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Parents are the best tutors

/ 11:34 PM February 19, 2012

In 2006, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Program for International Assessment tested 15-year-olds from several countries on mathematics, science and reading. Researchers found that “learning time spent in after-school lessons is negatively related to performance.”

“Of course, this might be because students who attend after-school classes do so for remedial purposes, rather than to enhance their school studies,” they said. “Still, across countries, findings show that students tend to perform better if a high percentage of their total learning time … is spent during normal school hours in a classroom.

“For example, in the high-performing countries of Australia, Finland, Japan and New Zealand, over 70 percent of learning in science happens during regular school science lessons.”


In other words, not in tutorial or review classes.

This cross-cultural finding confirms the results of our own 2004 Ateneo de Manila High School Best Practices Study of student achievers. With encouragement and monitoring by their own parents, most of them learned to focus in class, study on their own at an early age, and love learning for its own sake.  Most of them never relied on outside tutors.

Not more difficult

Today many parents, mostly from the middle and upper classes, do not want to teach their kids.

Some parents say, “I was never good in math, so how can I teach my child math?”

As a parent, you are an adult who knows how to do computations with numbers and fractions. Effective monitoring ends when your children are in Grades 4 or 5, by which time they have mastered the essential habits of paying attention in school, consulting the teacher when needed, doing exercises at home.

No one expects you to teach high math. Students who depend on professional tutors usually do not listen in class (since their tutors will do their homework, anyway), so they need to relearn the topic outside of it.

Some parents say, “Subjects today, such as Singapore Math, are hard, so I need a tutor.” Or, “I want my kids to get high grades, so they need a tutor.”


Today’s subjects are not harder than those of decades ago and, in many ways, kids have an easier time nowadays. We used to go to the library and haul down encyclopedias for research. Our kids get the information in seconds, unfortunately tempting many of them to just cut and paste instead of paraphrasing what they read.

Math today is not harder than decades ago. In fact, our long math tests in the Ateneo de Manila University have become simpler and more straight-forward through the years. And yet, our remedial classes in math (and in English and Filipino) have increased exponentially.

Not surprisingly, many students in these remedial classes have relied on tutors all their lives, and have never mastered what they should have learned in grade school or high school.

Singapore Math is the same as traditional math, but uses the model approach. If children listen and focus in the classroom, they will not need tutors. A principal of an exclusive school told me, “The main reason we shifted to Singapore Math is to stop our students from going to tutors, since most tutors don’t know how to teach it. The tactic worked.  Our students’ grades are up this quarter.”

Learning Chinese

The only acceptable reason for having your kids tutored is if you have never learned a subject. For example, if you are not Chinoy (Chines-Filipino) but Chinese is required in your children’s school, then you can hire a tutor for the early grades.

But make sure to tell the tutor you want your children to learn the basics and that, after some time, your children should know enough to be able to study on their own.

However, many non-Chinese parents learn Mandarin with their kids because schools often offer Pinyin courses for adults who are interested to learn, too. Some of my friends say the best bonding times occur when they and their children maneuver through the Chinese subject together and, often, their kids learn faster than they do, and end up correcting their parents’ diction.

In many Chinese-Filipino schools, many non-Chinoy students, with parents who often teach them, do better in Mandarin than Chinoy students whose parents leave them in the hands of tutors.

Poor teacher quality

Some parents say, “The teachers in our children’s school teach badly, so they need outside tutors.”

Instead of hiring tutors, demand from the school that they upgrade the quality of their teachers.  If you are still not satisfied, change schools.

But remember that no school and no teacher is perfect. Emotionally mature kids know how to deal with ineffective teachers, and do not use them as an excuse for failure. Mediocre students blame the teachers, the lessons, the tutors, bad luck, rather than themselves.

(Next week:  A working mom who loves to tutor her kids)

E-mail the author at blessbook@yahoo.com.

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