the teachers tend to go through the syllabus quickly and expect them to know it. After all, they assume that everyone in the class goes for tuition,” she says.

Despite attending a private school, Lim Yan Yin, 15, attends tuition classes for Bahasa Melayu and Chinese.
“I did not see the need for tuition but my parents wanted me to go.”
“I understand what my teachers teach us in school, but at tuition class, we get additional information on the subject,” she adds.

Her teachers in school are open to questions, she says, but feels it is appropriate only to ask questions after class as it will not interfere with the lesson.
Yan Yin also adds that she is intolerant of classmates who go for tuition classes just because they do not want to lose out.
“One of my classmates started to get really good grades for her Bahasa Melayu paper, and everyone in the class wanted to know her tutor’s name and how much he charged. They also wanted to sign up for the tuition class. People in my class are so kiasu (not wanting to lose out). It is like a disease.”

Tuition nightmares
Recalling his experience as the only student who did not attend tuition class in Form Six, B. Mahen said there were 37 students in his class, and all of them would attend the Additional Mathematics tuition class offered by their school teacher.

Noor Azimah says teachers these days are burdened with many non-teaching responsibilities.
“Since I was the only one who did not attend her tuition class, she would constantly pick on me in class.
“There were instances when she would teach something in her tuition class and not in school, but she would deliberately ask me to solve that problem during lessons.”
He said that if he could not, the teacher would say how the others in class knew how to solve the problem because they went to her tuition class.

He added that the school did not care much about what actually went on, as long as the students had good results at the end of the day.

Unfair as it may seem, many school authorities seem to condone such teachers, so long as the school’s good name is not tarnished.

Noor Azimah is of the view that teachers today should earn the same respect and dignity that those in the profession had a few decades ago.

The authorities, she adds, should allow teachers to focus on teaching instead of being burdened with non-teaching chores.
*Names have been changed

TheStar, Sunday February 20, 2011


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