Failing system gives rise to new industry

Martin Mubanga’s parents have changed his school twice this year because he was forced to share ‘overcrowded” classrooms with 14 other learners.

‘What’s the point of sending your child to an expensive school if it’s going to be so crowded?” asks his annoyed mother, Elizabeth.

Up to 15 learners in a class might not be considered crowded by South African standards, but in Zambia’s new tuition centres that offer one-on-one teaching, anything over 10 in a class is definitely too many.

Tuition centres have become the rage in Zambia. The centres appear to be dream schools. Small classes with individual attention from teachers, concentration on weak subjects and, to top it all, British-accredited examinations.

Zambia, which gained independence from Britain in 1964, has its own local exam standards but students wishing to further their studies abroad either have to sit another entrance test or sit for their O-level examinations at accredited British Council centres.

And to write the examinations, they have to know the British school syllabus - which is exactly what the tuition centres specialise in.

Elizabeth says that, apart from the fact that Mubanga will go to university abroad, she has to make sure that he passes well in his chosen subjects and, therefore, receives close supervision.

‘He was getting away with just mere passes and needed to buck up.
That is why I opted for tuition centres,” she says.

But her sister, Nathalie Kaunda, says tuition centres should be just that - centres providing extra tuition for children having difficulty in certain subjects. Her view is that children going to the centres full-time are simply learning how to pass exams and are not getting an education.

Private school teacher Elias Nyanthandu says the tuition-centre phenomenon began with teachers offering to give struggling students extra tuition to top up their meagre income.

‘All of a sudden it became institutional and now the learning centres are taking fulltime students,” he says.

Nyanthandu believes the centres are fine for students who are in the completing years and want to obtain United Kingdom accreditation, but he has a problem with children in elementary grades being in learning centres. There is no socialisation, no sports, no engagement in arts and few opportunities for the learners to develop leadership skills.

Nyanthandu also says children with special talents or learning difficulties do not have their special needs correctly identified or addressed.

Children from this schooling system find it difficult to cope at institutions of higher learning where they have to use critical analysis because they have been conditioned to merely pass exams, he says.

But Annita Deasai, head of a tuition centre, argues the centres are filling the gap left by a crumbling state-provided education system on the one hand and exploitative private schooling on the other.

She says at present, Zambia faces two major challenges in education: access and quality education that is relevant to the needs of learners and society.

‘Our institutions provide good quality education with one-on-one teaching. We are accessible to those who can afford it. We are also the only centres accredited by the British Council to teach the British curriculum. Of course, our aim is to make the children pass their exams, and to do that we need to teach them appropriately. The standards of government schools have fallen so badly that children are hardly getting any kind of education at all,” she says.

There are 4 500 government-run schools and only about 34 000 teachers, resulting in an average of less than eight teachers per school. Teachers are demotivated. Strikes are frequent due to delays in salary payments - and even then remuneration is poor, averaging under US0 (about R660) per month.

In an attempt to turn around the low enrolment and learner retention rate, the government introduced a ‘free education for all” policy. Learners are no longer required to pay school fees up to Grade 7 and do not have to wear uniforms. But this has not helped much, with only 2 100 of the 4 500 students who sat for their final-year exams managing to get a ‘full pass” certificate.

Many argue that even in this dire scenario, tuition centres are not the answer. Bandawe Banda, a teacher at a private school, says that because the centres are not schools, they are not monitored and are run by non-academics whose qualifications are not verified.

‘We just see teachers moving from one tuition centre to the next looking for the best money. There is no consistency and no monitoring,” he says.

But Oswald Mwansa, an inspector from the Ministry of Education, says the centres are regulated just like other private schools. They are also rated according to the service they provide.

‘We cannot stop parents from sending their children to these centres, especially those who want the UK certificates,” he says.

Gertrude Phiri (16), who completed her A-levels at a tuition centre, says she wouldn’t have been able to do so well in her studies if she hadn’t gone to a centre.

‘Here it was intensive. I had access to the teachers at all times and did not waste too much time on extra-curricular activities, which I was not interested in the first place. I also finished the O-level course in one-and-a-half years instead of three,” she says.

Mwansa says the argument that tuition centres are exploitative is strange in light of the fact that private schools charge upwards of US 000 to US 000 (R19 000 to R26 000) per term. Tuition centres, in comparison, charge an average of US0 to US0 (R1 300 to R1 900) per term.

‘Tuition centres are obviously providing a needed service, at a price that people appear happy with. Private schools, which haven’t had any real competition for ages, shouldn’t have hard feelings about this,” he says.

- African Eye News Service / Inter Press Service

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