Lines seem to be blurring between reality show superstars and mass scale tuition teachers. While  ‘superstar contestants’ urge ‘sms support’ through billboards in towns, sporting their ‘numbers’ and flamboyance, tuition teachers wage a battle of their own for the ‘best catch’ appealing to the emotion of the youth. Mass scale tuition teachers, clad in possibly their smartest attire, labour to evoke passionate hosannas about themselves! Assuring nothing less than an ‘A’- be it for O/Ls or A/Ls, some entice students to ‘write their own life story’ through Biology or Chemistry while others promise them ‘wings to fly’ through the exposition of Sinhala language or Mathematics! Such ridiculously mismatched catch words which are empty rhetoric, sadly lures young minds.

More than a ‘little push’
The true meaning of private supplementary tutoring seems to have completely eroded in our setting where students aimlessly seek ‘tuition’ regardless their potential. A child who is language-bent may struggle with numbers while a child who finds numbers a cake walk may find constructing a paragraph a daunting task. That is what human DNA is all about – we have our inherent unique skills and weak points – latter which at times need an impetus.

Supplementary tutoring traditionally fitted into this space where parents sought to give
‘a little push’ to their children who would struggle with a particular subject. Very often such tutoring was sought from competent and qualified teachers where a student had the opportunity of receiving one-to-one attention. The socio-economic fabric has evolved to such a level where traditional private supplementary tutoring has acquired a sophisticated identity of ‘individual tuition’ which comes at a high cost. Needless to say this is possible only for the affluent today.

Tuition culture
The concept is no longer about enabling a weak student to pass the subject but about making a gifted student a ‘super hero’. Handling a technologically-savvy, ‘facebook generation’ is an uphill task for modern parents who very often have little or no autonomy over the choice of their children’s ‘tuition classes’. Counting on peer recommendation as the gospel truth, teenagers make their own choices about the ‘best tuition class’, particularly for their A/L subjects. Flamboyant advertising strategies, cheap humor of some tutors and their bogus promises drive young students to clamour to secure a seat among hundreds where a student is a mere ‘admission number’.

Instances where these mass scale tuition factories become a window for sexual abuse, drugs and many more evils are not uncommon. How a private tutor could cater to hundreds what a school teacher cannot cater to 45 students in a school classroom is a moot point. It is questionable whether it is the ‘substance’ imparted by these tutories or the ‘tuition culture’ which draws crowds.

Regulatory framework
Mark Bray and Ora Kwo in their publication Regulating Private Tutoring for Public Good: Policy Options for Supplementary Education in Asia which is published jointly by UNESCO Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education and the Comparative Education Research Centre, The University of Hong Kong, observes that tuition or private tutoring has ‘far reaching complications for the nurturing of new generations, for economic and social
development and for the operation of school systems.’ The book cites the observations of the annual EFA Global Monitoring Report 2014, (pg 271) to the effect that: ‘private tuition, if unchecked or uncontrolled, can be a detriment to learning outcomes, especially for the poorest students who are unable to afford it. Whatever perspective policy-makers may have on private tuition, management policies are required to ensure that teachers teach the assigned number of hours and cover the whole curriculum so that private tuition does not displace classroom teaching.’

The publication which provides statistics pertaining to tuition over 30 countries in Asia including ours, urges a ‘regulatory framework’ for tuition. To validate such a framework, they cite social inequalities, backwash on regular schooling, corruption, protection of consumers and taxation. It further notes that private tutoring in Asia is under-regulated and once this ‘shadow education becomes engrained in the culture, it cannot be easily reduced.’

End product of ailing system
The way forward as Prof. Marie Perera, Senior Professor in Education, Faculty of Education, University of Colombo, points out is, remedying the ailing education system in the country of which mass scale tuition mafia is the end product. “What should be addressed is the root cause for which the competitive examination system of ours is largely responsible. Added to this is the burden of the overcrowded classroom with 45 students or more.” She questions as to how a single teacher could give undivided attention to such a large number within a period of 40 minutes.

Senior Lecturer in Economics, University of Colombo, Dr. Chandana Aluthge expressing similar sentiments added that it is important to understand why tuition is sought. “The competition to get into popular schools, poor teaching and learning quality in certain schools and excessive academic work for students drive them to seek tuition. Regulating tuition is not the answer but authorities providing remedies to the burning issues in our education system.