METRO PLUS

Are these extras worth it?

So who is more burdened? — Photo: K. Gopinathan

So who is more burdened? — Photo: K. Gopinathan  

Children once came from school, threw off their uniforms, gulped down their tiffin, and rushed off to play. Today, after a stressful day at school, our children trudge to tuition classes, writes TINA GARG.

WHERE ARE those children who went to school with a song on their lip? Take a look around and you see a despondent lot, laden with schoolbags so big they would draw admiring glances from professional mountaineers. `Stressful' is the word that rightly describes our education system. Long hours at school, heavy bags, and too much homework — all ensure that school and studies are no longer fun for our children. While there are students who have the unnerving capability to cope with pressures at school, most find the going tough, thereby making, the tuition teacher's home the third most important place in their lives (after home and school).

A decade or two ago, tuitions were an alien word till one got to college, but today it is not uncommon to find a fourth, fifth and sixth standard students rushing off to the tuition teacher's right after school. Why has the system become so tyrannical?

Poonam Bhat, a mother, blames it on "large portions of syllabus not completed at school" and teachers not devoting much time on difficult topics, making it necessary for the child to get further help. When the child is not able to get this help at home "because both parents need to work or cannot grasp the subject themselves, tuitions are the only alternative", says Mallika Parikh, another parent.

While understanding the subject is important to some parents, it is marks and results that matter to most others. Statistics in Asia prove that some 43 per cent parents admit that their child's education is their full-time occupation. "With competition being tough and the number of students per class only increasing, parents don't want their kids to be left behind; so tuitions are important," points out Vidya Uchil, mother of two.

What happens to the children who attend tuitions regularly is another matter. Maths, Science, and Hindi are the youngsters' bane, necessitating tuitions. In most cases, children start tuitions in these three subjects around 4 p.m. after a long and stressful day at school, getting back home only by half past six or later, missing out on playtime. Life for the tuition teachers is equally stressful. In most cases, they give tuitions for economic reasons. Each group comprises six or seven children, and not necessarily from the same school and even the same class. The teacher shuttles from one student to another, spending five or 10 minutes with each at a time. Most of the time, tuitions entail completion of homework. When all the children are gainfully occupied, the teacher completes her household chores or finishes a hurried phone call, even as the children joke and laugh behind her back. The teacher is happy with the money, the children happy to complete their homework, and parents happy, fooling themselves that their children are learning well at tuitions.

Some parents confess to not having the time to spend on their children and end up buying them everything their education would need, including tuitions.

Many send the youngsters for extra classes even when there is really no need. As Plaboni Iyengar, teacher with Shishu Griha puts it: "I know parents who have the time to teach their kids, but they believe in sending the child for tuitions because evenings are exercise/walking time or time to chat on the phone. This results in the child losing his confidence and feels incapable of handling his studies himself, thus needing further help." Ms. Iyengar feels that tuitions are not the only answer to a child not performing well at school and strongly advocates that parents should meet with the teacher to discuss their child's weak points and how he can be helped.

Good communication between parents and teachers, and between parents and children is what Dr. Alka Prakash, parent and educator, advocates in her book, Helpline for Stressed Parents, where she insists that tuitions are not necessary. She stresses that the child should be encouraged to do his own homework and problem solving, following which both the parents, even if they are working, can devote a little time to his learning, thus obviating the need for tuitions.

Apart from confusing a child on the methodology of the topic (each teacher may have a different style or explanation), extra classes end up burning a hole in the pocket. Tuitions are a lucrative business with tuition teachers charging Rs. 400 onwards per month per subject. Each teacher can easily earn up to Rs. 6,000 to Rs. 7,000 from tuitions alone.

Ankita Garg, who topped the ICSE exams in her school with 93.4 per cent marks without attending a single extra class, says: "Whatever is taught in school and at tuitions is the same. If you are attentive in class, you can follow everything. Students who are not attentive need tuitions and those who attend tuitions tend to lose interest in class. You end up wasting more hours over one subject, where you could grasp the same subject by paying attention in class." Ankita would often try and solve her own problems, failing which she would approach her teacher after class hours.

The education system is also to be blamed for spawning the tuition culture. Often, teachers have to adhere to strict schedules that do not provide for extra hours for difficult topics. This results in incomplete learning, weak concepts, and unfinished portions. To this bleak scenario, throw in extensive syllabi, crammed class, difficult-to-comprehend textbooks, and no help at home. Dr. Alka Prakash urges parents to ensure quality study time where the child pays attention to studies without listening to music or watching television. Consistent study everyday for an hour, either completing home work, revising lessons regularly, and even reading chapters beforehand, go a long way in improving the child's grasp and learning abilities, she adds.

Taking short breaks between study periods and linking studies to real life experiences are other methods that can really help a child learn. Says Ms. Uchil, "I always demonstrate phenomena like condensation and evaporation, precipitation, photosynthesis and so on to my children. For me, it is important that they understand the subject, not whether they have secured good marks or not." She adds: "There should be a good balance between extracurricular activities and studies. If this happens, a child will definitely not need extra classes and tuitions. Playtime, yoga, physical exercise, and concentration-enhancing techniques are important in school.

Where study is concerned, boring subjects should not be taught late afternoon; tough subjects should be finished in the morning hours." Ms. Uchil is confident that these changes in the school schedules will eradicate the need for tuitions. "But if a child still needs extra coaching, let him have it for short periods to brush up his learning. It is up to the parents, however, to check the authenticity of the class, the interest of the tuition teacher, do a reference check, and find out the number of children in the class. If the child will indeed benefit from the classes, then the parents can go ahead and help him learn better."

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