Bright kids, bright futures?

The tutoring boom

D’ARCY JENISH August 29 1994
Bright kids, bright futures?

The tutoring boom

D’ARCY JENISH August 29 1994

The tutoring boom

“Tha sard the ltl food tha hat.”

When eight-year-old Joshua Gohl came home with that sentence in his workbook, it was the last straw for his mother, Jane. Joshua, a Grade 3 student in Waterloo, Ont., was attempting to write: “They shared the little food they had.”Determined to find out how serious her son’s writing problems were, Gohl and her husband, David, paid $75 for a diagnostic assessment at the nearby Sylvan Learning Centre. The test’s findings: Joshua was barely reading and writing at the Grade 1 level. The Gohls promptly enrolled Joshua in Sylvan, which charges $275 for eight hours of instruction a month, and kept him there for a year. Although the couple eventually spent $4,000—three years of savings intended for a trip to Disney World—Jane Gohl believes that it was money well spent. Now 11, and going into Grade 7, Joshua has become an enthusiastic and successful student.

“Tutoring turned things around for Joshua,” says his mother, “and got him on the road to recovery.”

For thousands of Canadian students, the end of summer means the beginning of instruction—both during school hours and afterward. Across the country, tutoring has become a booming industry. Since 1988, the Toronto-based Kumon Educational Institute of Canada Inc., an offshoot of a Japanese company of the same name, has opened 215 franchises, with 20,000 students seeking to boost their mathematics skills. Meanwhile, Sylvan, a 14-year-old company based in Columbia, Md., specializing in math and language, sold its first Canadian franchise in 1985, and now has 40 operations across the country. As well, there are dozens of traditional local tutors, numerous small independent companies and several Canadian-owned franchised services. And while the majority specialize in remedial work, they also serve

Canadians are investing thousands in after-school education

top-notch students working overtime to qualify for the right private school or university—or simply hoping to improve their grades. Parents are spending thousands of dollars on tutors—and often enrolling their children much earlier than ever before. “They used to bring kids in Grade 5 or 6 when everybody knew they were in trouble,” says Mary Stephen, executive director of the nonprofit tutorial service Education Alive Halifax. “Now, parents are coming in when their kids are in Grade lor 2.”

In fact, many educators are alarmed at what they see as a growing tendency to push children too hard, or to overreact when schoolwork slips. Clare Ko snick, a former public school teacher who now instructs at the University of Toronto’s Institute of Child Studies, believes that parents are susceptible to popular misconceptions about the pace of learning. One of the most common is that a child should be reading by Christmas of Grade 1, and writing by the following March. Before turning to tutors, Kosnick believes that parents should consult the teacher and help their children with homework, as well as such basic skills as reading and writing. “We often try to push our kids so that we feel we have excelled in front of our peers,” says Margaret Walker, past president of the Ontario Association for Bright Children. “I just hope we don’t allow our kids to lose their childhood, that we give them space to veg out and be silly.”

But while many educators inject a note of caution, most parents seem convinced of the value of tutoring. Across Canada, one of the most popular choices is Sylvan. Each centre is owned by a franchisee who spends up to $130,000 for the rights to a geographical territory, the Sylvan name and learning materials. Company rules stipulate that each facility must employ a qualified teacher as educational co-ordinator. Tutors—teachers or university graduates—work with up to three students at a time. The key to the com-

pany’s approach is to reward students for their accomplishments, awarding them blue-and-white tokens—with which they can purchase pencils, erasers or other classroom tools.

Meanwhile, Kumon has built a success story on the subject many kids love to hate. Founded in Japan in 1958 and now operating in 28 countries worldwide, Kumon has grown more quickly than Sylvan, through a combination of aggressive marketing and lower prices.

Parents pay $40 to enrol a student, followed by monthly payments of $60.

Franchises sell for only $600 plus a royalty fee on each student. According to Mohamed Rahim, 49, an engineering graduate who operates franchises in Ajax and Whitby—two bedroom communities east of Toronto—Kumon relies on old-fashioned techniques and values: practice, discipline and memory work. Students are expected to perform repetitive drills on a daily basis. The goal is to complete the work within specified time limits and to a high level of accuracy before advancing to more difficult assignments.

On a recent Thursday afternoon, Rahim was holding one of two weekly sessions for students at his Whitby centre—a small rented meeting room in the basement of the town’s library and recreation centre. For two hours, a steady stream of students, ages 7 to 13, flowed into the centre. Each handed in assignments that had been done at home, and marked by parents, then picked up a drill to be completed within 10 to 15 minutes at the centre. As they left, the students took several new assignments, which were to be finished before their next session the following Monday. tant, spend close to $20,000 a year on private school tuition for their three children. As well, they send their daughter Taylor, now 11 and about to enter Grade 6 at the Armbrae Academy in Halifax, to a tutor three hours a week. The reason: to improve her study habits, even though her marks are above average. Their son Robert, who is 16 and an A student in Grade 11 at KingsEdgehill School in Windsor, N.S., has had several years of tutoring to improve his writing and study habits. ‘When I went through

“There isa great deal of parental anxiety out there.”

Eleanor Evans, Teachers’ Tutoring Service, Vancouver, B.C.

“I didn’t get very good marks on my last report card,” confesses Ingrid Schenflede, a 13-year-old Grade 9 student. “But I love this. I’m going to keep doing it.”

Not everyone who turns up for tutoring is having trouble at school. For many parents, the hope is to turn a good student into an even better one. Nancy Cameron, 42, an ex-teacher who owns a retail cosmetic store in Halifax, and her husband, Robert, a 44-year-old accoun-

university, all you had to do was show up,” said Nancy Cameron. “They won’t let you do that any more. Now, you need good marks just to get in.”

In some cities, the tutoring boom is also being driven by the influx of Asian immigrants. Doyle Raglon, 46, cofounder and manager of Canada Home Tutoring Ltd. in Edmonton, says his service provides instruction to roughly 200 students a month during the school year. One-quarter of them, mostly Asian, are high achievers

who have set their sights even higher. Most of his Asian clients maintain 95-per-cent averages in maths and sciences but want to boost their language marks from the high 80s to the low 90s. Says Raglon: “The school system has written them off. Teachers tell them they can’t get much better. So they come to us.”

Increasingly, teachers and tutors are collaborating when kids need extra help. Private instructors at several centres across the country report that they usually consult the classroom teacher to reinforce the curriculum, rather than simply repeating it or offering conflicting material. Some school boards, meanwhile, have responded to the tutoring phenomenon by offering their own supplemental programs. Two years ago, the North York Board of Education in suburban Toronto launched its Family Math Program in which parents and children can work with a teacher at school after hours to prepare the parent for tutoring the child at home—and to make better study skills a collective responsibility. The board is now working on a similar program to promote improved literacy. “It is a response to parents thinking their kids are not getting enough homework,” says Ross Parry, the board’s director of public affairs.

Although most tutoring still occurs during the school year, the growing demand now keeps many companies operating throughout the summer months as well. Eleanor Evans, executive director of the nonprofit Vancouverbased Teachers’ Tutoring Service, whose 600 certified instructors work with 2,000 students a year, says parents often expect their children to perform well from the start of the school year, even in elementary school. “There is a great deal of parental anxiety out there,” adds Evans. “They used to call in a panic in May to get their kids ready for June finals. Now, they are calling in the summer because they want their sons and daughters prepped for the fall.” For a growing number of Canadian parents and their children, education begins in the classroom—but it certainly does not end there.

D’ARCY JENISH