While announcing that a new education law is in the pipeline, the education minister warned that it would impose a restriction over private tutoring by school and college teachers. Some of our top educationists have long campaigned for this measure to be introduced and implemented. There's also a popular belief that the quality of our education has eroded because teachers nowadays give less time and effort in classrooms. It's true in many cases; however, one is still not convinced how prohibiting this practice altogether would revive the erstwhile “glory” of our education system.
One of the primary reasons put forward to make a case for outlawing private tutoring and coaching is that it is discriminatory. In a country where one in four students drop out of school before completing their primary education due to poverty, tutoring being a necessity, certainly adds extra pressure on the economically less fortunate parents. If teachers compel students to go for private tutoring by not giving them enough time in classrooms, then, indeed, poor students would fall behind because they will not be able to afford it.
However, it is not clear how an overall ban on coaching would necessarily result in improved classroom-teaching. It will not magically incentivise or force a teacher to do his/her best in classrooms, if he/she is restricted from tutoring privately. Is it not easier to identify and take action against a handful of immoral teachers than to implement a blanket ban on private coaching? The ban, assuming it is implemented, would not bring any equality either. Those who could afford it would still be able to get help from private tutors, but without improving the persisting problem in our schools and classrooms—the poor will remain exactly where they were previously.
Private tutoring is not the problem per se; its very existence is a symptom of a larger disease. The problem is rooted in the existing system which cannot ensure quality education. Even if a teacher wants to perform his duty honestly, an overcrowded class comprising of a hundred pupils would certainly make his mission impossible. In fact, this is precisely why many students feel the need for private tutors: to have the chance of asking a teacher a question and get a detailed answer. Common sense (and peer-reviewed research) tells us that a small-sized class improves student achievement. The government would be better off smartly investing in educational infrastructure and human resources rather than expending its resources aimlessly.
Similarly, the main objection to “coaching centres” is that some of them are involved in the illegal leakage of exam-papers. That's not a problem with the way coaching centres are run. That's a criminal offence, which needs to be dealt with in accordance with the law. Another allegation is that university admission test papers, at times, contain identical questions from the model tests of coaching centres. Again, if there's an illegal collusion between university teachers and coaching centres, it's simply a law enforcement issue; shutting down or criminalising coaching centres will do little in this regard.
What about that ineffective “creative system”? In 2011, academic observers credited this so-called “creative system” for that year's massive boom in A+ grades. Now, six years later, two consecutive years of devastating results have made us think twice. A recent government report based on inspections of thousands of secondary schools found that more than half (52 percent) the teachers did not understand the system themselves. It explains why students tend to rely on external help more than before. What if one asks that extensive training be facilitated for teachers instead of imposing a meaningless ban on private tutoring?
One of the main problems with teachers offering private tutoring is the conflict of interest associated with the practice. You privately tutor a group of students and not another; but you will grade both of them in exams. Therefore, there is a genuine conflict of interest. One way to resolve this problem would be to require a teacher to register as a tutor. And then, the permitted teachers could be stripped of their power to grade their students in classroom exams. Traditionally, in schools and colleges, students need extra attention in English, mathematics, accounting and subjects related to science. While the course teacher can evaluate a student best, grading students in those subjects should not be a difficult task for another teacher with the relevant background because these subjects mainly deal with static (i.e. scientific or mathematical) facts.
Furthermore, there should be a mechanism in place for students to scrutinise their teachers so that they cannot coerce their students into private tutoring. The local administration can launch a campaign to encourage students to speak up, not just in case of unfair treatment, but also other serious issues. Another step could be to allow students to evaluate their own course teacher anonymously. If a teacher consistently gets similar feedback from students of different classes, then there must be some problem with his way of teaching.
However, it would not be wrong for one to contend that private tutoring and coaching retards students' distinct and individual intellectual growth. It also leads to a suffocating environment of excessive competition, which, especially in the case of kids, severely hinders emotional growth. The shortcut technique of rote memorisation practiced at coaching centres underscore that our education system does not encourage the development of students' analytical abilities. The popular sentiment that overemphasises GPAs and academic credentials has also contributed to this phenomenon. Private tutorship did not give rise to this situation; in fact, it is the other way around. An outdated result-oriented system that measures performance based on exam scores will inevitably lead to such a stale intellectual culture.
This piece does not advocate for coaching or tutoring whatsoever. If the government is determined to end this practice, so be it. But to introduce this measure as a remedy to all the problems that our education system faces will be delusional, at best, or self-defeating, at worst. Instead, our resources should be directed at improving our classrooms, making academic curricula and evaluation systems more diverse and appreciative of analytical abilities and real-life application, and facilitating extensive training for teachers.
Nazmul Ahasan is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star.