The Great, Big Dumbing Down: How Private Tuition Culture Has Set Education Back

Has tuition become a necessity? Does the rising competition mean your child cannot survive without it? Are highly institutionalized tutoring centers way better than schools? The answer to most of these queries has, sadly, turned to affirmative in recent years. But Alizah, a young contributor from Karachi who has done great academically without receiving any private tuition, begs to differ, rather forcefully.

By Alizah Pervaiz Hashmi 

What is one of the most insulting things academic high achievers hear all the time? You were born smart. In an explosive revelation, let the majority know that most of us are not.You probably don’t know because we don’t live-stream the nights we spend reading up a little bit extra, the hours we spend making our own notes, or the books we borrow from abandoned school libraries just because we’re interested, on our Instagram stories. You probably also refuse to acknowledge this as a possibility, because it is temptingly convenient to say ‘you’re inherently smart’ and move on.  Most people fill this perceived void in innate intelligence by flocking to as many tuitions as the subjects they take. From someone who never went to any, and still got the coveted A*s: you don’t always have to

Soaring Sans Aid

Non tuition-goers are not brilliant because they can manage everything on their own. They’re brilliant because they’re brave enough to try. They’re brilliant because they make schedules, read and re-read, and practice in their free time. This is not always a rosy process – because it’s not meant to be. Your brain won’t make astute connections if you’ve not trained it to, just like your Labrador won’t fetch until you’ve both undergone the (sometimes overbearing) process of rehearsing again and again. You will not be able to attempt a difficult question if your only exposure to inquiry has been past examination papers your tuition teacher made you do. A lot of so-called ‘intelligence’ is acquired through systematic and sustained testing of your cognitive ability. Much of what tuition culture does is shut down that ever-evolving route to self-improvement. Even if you get an A* after gorging only on pre-cooked notes mass-printed and distributed by a renowned tuition teacher, that, sadly, is not an education. When you read relevant literature and make your own notes – that process is your education. The substance rests with your thought process, not with the answer sheet you just blackened out. Your journey of hard work and incentive is what constitutes your education. 

Non tuition-goers are not brilliant because they can manage everything on their own. They’re brilliant because they’re brave enough to try.

As someone who has been aggressively vocal in her condemnation of for-profit education, there is nothing quite so injurious to the economics of education as the practice of private tuitions at the extent at which it is rampant. Lately, I was told that my social media post criticizing tuitions would cause some students “anxiety”. That’s understandable. What is not is that why does the prospect of one’s parents paying a tuition fee of Rs 6,000 (and sometimes so much more) per subject in addition to regular school fee not give anyone any anxiety? If that does not give you anxiousness, I don’t know what should. Additionally, tuition teachers will often demand purchase of their personal compilation of past papers – another couple of thousand rupees spent on something that can be purchased for far less in the market. For a country that pays some of the lowest taxes in the world, the millions funneled into the pockets of private tutors by the families of perfectly able school-going children is pitiful and unsettling. As a digression it is useful information that tuition teachers are never income tax registered with respect to their tuition centers. 

Tutorial Temptation

It is unfortunate that many school teachers enable tuition, now that it has emerged as both lucrative and attractive. Many teachers, in their deliberate failure to cover course content adequately or on time, are all but coercing students to enroll in a private setting only a couple hours after school. Academic help should be an aide, not a norm. An insecure and risk-averse parent-student matrix has enabled tuitions to acquire an importance almost superior to schools, so much so that it is almost incendiary to criticize them. This is something that should alarm all educationists everywhere – but most people in the role function more as businessmen that are complicit in the decimation of our educational landscape.  Like all short cuts, tuitions offer only transitory satisfaction. As most of us step out of school into universities, the clutches crumble and you suddenly must navigate a disproportionate amount of content yourself. The comforting handouts disappear and so does the after-class back-up which licenses so many students to dose off when actually in class. The skillset that defines successful academia now – and for the rest of their lives – is the work ethos they developed in school. You will continue to struggle if you spend your school years thinking self-study to be something exotic and reserved for ‘nerds’ only. 

