Private tutors fill gaps in Algerian education system
Lyes Aflou for Magharebia in Algiers – 31/10/08
Private tutoring is a prosperous business in Algeria. Its aim is to make up for shortcomings in state education, particularly the lack of direct attention caused by overcrowded classrooms.
There is something in the tutoring trend for everyone. Parents are willing to spend whatever it takes for the kind of one-on-one teaching their children cannot get in school, believing it will offer their offspring a better chance at success. Teachers, meanwhile, have an opportunity to supplement their incomes.
In Europe, private tutoring falls under the purview of approved organisations which recruit and pay teachers and review applications from students. In Algeria, however, it is all done on the basis of individual initiatives, totally outside of state control. There is no law governing this niche.
Without an objective qualification assessment by a government entity, teachers are left to prove their merit on their own. They demonstrate their competence in the classroom and, as a result, it is mostly with their existing students that they work outside of school.
"In general, it is my own pupils who come to me for additional individual explanations," explained Mohamed, a high school mathematics teacher with fifteen years' experience in the profession.
While candidates for tutoring include students preparing for the baccalaureate exam, those whose performance in state schools has been deemed unsatisfactory by their parents comprise the majority.
One reason often cited by teachers to explain students' academic problems, educational system failures and high delinquency numbers is classroom overcrowding.
"How can you make sure there is effective attention being paid to the individual when you have fifty or so pupils whose interest in studying varies? You can only just manage to conduct lessons under conditions approaching normality," Mohamed complained.
As a math teacher, Mohamed has the privilege, he told Magharebia, of teaching an essential subject which captures the attention of "those who want to study". For parents and students seeking extra support, he believes he fills the gap left by the schools – the smaller the group, the better.
"With the group reduced to just ten or so, communication and personal attention can be much more effective."
Science is another academic subject for which private tutors are in high demand. Salah, who teaches biology, acknowledges that providing private instruction in people's homes helps him survive financially to the end of the month.
But the pupils also learn better one-on-one.
"Otherwise, parents wouldn't pay out 600 dinars per month for each child they decide to help. They're no fools," he told Magharebia.
In order to finance the extra help needed to give their children a competitive edge, parents often forego spending money on other things.
"Pupils who are seen as average manage to make up ground, if the conditions in class have been a real handicap to them," said Djamel, a physics teacher. With such immediate results, Algerian families are willing to pay for the specialised instruction.
Rachid is one parent who made this financial sacrifice last year. His son now has his baccalaureate.
"With the overcrowding in the classrooms or, sometimes, a teacher's lack of experience, or again, the lack of discipline among some pupils, it's essential to make use of this kind of tutoring, where it's possible, to choose seasoned teachers, particularly for pupils in examination years," he explained.
Farida, a university lecturer, says private tutors are "essential because of overcrowding in class, disruptive behaviour threatening the proper conduct of lessons, and the poor standard of some teachers".
"When there are some 37 to 40 pupils in an examination class, it's clear that the amount of attention being paid and the level of success will not be the highest," she said.
The students' workload is another problem.
"The syllabus is overloaded for secondary pupils, which leads to a lack of motivation and a loss of concentration among pupils who cannot take everything on board," Farida explained.
But for those students lucky enough to afford private tutoring, the benefits are demonstrable.
Abdenou hopes to receive this kind of academic help outside of his classroom. According to his parents, the results will be worth it, he told Magharebia, because there is no question of "burdening the family budget for some hypothetical issue".
Karim, who took lessons like this last year, does not hesitate to heap praise upon his private tutors.
"You get the impression that the teachers are more motivated during these private lessons, because they’re more attentive to the questions asked by pupils and they answer in a very precise way, and are happy to go over it more than once," he said.
Salim, a student in his first year of a human sciences course at Algiers University, is equally effusive about his own tutoring experience.
"Thanks to private lessons taken in small groups, pupils can come back to aspects of a lesson which seem a little bit complicated or which have gotten them completely flummoxed and the teachers can answer their questions in greater detail," he said.
The pupils' impression that the teacher is more involved comes down to the fact that the group is smaller, said math teacher Mohamed. "From 40 pupils in a normal class, you get down to around ten. Suddenly, there is better communication between the two sides – teacher and pupil – and they find themselves under the best conditions for the transfer of knowledge: discipline, silence and greater concentration."
Farida explained that, in addition to the close relations between the pupil and the teacher, which help in the assimilation of knowledge, there is also the fact that "the two parties are bound by an obligation to produce results, which will be checked by an identified body – the pupils' parents – who pay for the lessons and are therefore as demanding of their offspring as they are of the teachers".
The national education ministry, in an attempt to put the tutoring trend on a more formal footing, introduced support lessons during school holidays last year.
Authorities, however, cannot stop teachers or pupils from becoming involved in this kind of private tutoring, says Salim, who works for the Algiers education authority.
"Only the pupils' parents can judge whether or not it is in the child's interest."
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