With our children having spent so much time online schooling this year, is it time for a tutor?
“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest,” said one of the US founding fathers Benjamin Franklin, and many Hong Kong parents have taken this statement as gospel. Education here has an incredibly high status, and many teachers and tutors are known for their excellent salary, benefits and holidays.
There is always a demand for extra education, and many parents turn to the large number of tutoring centres in Hong Kong for multiple reasons, one of which is giving their child that extra edge to excel. “Parents usually come to us looking for high-quality, academic English tuition to supplement and enhance the lessons their children are getting at school,” says Eleanor Smallwood, managing director of British Tutors.
Haze Wang, of the tutoring centre Kumon, adds, “Most local schools are examination-oriented and this affects their way of educating the students. Academic results and school grades are regarded as important indicators to judge a child’s ability and this affects their further development. Under this competitive environment, children are no strangers to tutorial centres providing various kinds of outside-school support, as many parents would like to boost their children’s exam scores.”
According to a study by psychologist Benjamin Bloom, students who are taught one-on-one perform better than 98 per cent of the students who learned in a traditional classroom environment. Several other studies have been conducted with regards to tutoring, and most conclude that students generally learn more effectively through individualised instruction.
“Parents want their children to be better than their peers at school, so they pay for extra hours of private tuition after school or on weekends.”
“One recurring problem children have when they are sent to us is that the child’s teacher at school has not taught the subject well,” Kelly Yang, owner and founder of The Kelly Yang Project, explains. “If the teacher at school is not teaching the subject – for instance, writing – in a clear and captivating way, a child starts to lose interest in the subject, which weakens the child’s foundation in the subject, which leads to a lack of confidence, which in turn leads to poor performance.”
Students learn in different ways, and teachers cannot cater to each and every student in a classroom setting. Tutors, on the other hand, are able to teach the necessary material in a manner that benefits each student individually. “Teaching is often more about how you teach rather than what you teach,” Eleanor says. “Children all learn in different ways, which is why it is unusual for everyone in a school class to thrive under the same teacher. The most important thing is discovering the way to motivate an individual student. Our tutors work hard to find what makes their students tick and how to interest, inspire and excite them; this can then be applied across subjects and disciplines.”
Francky Cheung, partner at Interactive Tutors, agrees. “The theory of multiple intelligences says that different people learn in different ways. Some students simply need a different approach.”
Plugging the gaps
Some students learn well enough without the need for tutors, so how can parents tell when their child needs a tutor?
“Our students often aren’t slipping behind in their school grades; rather, their parents see something lacking in the Hong Kong education system, especially in the teaching of humanities subjects,” Eleanor says. “They come to us to make sure children are level with their peers internationally as well as locally.”
Sheena, a mum of two, adds, “If my children are having trouble understanding a subject, their grades are slipping, or they do not enjoy certain classes at school, my husband and I will attempt to explain the subject in a way we know that our children can understand. However, if we are unable to help them, I will look for a tutor for that subject. Even if they are good in a subject overall, I will look for a tutor in order to boost their grades just a little bit more, especially if there is an aspect of the subject that they are struggling with.”
Francky from Interactive Tutors adds, “The most common reason for parents to send their children for tutoring, whether in group or one-on-one, is the fierce competition in Hong Kong. Many of our students are brilliant and get very high grades in school, yet they still come to us for tutoring. Parents want their children to be better than their peers at school, so they pay for extra hours of private tuition after school or on weekends.”
Sunita, a mother of three, has a slightly different opinion. “If my child is already proficient in the subject, I do not see the need to send them for tutoring, unless they are introverts, in which case, sending them would improve their social skills as well as their study habits,” she explains.
There are many other reasons to send a child for tutoring, including increasingly difficult homework, lowering of self-esteem, loss of interest in learning, reluctance to attend school or do work and extreme anxiety regarding tests and exams.
“If I research a tutor and they have an excellent record of helping their students ace their exams, I will send my child to them,” Sheena says. “That can be a problem for students and parents though, because the tutors then become too busy to arrange classes for new students. The closer an exam is, the more sessions students will arrange a week, and exams happen for everyone around the same time,”
Other advantages of tutoring include progression of skills at the student’s pace rather than the general pace of a class, and provision of intensive practice in a controlled environment with reduced competition, the latter of which can be helpful in pushing students to succeed, but can also be detrimental to their self-esteem.
There are different methods of tutoring, including attending one-on-one sessions at home or in a tutoring centre, working with a small group at a tutoring centre, or working online. However, one-on-one, face-to-face sessions are often preferable for parents. “This way, my child gets the attention they need,” Sunita explains. “Yes, it would be preferable to let children work online, since it’s cheaper and they do everything on computers these days. The problem is, however, our kids are easily distracted and won’t be able to focus, especially when alone,”
“Although online tutors can do essentially the same job as the real face-to-face tutor, online tutoring works only for subjects that are ‘fun’ for children and require minimal personal contact.”
Eleanor from British Tutors agrees. “Whilst the initial novelty of lessons on a computer may be exciting, we believe that nothing can beat the dynamic you can achieve in a one-on-one lesson with a tutor. The relationship between a child and their teacher is paramount, and you can only really develop this by being in a room together – talking, discussing, debating.”
Technology can be useful for tutoring, but with limitations, says Sheena. She explains, “One of my children had a tutor who helped him with his English essays online, because she was studying in a different country. They would arrange to meet on Skype once a week and go through papers that he emailed to her. While his grades improved a lot because they were speaking to each other and could see each other’s faces, it was a hassle because they had to arrange appointments to coincide with the time difference. Face-to-face tutoring is always the most ideal.”
Haze from Kumon thinks online tutoring can be valuable, depending on the student and the subject. “Although online tutors can do essentially the same job as the real face-to-face tutor, online tutoring works only for subjects that are ‘fun’ for children and require minimal personal contact. For other subjects, the interaction with the real person is invaluable. It is also easier to handle hyperactive students in person than virtually on the screen. So online tutors are just an alternative solution but cannot totally replace face-to-face tutoring.”
In Hong Kong, there are countless tutoring centres, private tutors and university students looking to enter the world of tutoring. It may just take a bit of work to find the right one who can unlock your child’s hidden abilities, strengthen any areas of weakness, sharpen up existing skills or just inspire your child to do their best.