An honest review of whether online tuition is the best option for your child during a lockdown.
Online tuition has massive appeal for ease of access across the world. Both traditional face to face and online tuition have seen an upwards trend worldwide. England is no exception to this trend.
During the recent consecutive lockdowns, the World Economic Forum has estimated that around 1.2 billion children of all children are out of the classrooms across the world. UNESCO has an estimated 1.5 billion (90%) children who are not in school.
When we opened our first tuition centre in Seven Kings, Ilford, we were one of a handful of centres. In the past five years, I am aware of at least a dozen tuition centres that have opened locally. However, I am not sure whether all of these centres have switched on online tuition during the pandemic.
Online tuition has massive appeal for ease of access across the world. Both traditional face to face and online tuition have seen an upwards trend across the world. England is no exception to this. At a local level, when we opened our first tuition centre in Seven Kings, Ilford, we were one of a handful of centres. In the past five years, I am aware of at least a dozen tuition centres that have opened locally. However, I am not sure whether all of these centres have switched on online tuition during the pandemic. In some countries, this will almost certainly mean long term abject poverty for many families. Others will turn to private online tuition (eLearning) to ensure their children’s learning stays on point.
In this blog, I will focus on teaching in England and the pros and cons of face to face learning compared to eLearning (online learning) and the impact on the children who are at the receiving end of online learning during the lockdowns that we have faced over the last year.
75% of parents have attempted home education during Lockdown
In the UK, with the current set of lockdowns, online tuition is the only option unless you are a key worker. The government advised this week that there is no guarantee that we will be back to normal any time this year. So what happens to your child’s education? eLearning? Online classes from school? Workbooks sent home? Private online tuition? Or maybe nothing at all?
Various reports have come out at the end of April 2020 that state that around 1 in 4 parents has not followed any home education routine with their children. Meaning that 75% of parents have attempted home education. What the reports do not tell us is how consistently this homeschooling is taking place. One of the main advantages of the current climate is online tuition. It means that there is at least one point in the week where the child is accountable for the work they have done in the previous 7 days. It also means that there is a professional on hand to explain any problems and help with progression.
So during these lockdowns and the inconsistency of schooling, parents have 3 options aside from following any online classes and eLearning plans schools are providing:
1- Do nothing– for many children, this will come as a welcome break from the regimented and very structured school day. However, the younger children particularly fare better with boundaries and structure. So for those children, even if there is no academic work going on, life will be much more bearable with a routine in place. With this third lockdown, most schools are now providing some form of online/ eLearning, so then parents can feel more confident about leaving things to the teachers.
2-Use workbooks and textbooks and homeschool their child themselves – this comes with its own challenges: time constraints with parents who work full time, understanding the stepping stones the children need for learning (though some of the better books will help with this), having the patience (yes patience!) of working with a child who is struggling to understand a concept, and many others.
3- Find a way of getting children to work online to work independently – there are websites, such as the BBC bite size which will help children with their online learning. This, however, still needs parental supervision to ensure that learning is taking place. The downside of this is not having anyone answer any questions that may arise.
The problems with children having to learn online and eLearning are many and varied.
1- The first and most obvious problem is access. If there is no access to a device, then no learning can take place. As of the beginning of January 2021, there are still over 1.1 million children (approximately 9%) in the UK with no access to a device according to Ofcom Out of those, around 880,000 have no full internet access. They only have access to mobile internet.
2- The second is having access for all children in a household at the same time. If there is only one device, a parent has to choose to educate one child and deprive the other child/children. Although the government has now said children who do not have access can attend school, there will be many parents who will not let their children attend due to fears of catching the virus.
3- The third problem is that many parents feel that their child is not getting the full learning experience as when they are in school and are therefore falling behind those children who are still attending school.
4- The fourth problem is clearly that the lack of the social aspect of the school is impacting the mental wellbeing of children. This cannot be underestimated as we do not know what the long-term effects will be, and of course, there will be long-term effects.
5- Of course, there are issues such as safeguarding and having to work with more than one child in the family that also need to be thought about.
If schools are providing full-on online classes, then there is probably nothing more to be done. But recent figures suggest that whilst only 37% of all school children attended the online classes during the first lockdown, with a higher number in this third lockdown, it is still not the full quota. Needless to say that children are missing out on their learning.
