Experts raise doubts over private tuition

Call for regulation after suspicion that teachers leave out elements of the curriculum in class so they can profit later.

DUBAI // Private tuition may be booming in the UAE, but experts questioned yesterday whether it was in the best interests of students and called for regulation. One former assistant principal worried that some teachers may be missing material from the curriculum, or covering it lightly, to justify after-school teaching.

And Prof Mark Bray, from the University of Hong Kong, said regulations were needed, and he suggested teachers should be prevented from giving private tuition to their own pupils. They were speaking yesterday to educational professionals from Dubai, at the Dubai School of Government, a research and teaching institution that focuses on public policy. "It's a complicated issue as to when it is a good thing or a bad thing so I'd see the need for research on multiple levels," said Prof Bray.

He said Dubai's educational landscape and needs were different from those of many other countries, where the pressures of examinations were fierce. As well as the UAE's relative prosperity, locals were entitled to places at the country's universities or have other job opportunities, he said Samia al Farra, the chief education officer at Taaleem, a company that owns schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, said the Government should address the issue of private tuition, or else it would harm the mainstream system.

"Private tuition is mushrooming here. Parents feel a sense of guilt, a burden to do well for their children, and get their children private tuition but all it's doing is breeding a culture of reliance. The children don't pay attention in class which then causes discipline issues, because they know they'll get the private tuition at home. Policy makers must think seriously about this and not ignore it."

She said private tuition could be constructive only if it was for limited periods of time in a specific problem area, not as an alternative to mainstream education or as a long term solution. In January, research published by the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development's studies directorate found that almost one-third of those Emiratis studied enrol their children in private lessons, spending an additional Dh1,400 per month.

Khadeegha Alzouebi, a former assistant principal at the American International School in Dubai, headed up a team in a project that regulated teachers who were giving private lessons to students after school. She found around 60 per cent of the students were in such tuition, and feared that teachers may be deliberately leaving out elements of the curriculum in order to justify their teaching after school.

The initiative forced the tuition to be done in the school, not at pupils' homes. The school subsidised 50 per cent of the costs of the teachers doing study groups after school, while the parents paid the other 50 per cent, making it affordable for all the parents, and enforcing rules in terms of topics studied and numbers of students in the groups. "It was very effective," said Ms Alzouebi. "When we could keep an eye on it, we got more out of the teachers and the teachers weren't in hiding any more."

Most commonly sought was extra tuition in physics, calculus and precalculus. "Parents were complaining about how expensive private tuition was and were asking why the children needed it, asking if subjects weren't being covered in class. They wanted to know why it was such common practice," said Ms Alzouebi. "We needed to take responsibility and find a solution. We couldn't ban the teachers from giving private tuition as it was out of school hours so we thought to bring the private tuition into the school. It was a way of us doing our own quality assurance. The question for us wasn't so much that they were missing out subjects, as they had to complete the curriculum, but it was more about how much depth subjects were covered."

Natasha Ridge, the acting director of research at the Dubai School of Government and a former teacher, said that as in any other country, private tuition reflected social and economic inequalities. It was more common in wealthier countries. "Here, it's not used for remediation like in other countries, it's more often to push you ahead if you're already good. It's more about status, the mark of a good parent," she said.