A typical day for most students from classes 9 to 12 in private schools across urban Tamil Nadu, begins and ends with books. Sitting in a school classroom for 5-6 hours at a stretch, many of these students also end up going to tuition centres for at least a couple of hours before or after their school time. With the coronavirus pandemic, there has been no change in this schedule other than the fact that it has now shifted online.
Tuitions have become almost synonymous with schools. At least in Tamil Nadu’s urban pockets among the students in classes 11 and 12 who go to private schools (which charge modest fees and otherwise), attending tuition classes has become inevitable. From acting as a supplement to school education, tuition centres today have evolved into a parallel school in themselves. They have their own test series, homework series and evaluation processes to keep track of the students’ progress. From genuinely needing additional support in understanding learning concepts to excessive peer pressure and competitiveness, students and parents seek out tuition classes for a variety of reasons.
TNM spoke to a few parents, a teacher and a student counsellor to understand more about the motivation behind sending students to tuition classes and what happens in a school classroom usually.
Speaking to TNM, Narayan Kumar, a 48-year-old Business Development professional from Chennai said that he put his son in tuition classes to help him grasp the basics of the subjects. His son, now in class 11 in a private CBSE school in Chennai, is attending tuition classes for maths and accountancy. “He was not exposed to accountancy till 10th grade because it starts only in 11th grade. So he wanted somebody to help him with the basics there, and more so because he felt that the teacher at school was not adequate. He had his own apprehensions,” Narayan said. However, Narayan added that his son has been going for tuition classes for maths for the last three years as he has a mild fear for numbers.
Apart from the need for a stronger foundation in certain papers, another important reason behind parents sending their children for tuition classes is the lack of knowledge to clarify their wards’ doubts. “As parents, we don't have enough knowledge to help our children with their doubts in certain papers. We have lost touch with that subject which we would have studied in school or we wouldn’t have even studied certain concepts back then. We are hence dependent on the tuition centres to help our children out,” Lakshmi, a 48-year-old homemaker from Chennai, said. Her daughter, currently in class 12, is attending tuitions for maths, physics and chemistry.
Both these students are currently attending tuitions online, since centres are shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic and are yet to reopen for classes.
These parents also said that their children get a higher level of attention in their tuition classes when compared to what they get in their school classrooms. While Lakshmi said that the syllabus in tuitions moves in tandem with the progress made in her daughter’s school, she added, “ It also depends a lot on the teachers at the school. In school, they are rushing the portions to complete it. Hence they are not able to give individual attention to each and every student. Children these days are not really focussed, in my opinion.”
According to Narayan, the teaching in the tuition centre has been more holistic than what happens in a school. “The school is more focussed on the exam while the tuition classes seem to be helping the students grasp the concept well. It is not rote-learning in the tuition centres per se,” he explained.
There is a lot said about the degree of peer pressure among children when it comes to academic performance. Behind the decisions of several parents to enrol their children in tuition classes is the demands placed by their children.
“I think the amount of education pressure and peer pressure (for the child) in Chennai is a lot more than in other cities. Especially in south Chennai and in the CBSE school circles, the rat race is extremely competitive and these kids worry just because some other kid has got a lot more knowledge or depth. So there is pressure from the kids to say that they want to attend a certain tuition centre because someone else is going and that is working out well for the other person. So it is not our decision at all. We are, at times, compelled to fulfil their wishes,” Narayan pointed out.
Tuitions also, sometimes, provide the students with an edge over their classmates in terms of class participation and asking ‘tough’ questions to teachers.
“There is a significant amount of peer pressure among the students because they would want to come off as smart in front of their classmates. Tuitions mostly give them that edge over others,” Sarbjeet Kaur, an Educational Vocational Guidance Counsellor (EVGC) working with Delhi Government Schools, told TNM. She added that students already grapple with a lot of fear and anxiety around studies and marks when they reach class 9 and it continues till they complete their class 12 board exams.
“In that age group, they also have to deal with a lot of changes psychologically, physically and socio-emotionally. Students also come with a lot of unrealistic dreams for themselves, which could stem from the expectations of family, society etc,” Sarbjeet added.
From the perspective of parents and students, tuition centres thrive because the students don’t get enough clarity or attention from their teachers at school and hence are forced to look outside for it. However, when TNM spoke to Sivapriya*, a 52-year-old teacher who retired after teaching for almost 30 years in private schools and parallel colleges in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, she explained that teachers in schools have their hands tied to an extent.
“Teachers in schools generally have more workload, because it is not just those classes they are handling. Even if things like celebrations and stuff don’t apply to students of classes 10, 11 and 12, we get pulled into those because the rest of the school still celebrates those events. So, we as teachers are tried for time,” she explained. Sivapriya also takes tuitions for school children and special classes for students in classes 11 and 12 in accountancy.
Pointing out that the focus of the school is to ensure that all the students pass all the subjects (100% result) and more students score full marks in a subject (more number of centums), Sivapriya said that there is a possibility that the teachers will not get the time to focus on all the children equally. She also pointed out that schools need to toe the regulatory requirements from the state governments in relation to the number of working hours and extra class hours.
“Unlike school teachers, tuition teachers don’t have anything else distracting them from their focus. Their goals are to make the students better than what they were, when they came in. Tuition centres also have the liberty to tell the students to come in for extra times, during weekends, festival days etc. Nobody will complain against them or write to the government complaining about this. If this is done by teachers at the school, parents and others are only happy to shoot off a complaint to the ministers and other officers. Hence there is a lot of wiggle room for tuition centres unlike schools,” she explained.
Sarbjeet is of the view that it is not just the schools that are to be blamed. “Tuitions have also become a societal norm these days because of the commercial evolution of the concept (of tuition). The centres are selling it in an attractive manner to the parents who, in the hope of providing the best for their kids, fall for these advertisements,” she said.
Sarbjeet said that unless the multiple stakeholders come up with a single-minded focus to ensure holistic development of children, it is a difficult bet. “There must be individual interest to teach from the teachers, schools should play a very good supportive role. Governments must also frame full reform policies which will ultimately aim to benefit the children rather than focusing on the public-private sector differences,” she signed off.
(*Names changed on request)