Costs beyond Tuition
Clearly, with all of the turmoil and all of the cash injections, the government has several significant issues to deal with alongside the whole plethora of education issues. The cost of lost education will go way beyond the actual missed exams and SATS and the measuring. The social and long term economic issues and their repercussions will blight everyone, but especially the younger generation for many years to come.
In terms of economic costs, there are the obvious costs of maintaining the school through social distancing and bubbles and so on.
In terms of teachers working online with students, many schools have organised online learning so that students get 30 minutes of instruction and then 30 minutes of practising the task. One of the main issues that teachers have faced with this is how they check the work. If a child does not understand, then in class, there is a tried and tested feedback loop. Online, however, this loop often breaks down leaving the task not completed or the teacher not being able to reinforce any learning that has taken place or not being able to fill in the gaps in the child’s knowledge.
There are 16,769 primary schools, 3,448 secondary schools, 2,319 independent schools, 1,044 special schools and 352 pupil referral units (PRUs). This is a total of 23,932 schools in England alone. There are just over 506,400 full-time teachers delivering lessons to 8.8 million children in England. Each of these schools will have its own way of delivering online as well as face to face lessons. (Source: DofE )
The average teacher-pupil ratio is 1:20.5 and in secondary, 1:15.9 (source: Statistica, published by D Clark Nov 27, 2020).
Transitioning this to an online eLearning format with such short notice is a massive task.
So what are the other options?
Given that we are in lockdown and personal contact outside of tight guidelines is prohibited, there seem to be few options except muddling through as best as we all can. Yes, it will highlight the inequalities in our society. Yes, all of the gaps (gender/race/class etc) will get magnified at best and grow even bigger at worst. We will, hopefully, eventually get back to some sort of normal.
Teachers are under even more pressure and are having to work relentlessly. It will be challenging for the teacher to maintain the level of delivery and progression by simply transferring the normal physical classroom to an online learning environment.
I am a tutor and you may think I say this because I am biased, but in my opinion, the government missed a fantastic opportunity in ensuring that children got the education and the attention they deserve.
There is a national network of talented tutors and tuition companies that should have been deployed locally to work alongside schools. Local tutors would be able to follow individual school protocols. Of course, they are not all ‘qualified teachers’, but having gone through teacher training and having worked for over 15 years as a tutor, I know that the stronger tutors would deliver as good a result as any teacher. This is something that would have worked really well.
The fact that the National Tutoring Programme was only rolled out to 33 companies means a whole layer of professional was not utilised. There is a cost attached to this.
We are told that teachers are already really stretched, so the additional hours of teaching will only mean they are further stretched.
Furthermore, as far as we can tell, the tuition providers appear to be only 33 large companies, rather than small tuition services. Creating layers will simply dilute the ‘pot’ of funds used to deliver this service.
At Redbridge Tuition, we are currently working online like everyone else, but we prefer the classroom approach. Of course, online learning can work well, and it is certainly better than going without any educational support. We also know that online tuition has its limitations.
Many parents who come to us have said that they have previously tried tuition but did not see any progress. In our experience, this usually when the child has just been placed in front of a computer. Very often this sort of tuition has minimal tutor input. Sometimes, no real teaching takes place. The frustration of these parents is palpable.
Classroom learning creates a sense of community and a feeling of belonging for our tutees. In an eLearning space, there is a disconnection from the local community. While this disconnect allows us to extend our reach beyond our locality, we believe it has more downsides than benefits.
At Redbridge Tuition, we do our best to keep our online sessions as fun and motivating as possible. Our tutors are subject-specialists. This means that many schools cannot to run full classes. Small group tuition, however, allows each student to stay on target with their learning. This also allows children to ask questions they may not be able to ask in class due to current constraints.
Online tuition certainly has its place. It works very well for older, self-motivated, more mature students. At the moment online learning is a sticking-plaster both for schools and tutors. It is clearly harder for teachers to conduct online classes than for tutors to conduct online tuition sessions. This is mainly due to class size.
Our tuition offers students a chance to interact with a subject specialist. This helps students maintain and even excel at their levels in school.
In setting up Redbridge Tuition, we wanted to create a place where students could thrive, enjoy learning, and flourish from the benefits of human connection. We have seen the benefits of creating, not merely an education centre, but an eLearning community around Loughton, Seven Kings and the Ilford area.
If you are interested in reading more about lockdown related topics, visit our blogs: