Is Ford’s private tutoring support steering education in the wrong direction?

By Sabrina Almeida

Ford’s re-tabled 2022 budget had one big surprise – a new direct payment to parents for private tutoring support to help kids bridge the pandemic learning gap!!!

When asked why the $225 million wasn’t being directed to school boards, Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy referred instead to the billions the government is already spending on education, tutoring and mental health supports for students in the public education system. No explanation was given for encouraging parents and children to seek additional academic help outside their classrooms.

Naturally, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) said it was disappointed that the provincial government had opted to redirect funding away from public schools. This latest development isn’t likely to smooth over the premier’s rocky relationship with education workers any time soon… unless he agrees to the 11% pay increase unions want, perhaps!

If accusations about Ford quietly trying to privatize Ontario’s healthcare system are to be believed, the latest announcement seems to extend his alleged privatization agenda towards education. No good can come out of a system that is based on how much you are willing to spend. Even with government financial support…

An under-performing publicly funded school system can have serious repercussions. Those of us who have been a part of the Indian education system have first hand experience. Most Indian students rely heavily on private tutoring throughout their academic career and especially for competitive exams. While class sizes of more than 100 students (in cities like Mumbai) can make it difficult to provide a meaningful learning environment, low salaries further incentivize teachers to push kids towards private tuitions. One of my elementary school teachers went as far as to alter grades in my report card in order to persuade my parents to send me to her for tutoring.

What this meant was that if you wanted your child to get good grades, you had to be willing to pay for additional help. Not all parents could afford this additional expense. Moreover, Indian coaching classes charged exorbitant fees based on their students’ achievements. Those with top rankers laughed their way to the bank.

The extended learning also gave children little time to enjoy their childhood. Rushing from full-day school to coaching classes and heavily burdened with homework from both places, most children in India have little downtime and are at a high-risk of burnout. A study revealed that between school and private tuitions, kids were spending more time on academic activities than most adults do at work. It found children had less than 20 minutes a day to play and were highly stressed. Experts said this was not only detrimental to child development but also a death knell for the education system.

We were glad that our children had escaped this torturous education system! However, Ontario now seems to be heading in that direction.

Having said that, the coaching class concept is not new here. Its popularity has grown exponentially in the past decade or so thanks to immigrants from India and other countries where the system is commonplace. As a result, education brands like Kumon, Learna, Mathnasium, Sylvan, etc. have become lucrative investment opportunities that are almost as difficult to get your hands on as a Tim Hortons’ franchise. Additionally, they run on cheap labour in the form of university students and student teachers looking to gain industry experience.

But despite an increased presence, private tutoring classes remained on the fringe of the public school system which was considered sufficient till now. However, Ford’s new payment for parents to ‘help their children catch up’ on the two years of learning loss seems to bring them into the forefront. This doesn’t make sense, given the province’s $600 million Learning Recovery Action Plan for schools.

If more intervention was needed, why not equip the publicly funded school system to provide it? Isn’t that what the teachers are trained to do?

Additionally, coaching classes often rely on low-paid inexperienced employees and standardized worksheets, rarely providing a quality learning experience. In the end it’s a group learning environment similar to school classrooms, not the individualized attention children who are trying to catch up need. The prohibitive cost of one-on-one tutoring can be out of reach for many, which pushes them to settle for this less-than-ideal form of assistance.

Some  elementary and high school teachers, on the other hand, offer after-hours tutorials for students. Wouldn’t this have been a better way to bridge the learning gap caused by the pandemic that the Ford government is so concerned about? Is the move  pandering to another lobby? I hope not!

No details have been provided on which parents/children will qualify for these payments and how they will be distributed. As always, the Ford government claims it will listen “to parents and many people” on how to roll it out.

Amidst all this confusion, what’s clear is that the onus is now in parents to find tutors to supplement their kids’ public school education.

There is no doubt that the learning gap is real, but it has been occurring for many years, not just during the pandemic.  A revised school curriculum can address this. How can private tutors fix a failing education system?

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1 COMMENT

  1. Much ado about nothing. The Pandemic hit the primary grades particularly hard in reading and phonics.
    Funding is provided until December to catch up students’ reading skills. There are many tutoring companies who have contracts with the local Boards so tutors are easy to find, the students get the one-on-one that teachers don’t have the time to give and reading skills are improved. Win, win !!

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