Tuition industry: A class act?

There is a fine line between help and dependence, and Pakistan’s rapidly growing tuition industry seems headed towards the latter. Over the past decade, tutors and tuition academies in the country have mushroomed significantly in all forms and sizes — from single-room classrooms to multi-storied tuition centres.

The grind now begins with parents enrolling three-year-olds with tutors, in some cases, to increase the likelihood of admission into high-end private schools and continues until the child makes it to a privileged college. Since the industry is largely unregulated, no official data exists regarding the exact number of tuition centres operating in the country. Direct stakeholders, however, estimate that individual tutors and tuition academies make millions, if not billions, of rupees every year that go untaxed, unaccounted and unexplained.

A helping hand?

The primary purpose of ‘taking tuitions’, a colloquial term that refers to extra coaching by a teacher outside school, was to help weaker students improve their academic performance. But with a decline in the quality of education offered at schools, increased competition to get into better colleges and peer pressure, the trend has now become the norm. “Most of my friends take at least one or two tuitions,” says 13-year-old Arman Faruqi, who also felt pressured to do the same but refrained due to his good grades. “Many of them say it’s their mothers [who] send them [to these tuitions],” he adds. “Sometimes they say it is more like a party. They also get coke, pizza, and video games after or before their session.” Sixteen-year-old Noshaba, on the other hand, attributes a great deal of credit for her academic performance to her tuition teachers. “It is unfair to generalise. Some students really cannot keep up in class and need someone to push them in the right direction,” she says. “Taking tuitions not only helped my grades but also boosted my confidence. I no longer feel like an outsider at school.”

While previously the concept of tuitions only applied to secondary school students, nowadays even toddlers are sent for extra coaching in order to increase their chances of entry into a good school. “Getting into a good school is the ticket to a good life now. So, parents don’t want to take any chances. I don’t see what’s so wrong with it,” says Samia Raza, a mother of two. Some teachers, however, strongly oppose the idea. “It’s absolutely ridiculous when you force a child to memorise names of animals and alphabets. Kids should learn at their own pace,” says Fauzia, a kindergarten teacher at the Karachi Grammar School. Furthermore, the pressure of attending daily tuitions also leaves children completely exhausted, says Ayesha, who tutors children with special learning needs. She shares that one of her students attends three tuitions a day, in addition to two other activities and is also under pressure from home to perform well. “In the end, this leaves her with a poor result despite having worked so hard because she is so tired all the time.”

The trend, by no means, is limited to a certain income class or private schoolgoers. Extra coaching outside school is now a norm even for children attending public schools, though their reasons are slightly different. “My children are failing in their schools. There are so many girls who have done their matriculation and are now offering tuitions, so I send my children there,” says Rehmat, a full-time domestic worker in Karachi. Three of her five children attend a public school in Lyari, but need extra coaching due to the substandard teachers and curriculum at their school. As a result, Rs2,500 of Rehmat’s modest income is spent in tuitions, in addition to the regular school fee.

The teachers offering tutoring services are as varied as the students that come to them. Hammad, a graduate from the Aga Khan University, Karachi, started tutoring when he was still in college at the request of friends and family who needed help. “At the time, I use to make Rs8,000 to Rs10,000 per month but now I make a lot more,” he says.

Nadeem Ghani, dean at Nixor College, Karachi, has a strict anti-tuition policy. Instead, the administration provides students extra coaching at school. PHOTO: MYRA KHAN

Unlike Hammad who operates solo, the Anees Hussain tuition centre, one of the largest and most recognisable names in Karachi since the 1990s, operates with multiple instructors and classrooms. “Although we are primarily a test preparation centre,” says Irfan Ghaffar, one of the directors at Anees Hussain tuition centres, “we have seen the demand for O-Level and A-Level tuition to be much greater.” Ghaffar acknowledges the lack of regulation in the industry, but claims that in order to combat that, they have started using stricter hiring policy for teachers involving interviews and sample teaching lessons as part of recruitment. This is followed up with regular evaluations of the teachers and course material where students are encouraged to give feedback. “These things don’t happen in schools,” he says.

Tracing the root cause

Hasan Aamir, an educationist and director at Khadim Ali Shah Bukhari Institute of Technology (KASBIT), Karachi, feels that the tuition culture is a product of parents’ increasing obsession with better grades rather than a quality education and schools’ failure to provide that. As a result, children are forced to fill that vacuum by taking tuitions with the ultimate goal of getting into colleges abroad and leaving the country.

“Grades are important but if it’s the only measure of a student’s achievement, then how can we blame students [and parents] for wanting to take tuition to get the best grades possible?”says Nadeem Ghani, dean at Nixor College, Karachi. “It is time for us to reevaluate our understanding of education.” He elaborates that tuitions are just filling up the vacuum left by schools. “Private tutors are filling the gap created by schools — they are adding value where schools have failed,” he says. “Where there is demand, supply will follow.”

On the other hand, Fauzia Zubair, who has over 35 years of experience in private education, including at Beaconhouse and The City School, feels that the security of a permanent job at school tends to put teachers at ease and limits them from performing at their maximum potential. “Many teachers teach better at tuitions because that is their market. If they don’t do a good job, they are destroying their own market,” she says. Some parents also feel that teachers deliberately do not deliver their best at school in order to create a demand for their tutorial services. “Mediocre teachers miraculously become good teachers if you go to them for tuition. It doesn’t take a genius to put two and two together,” says Sadia Shaikh, a parent.

The financial prospects of the tuition industry are also a huge attraction since there is minimum investment, high demand and no taxation. According to Dr Qaiser Bengali, an economist, the industry is quiet large and lucrative with some earning nearly Rs1 million each month just by giving tuitions. “However, like lawyers, doctors or any other industry that operates on direct cash, the income remains untaxed because it is difficult to trace documents for it,” he adds.

While individual-based tuition charges vary, class-based tuitions for O-Level and A-Level charge Rs5,000 to Rs15,000 for 10-15 sessions per month. An average full-time private school teacher on the other hand makes Rs15,000 to Rs30,000 per month, with a few exceptions that manage to earn more due to their experience or market reputation. “People say teaching is a noble profession. But it is work at the end of the day and nobility doesn’t put bread on the table,” says a Lahore-based tuition instructor Mansoor Khan, who switched to giving tuitions after having taught at one of the city’s leading private schools for 12 years.

According to Ghaffar, the fault lies with the colleges who need to hire better teachers and keep them motivated by paying competitive salaries. While teachers are told to do the ‘right thing’, i.e. teach at schools, schools do not live up to their end of the bargain and don’t compensate educators according to their worth, says Ghani.

Reevaluate and restructure

Instead of playing the blame game, Ghani believes that there is a need to re-evaluate the purpose behind the pursuit of education. “The bottom line is that schools need to reduce the demand for private tuitions by providing more resources for their students on campus,” he says. And he has puts his money where his mouth is. Nixor College is one of the few institutions that strictly prohibits extra tuitions and penalises students that are found doing otherwise. Instead, the administration claims to take full responsibility for a child’s learning and provides extra mechanisms such as peer-learning, teaching assistants, remedial classes taught by school’s faculty members to students who still find class time too little. These features add a substantial amount to the operating cost of the school,” admits Ghani. “But these are bells and whistles, and they form an integral part of the programme.” And in the words of 17-year-old Awais Khalid, a student at Nixor, the programme seems to be working. “That moment when you realise that you don’t need tuitions, it does wonders for your self-confidence. It makes you believe in yourself.”

Names have been changed to protect privacy.

Myra Khan works in the education sector and loves to write on the side. She tweets @myrakhan

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, May 25th, 2014.

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