Academic help should be an aide, not a norm. An insecure and risk-averse parent-student matrix has enabled tuitions to acquire an importance almost superior to schools, so much so that it is almost incendiary to criticize them

 

It is true that sometimes you might feel that you need to teach yourself. This is not something to cower away from. An enormously useful, available-to-all learning aid are online resources. Like any learning resource, these need both time and organization, an effort that might seem excessive when learning materials composed for and tailored to the needs of the Cambridge exam are available for purchase somewhere else.  Even the efficacy of tuition as a learning alternative is questionable. There are still many, many students who fall short of what they thought attending tuition would guarantee them on result day. This reliance on tuition as some determinant of exam success is why there is this growing tendency to conflate poor academic performance with ‘lack of aptitude’ or ‘bad teachers’. Some of the blame levelled at these factors is warranted, but not all. No syllabus is perfect or exemplary and Cambridge certainly is not; a lot of what O and A Level education tests, intentionally or otherwise, is your ability to organize, take responsibility, and pace yourself. There is a possibility that your inability to do well on an exam was because your textbook has never been opened, or that you started thinking of exam season with some sobriety only a month before it was exam season. You may wish to consider redressing this before registering at three different tuitions for the following year. 

Perhaps the most incriminating thing tuition centers have done is actively build a very skewed expectation of what an ideal classroom is like. Doing your homework is as integral to receiving an education as paying attention in class. Tuition dispenses of that need, pouring information and becoming in itself the ‘home’ time students should be investing in revision. Your teachers are supposed to do a lot of things, and much has been said and documented about how many of them are not doing those things, but shelving topics of the syllabus as ‘low yield’ or handing out answers that appeal to examiners is not one of them. Tuition culture has confused the provision of good education with an exam-passing apparatus – a distortion that is now used as justification for tuition. It is not remarkable, then, that students will find classroom teaching scanty. There is nothing as damaging to Karachi’s educational infrastructure as this advertised, glittery industry that offers an easy pass through something as sacred and indispensable as an education. 

Scot-Free Schooling 

Because of how far the city has carried tuition culture, parents and students are more likely to hold tuition teachers accountable than school teachers. So the oft-berated ‘bad school teacher’ is not that big of a problem when tuition registrations have been made even before the teacher has taken her first class. Tuition culture consequently allows schools to let the standards of their teaching faculty degenerate. Complains against ‘bad teachers’ are seldom made and when they are, administrations and students both know that the bulk of student learning is happening elsewhere anyway. In one instance in my own student life, a teacher was in fact removed from the faculty, and the complainants then put into the care of a teacher the students said they trusted. Unsurprisingly, most of the pupils continued their enrollment in a certain very popular biology tuition course into this next year as well, despite been allocated a ‘good’ teacher. There is nothing praiseworthy about sending your children to private tutors from the beginning of their academic year. You are engaging in a loss-loss transaction – surprisingly enthusiastically – where you will lose money and your child will lose sleep and resting hours while on the road, shuttling from one place to another, with no personal or intellectual growth achieved in turn.

Buck The Trend

For many students just crossing over into high school: do not do yourself a disservice by handing your potential to tuition teachers. Your friends with manufactured accents telling you how fantastic it is to be spoon-fed at Zamzama or elsewhere are not your well-wishers. You are your greatest asset as you walk into an exam, not the often excruciatingly incorrect topic predictions a certain tuition teacher made. No matter how many of your fashionable friends herd to the defense and advocacy of this exploitative industry, no matter how much positive publicity centers receive on social media – you cannot circumvent individual hard work on your road to achievement. Unlike many things, scholastic success cannot and should not be purchased. To restructure the education system is chronic, difficult and to some extent out of your hands – but to cut off sustenance to the tuition industry is entirely your initiative to take. 

No matter how many of your fashionable friends herd to the defense and advocacy of this exploitative industry, no matter how much positive publicity centers receive on social media – you cannot circumvent individual hard work on your road to achievement

If you want to do exceptionally well you do not, at all, need to be exceptionally intelligent (I know I am not), you need to be brave enough to make yourself an exception. Do yourself the favor of not scuttling to what is in fashion simply because it is. Do not let others, in whatever numbers and with whatever fervor they express themselves on your Whatsapp and Facebook, convince you that you are less gifted and will thus need this costly appendage throughout your school life. There will always be a question that hasn’t shown up in past exams and your tuition teacher hasn’t provided you the answer to. You probably could have answered it if you had explored the subject on your own from resources other than the tuition notes thousands of others have also read and learnt. Maybe those two marks could’ve pushed your grade over the threshold to an A. To profile yourself every day and commit to improve – using external help only as a last resort – is challenging. 

Alizah Pervaiz Hashmi is a first year MBBS student at Aga Khan University. She studied at Karachi Grammar School. She has a great sense of pride in Pakistan and its future. She can be reached at alizahpervaiz@hotmail.com