Private tutoring in Lebanon becoming institutionalized

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A young Syrian student takes an exam at a school in Tripoli, north Lebanon. AFP

Published Saturday, November 15, 2014

Private tutoring has become an informal market of its own, rather than a temporary individual task performed (mainly) by university students and school teachers. Private tutoring institutions have recently proliferated, providing income for some of those who are unable to find jobs. These organizations work without permits and are not subject to oversight or scrutiny. But they thrive on the lack of trust in the Lebanese educational system.

"University student provides private lessons in a variety of subjects for all educational levels."

People are used to seeing and reading such notices wherever they go. Walls and shop windows are full of flyers posted by university students and graduates offering private tutoring, the service is also advertised in some newspapers and online.

However, private tutoring, which for years was an individual task taken up by university students to cover their expenses, has now become an institutional job. The past few years have witnessed a proliferation of dozens of institutes and centers offering private lessons but views are split on their usefulness and relevance to an education.

Improvement classes, help with homework, intensive sessions for students preparing for official exams and foreign language courses are but a sample of the services provided by private tutoring centers to convince students’ parents to sign their children up. It seems that these centers do not face any difficulties in their work, and are multiplying due to a growing demand by students.

Every night, Nada, a full-time employee, picks up her son from the private tutoring center he attends. Despite his constant complaints that the coursework is difficult and that the center is depriving him of his time to rest and play, his mother views it as a practical solution for working parents who do not have enough time to teach their children.

"We are reassured while at work that our children are in a safe space and making use of their time," she explained.

Her positive statements are not shared by Abdallah. He placed his son in a private tutoring center last year, but the boy's final grades declined after he was enrolled. It later became apparent that the center lacked competency and experience. Abdallah is remorseful for having paid a considerable amount to register his son at the center, and is certain that some institutes have turned into businesses, more interested in profit than education.

A sign outside the door of the “Certain Success for Private Tutoring” center is the only thing that sets it apart from the rest of the apartments in the building and the only indication of its location.

Hoda, the center's owner, transformed the four-room flat into an institute with dozens of students coming in daily.

"The low standards of some schools and teachers, in addition to parents’ busy schedule or their lack of an adequate education to teach their children, make private tutoring centers an absolute necessity in Lebanese society," Hoda said.

"We are not transgressing on education, but filling an educational gap left by the feeble performance of some schools and teachers," she added.

Mahmoud spent five years as a private teacher driving between the homes of his students until he decided to set up his own center. "The low cost of opening a private tutoring center and the decent profits are an encouragement for many to start such projects; a few thousand dollars is all it takes," he said. "Finding a place, equipping it with the needed supplies, contracting some teachers, and a limited publicity campaign is all that’s required to set up a private tutoring center.”

Of course, such centers vary in size, number of teachers, number of students, and fees, which usually range between $200 and $300 a month per student.

Although those who run the centers are convinced of their role in correcting and improving the educational process, other educators – school teachers who were interviewed – have a different view. They consider the centers to be a part of the problem and not the solution.

"Most of those centers are illegal because they lack a licence to carry out educational activities. So they are not supervised or scrutinized," one teacher said.

The centers are also criticized for "putting too much pressure on the students, and making them feel that they are attending school both in the morning and afternoon. In addition, the different teaching styles between teachers in the centers and those in schools could confuse the students and impact their educational achievements."

Educational expert Adnan al-Amin opined that the spread of private tutoring centers is a result of "the weak trust of some parents in some schools and teachers.”

“They hold them responsible for their children's shortcomings, especially in foreign languages, maths, and sciences. So they go to these centers to improve their children's education," he said.

"Some school curricula burden students with too many exams, homework, and research assignments, on one hand, and parents are unwilling to waste hours teaching their children, on the other, so this helps increase the demand for such centers," Amin added.

"Students enrolled in those centers are mostly from private schools and middle-class and rich families, while most public school students cannot afford such centers which, in effect, bars their entry," Amin noted. Although he does not believe such centers pose an imminent threat to the educational process, Amin called for regulating these centers and on the state to supervise and assess them.


This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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