My neighbor, who was born in Korea, sends her children to English tutors year-round. Should I do the same? Her children get straight A’s and are in gifted classes.

Tutoring is a way of life in some cultures, including South Korea.  There children go to school for six to eight hours during the day, 220 days a year, and then they go to a tutor for another four to six hours in the evening.  Estimates are that Korean children spend up to 13 hours a day being educated, almost half of that time in the largest private tutoring system in the world. Tutor teaching a child.

The cost is high.  Some Korean parents spend up to half their income on their children’s education, leaving them little money for other expenses.  It also has increased the debt of private citizens.

So why do parents in South Korea use private tutoring?

  • Dissatisfaction with the fairly uniform curriculum available to Korean students;
  • A desire for their children to be accepted at top universities;
  • The option for students to study subjects they cannot get in school;
  • The opportunity for students to receive excellent educations, leading to excellent jobs.

In the U.S., Korean parents continue using tutoring services.  They rarely cancel a tutoring lesson, and when they do, they make it up.  Often, they help their children with math and science homework, but use private tutors for English and social studies.

But in the U.S., many non-Asian parents balk at using tutors. Why?  They might think that

  • tutoring is elitist;
  • tutoring stresses children;
  • tutoring leads a child to believe he is deficient and cannot learn on his own;
  • tutoring usurps the time when children should be playing;
  • tutoring interferes with organized sports programs;
  • tutoring interrupts the time when parents might want to chill out after work.

Yet when you look at the valedictorians and salutatorians of our high schools, or at a breakdown of student backgrounds at excellent universities, you find many privately tutored students of Asian background.

One way of looking at extracurricular learning is that it can add months of learning to each year of a child’s education.  I have personally seen four-year-olds, who don’t know their ABC’s, start working with a private tutor and by the end of kindergarten—after working one hour a week, year-round—able to read at third or fourth grade levels and easily qualify for gifted programs in their public schools.

Should you hire a tutor for your child?  I cannot answer that, but I know that your child will be competing for scholarships, a place in college, and good jobs with children like your neighbors who are being tutored.  –Mrs. K

Many parents have their child participate in after-school sports for hours a day. They will drive many miles to have the child on the elite team or with the best coach.  They will send their child to sports camps and even hire a personal trainer. They’ll fly across the country for gymnastics meets or baseball world series.  They do not consider the athletic endeavors to be stressful, yet those same parents may never consider hiring an academic tutor.  In our typical American culture, too much time spent on academics is considered stressful.  Yet, a child who does better in school may be less stressed at school.  It is a complicated issue.  –Mrs. A

2 responses to “My neighbor, who was born in Korea, sends her children to English tutors year-round. Should I do the same? Her children get straight A’s and are in gifted classes.

  1. When you have your child tutored for the purpose of advancing a child beyond their peers, isn’t that advancement lost eventually? For example, a child is tutored and can read at a third grade level when he enters kindergarten. By the time he and his classmates reach high school, they are all fluent readers. –Beth Babcock

    • With many Asian-Americans, tutoring does not stop once the child has learned to read. A child might begin with a tutor offering pronunciation and phonics instruction at four years old, and then move on to grammar, writing, vocabulary-building, understanding English and American literature, and SAT preparation. With no tapering off of instruction from tutors, the benefits of all this additional education continue to amass. Most untutored students cannot catch up.

      And, unfortunately, many high school students are not fluent readers. They have been promoted despite their lack of reading skills. If, as fourth graders, they are reading at a first or second grade level, they cannot read the fourth grade social studies book. As middle schoolers, they might not be able to read all the words in math word problems (an issue which will intensify with the introduction of Common Core Standards). As high schoolers, they have trouble interpreting science texts.

      I am searching educational literature for information on the long-lasting (or not) effects of tutoring, and I will respond to your question in more detail in a future blog. Thanks for your thoughtful question, Beth.

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