Elsa Haile’s son, five, is already preparing for life’s competition that lies ahead. Elsa, an Information Technology graduate, started him in pre-KG in the new school year in September. She later copied a phone number from a notice on a lamp post, and hired a Journalism and Communications graduate to tutor the toddler for 40 minutes a day, three days a week.
“His private tutor should do all the follow-ups and help him to stand first in his class,” explained Elsa, sharing her expectations. She runs a shop in Merkato; her husband also runs his own business. They opted to hire a tutor because of their time constraints due to the demands of work and home.
The tutor, Beniam Belihu, 22, recently graduated from college and has a regular job as an English teacher in a private school. His contract with Elsa includes his pay, expected behaviour and how he is going to help her child.
He feels, however, it might be too much for children to have tutors at such an early age.
“The decision rests on the parents. I do my job as long as the parents find it relevant for their child to have an after-class tutorial. It is business and extra income, which is crucial for me,” he emphasised.
His regular job pays 2,000 Br per month. He supplements that with three tutorial assignments, including a seventh grader and a 10th grader. He is paid 150 Br to 160 Br per session per student. He meets each of his three students three times a week and is paid 1,800 Br to 1,920 Br a month for each, earning well over twice his salary from the regular job.
Some tutors in the market are paid less while others earn more than this sum. Solomon Alemayehu’s fee is as low as 120 Br. His regular job as a Physics teacher pays 6,500 Br a month. The tutorial income helps him “cover costs like transport”. He helps his tutees, both high school students, with all the subjects they are studying, Science or otherwise.
The job does not need any special training or focus, he says. What matters is the deal with the parents. Social science subjects require only reading and the explanations could be made with general knowledge, he argued, during discussion with Fortune.
However, opinions differ on this point.
“These days there are so many notices everywhere advertising tutorial services but I doubt the qualification of these tutors. I believe one teacher cannot be good with all subjects which puts a question mark on those who advertise themselves as tutoring different subjects,” said Tirusew, professor and laureate in education who is also a teacher at Addis Abeba University College of Education and Behavioral Studies.
These individual deals between teachers and parents could lead to professional and ethical trespasses, bemoaned the worried director of a private school, who did not want his name or that of his school mentioned.
His school had to fire a teacher for falsely marking up the grades of the students she tutored in a probable attempt to promote her services to parents. The school then established a ground rule that prohibits its teachers from engaging in any private tutoring of students from the same school. Ensuring that the rule is observed has not been easy.
“Some teachers, who are underpaid at their regular jobs, are only interested in the business they make,” he complained.
The salary scale in his school ranges, depending on the teachers’ educational status and experience, from 2,000 to 6,500Br. He believes that the teachers’ incomes might not be enough to meet the cost of living. That could be the reason goading most teachers to seek tutorial jobs, he said.
In 2004, a regulation was issued by the Addis Abeba Education Bureau to streamline and standardise tutorial services in the city. The regulation requires tutors to have a minimum teaching diploma, with the requirement of a degree for those tutoring high school students. Beyond the qualification there should be some evidence of pedagogical experience.
This requirement seems to be met by default, as most of those seeking tutoring jobs are already teachers, although both the tutors and the parents hiring them hardly see the need for official certification and licensing.
Anybody involved in this activity, according to the regulation, must be certified and licensed. Failing to comply will entail a punishment, the regulation reads, without prescribing specific punitive measures.
Since 2012, the Addis Abeba Education Bureau has registered and licensed five institutions for tutorial services. After two years, only two came back for renewal, which is also required by the regulation.
“I think these registered institutions could not survive the fierce competition they face from the informal home based private tutorial services,” Yemechew Gebretsadik, inspection head at the Bureau, told Fortune.
A woman, who opted to remain anonymous, registered for the business in 2013. After hiring 21 women as tutors, and renting a place as per the requirement of the regulation, the way forward has not been easy for her and teachers.
“We are doing okay but, competing with unregistered home based tutorial service providers has not been easy,” she said.
Registered ones like her institution quote 120 Br on average, while the home tutors ask 140 Br on average.
“Despite the price and institutionalised model, most parents prefer home based tutorials, saying it is convenient for them,” added the woman, whose rented premise is found around Lebu.
She, nonetheless, has enough clients sending their children to her place.
The strict conditions of the Bureau include a teacher having to tutor only for a maximum of five days a week and for not more than 45 minutes per day. There has to be a similar content as that of the regular class. Class size is also regulated with one teacher being allowed a maximum of 10 students per class. The tutoring institution is expected to be located away from noise disturbance; it must have water, electricity and telephone access, and a minimum of 600sqm of compound space.
Placing such conditions on the institutional tutor services will help them, Yemechew reasoned, and encourage “illegal” home-to-home tutors to get together and form institutions.
Solomon sees no harm in tutors like him being around. He thinks parents should not put much pressure on their children at lower grades, although there are some students who need follow up because of poor performance at school.
“Lately most parents do not have the time to help their children. So it is not a bad idea to pay for a private tutor,” he said.
Alemayehu Gudeta, a taxi driver and father of two daughters, has hired a tutor for his two daughters. He is disappointed, though, as he is not seeing the tutors doing more than helping his children with their homework.
“Now I am thinking of hiring a language tutor so that they can learn to read and understand English, which will widen their knowledge base,” he said.
Tutoring may not always be helpful, said Serkalem Bekele, a social worker and PhD candidate at the Addis Abeba University School of Social Work, who has worked with children and juvenile delinquency.
“After spending more than seven hours at school, home tutoring does not create motivating conditions for child development, she continued.
Children have to become well-rounded, develop confidence, problem solving capacity and other skills, which will not happen by simply focusing on the school subject matters.
“It is not appropriate to use what little time is left to the children after school for tutoring,” she added, insisting that all the help children need with school work should be provided by their parents, which is crucial to strengthening the family bond.
She finds the root of the problem in parents’ attitude towards education, children and parenting in general. She said that parents seem to prioritise materialistic provision and compete to get their children to better schools, buy the best materials and get the best tutors.
This view was supported by Tirusew, who said that parents should consider asking their children how they feel about having a tutor. Indeed, it is not advisable for students to be dependent on a tutor as they have to be able to learn do things independently. But if it is a must to have a tutor considering the psychological and pedagogical desire, parents could take their children’s wants into consideration if they decide to hire a tutor.
“But I recommend that students must be well-rounded, which means that it is better to engage them with their interests. It could be either music or painting or anything, otherwise they will suffer from having too much pressure.”
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