Thinking out of the book – tutors in China and Asia

A recent news report, ‘Mass tutoring churning out Robot Pupils’ (South China Morning Post, May 19, 2012) referred to a survey conducted by Mark Bray, a professor of Comparative Education at the University of Hong Kong. According to the survey about 54% of Form Three pupils and 72% of Form Six pupils have tutors.

Tutoring, or ‘shadow education,’ is an Asian malady, with each country having its own approach. In Hong Kong one sees posters, bus and wall hoardings with model ‘tutors,’ and one can imagine parents and their wards making a beeline for the most popular or most successful. In India, New Delhi specifically, the mass tutoring centres and private tutors tout themselves as producers of ninety-percenters for school and entry-level examinations.

The tuition centres, whether in India or Hong Kong, get a boost from the increasing academic competition and overt parental aspirations of snagging the best institutes and colleges for their school-leavers. Professor Bray points out that the four countries with pupils receiving the most tuition are Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. China is fast catching up. In the recent university entrance examinations in China, parents and their wards went beyond the full mile with hotel rooms, nannies to care for the mental and physical well-being of students, and intravenous injections to boost their energy levels for the 6.85 million university spots on offer. We can condemn such extravagant measures but then at same time it is unrealistic to expect parents to sit back and watch the years wasted.

It is not only financial status but often pre-occupation or inability to personally supervise that parents depend on tutors to help complete school assignments. The rich have the prerogative of private tutors, and those who cannot afford join cram schools. Anything in excess is harmful, whether it be school or private tuitions, or enrolment (including three-year olds) to English proficiency classes, painting classes, etiquette classes, jewellery making, book reading, music lessons, tennis or other extra curricular activities.

In my housing complex, in Hong Kong, I watch mothers, grand parents and helpers escorting children to classes or bus stops at different times of the day. I too had done the same, in New Delhi, for my children when they were in school, and still remember my daughter’s observation when she joined University of Massachusetts, Amherst as an undergraduate in 1997. According to her, the Asian children in her classes were ahead in subject matter, but lacked in questioning and reasoning abilities. The excuse could be any or all three: language block, over-pampering or deference to elder speak.

Changes have taken place but more needs to be done. Tutors and tuitions need to be evaluated on the premise of utility, in developing a child’s mindset and not nurturing robots. The solution lies in our perceptions, in our communications and our acceptance that not every child is a genius.

Categories: Education & Employment

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2 replies


  1. June 12 2012 China Daily Mail Headlines « Craig Hill
  2. Rules banning rampant academic cheating in China ‘lack bite’ « China Daily Mail

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