Attendance at private lessons soars
Malta’s infatuation with private tuition was clearly manifested yesterday, as a European Commission study warned about the repercussions of after-school lessons.
The private lessons industry in Malta has become almost “crucial” for Maltese students, even in cases where it is evident they are not necessary, the report released in Brussels shows.
The study concludes that private lessons are having negative effects on students as they restrict children’s leisure time in a way that is “psychologically and educationally undesirable”.
The EU-wide study shows that Maltese students are third in the category of those that attend extra lessons, and this trend has continued to surge during the past 10 years.
Greek and Cypriot students take even more private tuition than Malta. On the other hand, students from the northern countries of Europe rarely attend extra tutoring outside their normal schooling hours. The EU study, Private Tutoring And Its Implications For Policymakers In The EU, shows that in 2008, almost 78 per cent of Maltese fourth and fifth formers attended some kind of private lessons. Less than 10 years before, in 1999, this percentage stood at 50.5 per cent.
The research shows that among those who attended private tuition, the majority, 56.1 per cent, went to at least three hours of private lessons per week, while 34.4 per cent attended between four to six hours a week.
In what are considered to be “extreme” cases, 7.2 per cent sat for more than 10 hours a week in private classrooms apart from their normal time at school.
Among the most popular subjects for private lessons are maths, physics, English and Maltese, although these vary according to the students’ background and gender.
“Proportions of pupils receiving help in maths were roughly equal across schools, reflecting its general importance, but English was more popular among pupils in state schools while Maltese was more popular among pupils in private schools,” the study says.
This reflected the fact that private school students already spoke much English at school and home, but relatively little Maltese, while for government schools the opposite was the case.
The study notes that, in the private sector, girls were more likely than boys to receive tutoring in chemistry and biology, while boys were more likely to receive tutoring in computer studies.
The study confirms that high-stake exams, particularly to obtain Matsec certificates at the end of fifth and sixth forms, is the main contributor to the private lesson culture and that “curricular pressures” are also evident.
“Teachers feel that they must finish the syllabus at all costs and that, since this does not permit the sort of individual attention and revisiting of weakly-covered concepts that they would like, supplementary tutoring may be desirable for some pupils,” the study says.
Apart from getting their certificates there may be other “non-academic” reasons for students seeking private lessons.
“Most teenagers go to single-sex schools but attend co-educational tutoring classes and are therefore able to mix in these settings with the other sex. Other reasons might be to please parents. Parents send students to private lessons in order to feel that they are doing all they can to help them. It is probably the case that [at least some] local students attend private lessons even when there is no real need.”
Excerpt from study on private tuition
A qualitative study by Gauci and Wetz (2009) provides insights into the challenges faced by young people, especially when they reach the season of high-stakes examinations.
All the students in the sample who were receiving tutoring complained about stress and the loss of time for leisure activities, though they appeared resigned to the fact that Grade 11 (Form 5) is a tough year in which they had to make sacrifices.
At the same time, some students saw conflicts with their school work. One, who was content to attend private lessons, said: “Most days I do not manage to finish my homework and this worries me because I want to improve and I know that I am not going to improve if I do not do my homework.”
Another said he was facing a “terrible” dilemma: “I much prefer my school teacher’s lessons and the methods she uses. However, I feel safer by continuing to attend my private lessons. I am afraid of stopping… it probably does help me a bit because I will continue going.”
These remarks suggest that Malta had reached a point at which it was not considered “normal” to abstain from private tutoring.
However, there were exceptions. Two students in a class of 18 did not receive tutoring. One confidently said: “As long as I do well and understand my teacher at school then I am not worried. Also if I have difficulty in class I always ask and [the teacher] explains again to me. I am not afraid that we will not finish the syllabus at school as in the past they always finished it… and therefore there is no reason why this year it should be any different.”
This student went on to score the top grade in exams, though her classmate who did not receive private tutoring scored below the predicted grade.