Around one sixth of school children in German-speaking Switzerland receive private tutoring. Mostly they seek assistance with mathematics. In contrast to the perceptions of those tutored, tutoring rarely results in any improvement in their marks. This has been demonstrated by a representative study funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).
How widespread is private tuition, and does it improve marks? To answer this question, a team led by educational scientist Hans-Ulrich Grunder from the University of Basel and the School for Teacher Education FHNW conducted a survey of more than 10,000 pupils in classes 5 to 9 at schools in German-speaking Switzerland. Their marks and abilities were compared at three-month intervals.
Of those surveyed, 17% received private tuition. This figure is slightly below that of other European countries. Girls were more likely to receive tutoring than boys (19% compared to 16%, with the most marked difference at the primary school level (21% compared to 17%)). The reason is that most assistance is sought for mathematics (69%). In this subject, three quarters of tutored students are girls. Boys receive more private tuition in languages.
Private study centres almost twice as expensive as individual tutors Children of parents who are socially and economically advantaged are more likely to receive private tuition at private study centres. In contrast, children in families of a lower socio-economic standing more frequently are tutored by private individuals. Attendance at private study centres costs CHF 48 per hour on average, while private individuals charge CHF 25.
The most commonly cited reason for making use of private tuition is to improve marks. This is followed by an increased feeling of security in the subject, a general improvement in performance and meeting parents' wishes to attend private tuition. During tutoring sessions, most of those surveyed prepare for examinations and do homework. The desire to go back through teaching materials at a speed that matches the student's abilities is widespread.
Reduced methodological abilities Most of the children surveyed indicate that their performance in the subjects in which they were tutored has improved. While there is an improvement in marks obtained in mathematics, German and French, this is extremely slight. There is no discernible effect of private tuition across all subjects. Private tutoring from individuals improves the student's methodological ability, i.e. the capacity to approach a problem from a considered point of view and resolve it by following a structured methodology. This ability is reduced among those attending private study centres.
On the basis of these findings, Hans-Ulrich Grunder recommends that the status of private tuition be reconsidered. It would no longer be necessary if children and young adults were systematically educated in day schools where they do homework at the end of the school day. The fact that private tuition is employed demonstrates that schools are not completely fulfilling their role of initiating the learning process in children and guiding them through it.
The above story is based on materials provided by Schweizerischer Nationalfonds zur Foerderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
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