Australia: 'Be very, very careful': Experts raise warning on private tutoring - PressFrom - Australia

Australia'Be very, very careful': Experts raise warning on private tutoring

00:20  16 june  2019
00:20  16 june  2019 Source:

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'Be very, very careful': Experts raise warning on private tutoring© Nick Moir Maths teacher Eddie Woo says families need to be careful when choosing a private tutor. Maths teachers including high-profile mathematician Eddie Woo have sounded an alarm on private tutoring, warning that bad tutors could be "fatal" to students' future in the subject.

Hundreds of tutoring businesses have sprung up across Sydney in the past decade, offering everything from one-to-one tutoring to hours of weekly coaching for NAPLAN, selective school entrance exams and the Higher School Certificate.

NSW schools no longer emphasise speed and rote learning when teaching maths, and now focus on students' understanding of key concepts as part of a concerted effort to improve engagement in maths across the system.

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But many tutors and tutoring companies use outdated, potentially damaging methods, experts warn.

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Celebrity maths teacher Eddie Woo said private tuition could help students with gaps in their knowledge but warned parents to be careful. "There are other kinds of tuition which are frankly just pumping out an industrial model of education," he said.

"Maybe it does [help], and maybe it is making your child hate maths because they are doing it until 9pm at night after a whole day? That to me is heartbreaking," he told the NSW Department of Education's Every Student Podcast.

"If you are just churning through, often [you are] tragically learning things which are actually just machine processes. I don't know how to bake, but I can follow a recipe. That's OK for cake because you can still eat it in the end.

"But that is fatal for mathematics because you don't know why you are doing any of the things you are doing. If that is what you are, you are not a mathematician, you are a machine, and that is not what we want our children to become.

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"Students need to be very very careful, and parents need to be very, very careful about how they experience mathematics."

The chief executive of the Australian Tutoring Association, Mohan Dhall, agreed with Mr Woo.

"I am absolutely dismayed at the lack of creativity and lack of real-world applicability most tutors bring to maths," he said.

"His observation is spot on. The main problem stems from this idea that they focus on the outcome – 'this is what students need to know', rather than 'this is what kids need to learn to be interested and engage'."

School teachers had access to professional training in evidence-based approaches to maths, "but in the tutoring sector there's far less accountability," Mr Dhall said.

"You could have a university student who had a band six in four unit maths, they still have no idea how to engage a child and that reinforces the [child's] impression that they can't do it, or it's beyond them.

"If you focus on the outcome but the child can't get the technical steps or see much relevance, they become forever discouraged."

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Katherin Cartwright, a former primary school teacher turned maths education lecturer at Sydney University, said poor tutoring could lead to a lack of confidence in the subject.

"If it becomes about skill and thrill and speed, and it becomes an anxious, emotional issue for students, then they are not going to like it, and they will not want to take it further," she said.

Research shows that as recently as 2004, parents were reluctant to send their children to tutoring, but that had become normalised in the 12 years since.

However, Australian students' performance in maths has either stalled or declined on all major indicators over that period, and academics have raised concerns about students arriving at university without the maths skills they need.

In a Queensland University study published last week, researchers interviewed 35 parents about tutoring, of which 23 had used some form of it. Most of them said they used it to fix what they saw as their child's academic problems.

Continue the conversation at our SMH Student Facebook group.

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