According to a survey, 67% and 59% of school-going children in urban and rural areas, respectively, attend private tuition centres in the evening. Private tuition is an obsession and, in some cases, an absolute need felt by the parents aspiring good careers for their children.
It is an obsession of such a magnitude and intensity amongst Pakistanis and other Asian nationalities even in the UK that most of the private tuition centres in London are inundated with children from non-European ethnic groups.
A lot has already been written on the economics of private schools, but it is not a secret that private tutors earn a lot of money. The monthly per capita fee for individual tuition in urban areas range from Rs1,000 to Rs50,000, depending on the subjects, location and reputation of the tutor.
Tuition centres (with various names such as coaching centres, academies and evening classes) abound. From villages to a cosmopolitan city like Karachi, there exist hundreds of thousands of such tuition centres across the country.
Given the popularity of private tuition, it could be developed as a viable alternative profession for teachers. Indeed, if it is modernised and combined with some innovative ideas and practices, it can become a new model of education that can be exported to other countries.
For example, Bill Strickland, an American educationalist, has developed an alternative tuition system that combines traditional education with arts and crafts. This system has helped thousands of disadvantaged children who felt excited to attend his tuition centres, after having been repelled by traditional schools in their localities.
The model is very much relevant to Pakistan, where thousands of “ghost schools” exist (The Express Tribune, December 13, 2013) and children either find no education at such schools or less rewarding than doing petty job. Consequently, they end up working as child labour.
In the contemporary world where information has literally come on tips (Google, Wikipedia, specialist web pages covering almost all disciplines, and virtual learning environments developed by individuals, universities and others), the need for classroom teaching has certainly gone down. In fact, because of the gadgets now so commonly in use, most of the students in large classrooms either WhatsApp each other or their friends elsewhere, or surf the net (updating Facebook profiles!).
For teachers, it is now a never-ending struggle to convince students to focus on their lectures. The smart ones already know what the teacher normally covers and the students on the other side of the spectrum have the comfort of knowing that learning aid material is available online.
If private tuition is developed as an alternative to regular school or college education, it is expected to bring a number of socio-economic benefits to the country:
Given the huge unemployment in the country and limited employment opportunities, a significant proportion of new graduates end up providing individual tuition to young children by paying home visits to the families, who prefer to have private tuition for their kids in the safe environment of their homes.
This proves to be a lucrative self-employed business, as it requires no investment in premises and other infrastructure for setting up a business. In fact, some of the well-established private schools in the country evolved from this initial business model of the owners.
Savings on fuel costs
If developed as an alternative to sending children to schools, the private tuition model can help a very large number of families to save on their fuel costs on sending their children to schools. This may not have any significant impact on the budgets of the individual families but it should have implications for consumption of petrol and gas in Pakistan, which is in a crisis-like situation with respect to petrol, diesel and CNG.
Easing out traffic problems
In big cities, traffic congestion is a huge problem, particularly in areas with a lot of private schools and colleges. An alternative private tuition-based educational system is also expected to contribute to easing out the traffic problems.
Savings on infrastructure costs
There is no denial of the fact that traditional schools, colleges and universities are going to fade away to give in to a new technology-based model of learning. A business based on this futuristic view of education can help in developing a new model of education, which is individual-centric and focused on providing what the child wants to learn and not what the system wants them to learn.
For this model to emerge, one will have to start with the highest income classes, to trickle it down to all income strata of the society.
The writer is an economist and a PhD from Cambridge University
Published in The Express Tribune, December 16th, 2013.
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