Special Focus: Outside Tuition

Special Focus: Outside Tuition

From time to time parents ask us if we would recommend that their child get extra help in the form of tuition – either through a private arrangement with an individual tutor, or by attending one of the many tuition centres here in Kota Kinabalu. The response we give is usually a qualified “no”.

Let us say from the outset that tuition can work very well. In our experience we have seen a number of positive outcomes when children have sought assistance outside the school. Here are some examples:

• A student needs to prepare for another school’s specific admissions test
• A student needs to keep contact with a mother tongue language that the host school doesn’t offer
• A student needs to catch up on a particular topic that she/he missed (through a long-term absence, perhaps, or because of joining the school from one which had a very different curriculum).

These examples have one thing in common – there is a very well-defined purpose for the tuition. There is also, by implication, a very well-defined time limit for the tuition. The maxim for the tutor should be “Get in, fix what needs fixing, get out.” It should be stressed that these instances also work particularly well when there is an element of cooperation between the school and the tutor, meaning that the school is talking to the tutor about the child’s leaning needs.

Unfortunately, we often see very different approaches to tuition from our families, and these can come with negative consequences:

• Students may be exposed to methods that are in conflict with methods used by our teachers, leading to considerable confusion
• Students can become overloaded with work – even to the extent whereby they complete a tutor’s homework task to the exclusion of a KIS teacher’s homework task
• Students can become overloaded with work to the extent that, in order to keep up with all their work commitments, they are studying late at night, with the knock-on effect that they are seriously sleep-deprived when they arrive at school the next day
• It is often difficult for a KIS teacher to distinguish between what a student has achieved in a homework task, and what has been done for them by a tutor
• Students can develop an unhealthy dependency on their tutors, especially when there is no definite objective set at the outset of the tuition period. We have seen students switch off in class, in the belief that their tutor will somehow fix things for them at some later date
• Students who are involved in tuition often spoil the “journey of discovery” for other students in a class – we are, after all, meant to be discovering things together in a lesson, and it can be a real spoiler when a student circumvents the learning process, by announcing that they have “done this in tuition”.

The reality of teaching and learning is that not every student will understand, perfectly, every topic from the outset. Some will struggle, at least to begin with. Our teachers understand this and will offer a variety of appropriate, differentiated experiences for our students to be where they should, in terms of understanding. We encourage students to ask for help, when necessary. We go further – we believe that the ability to articulate a need for help is a life-long skill that everyone needs. Our teachers will always help students with their difficulties, and often give up free time to do so. Our teachers are happy to communicate with home regarding student progress, or any issues affecting progress. This is done formally, through regular written reports and Parent-Teacher Conferences, as well as through comments written in student diaries or notes for students to take home. We welcome feedback on the experience a child has in our classrooms. A lot of thought and hard work goes into the construction of our curricula, and we constantly refine them – in order to respond to developments in current pedagogical thinking, the changing requirements of exam boards, availability of resources and the needs of our families, as we understand them.

With the above in mind, we would suggest that if parents are considering the use of outside tuition they delay such usage, at least until an in-depth conversation has taken place with the appropriate school representative (Section Head, or Head of Department or Class Teacher). Such a conversation would explore:

• The nature of the problem, as perceived by the parents
• A teacher perspective on the problem
• Ways in which school (and home) can provide extra support
• Ways in which the student can make changes in his/her working practices to help overcome the problem.

In our experience very few students need regular outside tuition. We believe many families decide on outside tuition – an expensive, potentially negative experience – without, perhaps, realising that most issues can be resolved in-house, with KIS professionals being involved in every step of a tailor-made process which will ultimately strengthen a child’s grasp of our curricula, thus setting them up for future success.