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No tuition policy at Colombo School of Arts and Sciences guarantees results!

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The last five and a half decades has witnessed a growing trend in Sri Lanka in the form of a tuition culture. There are several factors that have been responsible for this, with the foremost being the population growth which rose from 9.8 million in 1960 to 20.12 million in 2010. However, despite the many development plans and progress made, the number of public and private schools covering the local curriculum did not rise in proportion with the population increase, the end result being that classroom sizes became larger and teachers were expected to cover more and more classes. The teacher: student ratio became 1:35 or even 1:40. 

Obviously this resulted in students not getting the attention they needed. Furthermore, seats at the local universities were getting more difficult and elusive for the urban middle-class student. The competition was stiff. Some parents felt that their children should get into the race much earlier in order to secure a place at a local university. It was therefore left for the international schools to cater to students sitting for London examinations, post-liberalisation of the economy in 1977. 

These same international schools did not come under the purview of the Department of Education but they were registered as educational institutions under the Board of Investment, and consequently were run like businesses. Those who could afford put their children into international schools so that they could follow the London curriculum and thereafter get into foreign universities. The stage was thus set for the ever-popular tuition culture.    

Back in the 1960s, it started off with a handful of weak students visiting a teacher’s home to get a little extra help in Sinhala or Mathematics merely because these students were ‘slow’ and getting low marks in class. The tuition fees, averaging between fifty and hundred rupees, were also a very moderate sort of compensation to the teacher for the extra hours spent coaching. This “coaching” was also aimed mainly at the Ordinary Level or Advanced Level examinations which were the only examinations conducted back in the day. However, today, parents speak of Grade 1 examinations, Grade 5 scholarship examinations because of the race that has been created through changing demographics. The race is all about putting their children into so called “good schools”, passing “exams” and thereafter getting a good shot at a local or foreign university.  

With all the competition and importance placed on education by parents, salaries of teachers have not increased compared with other professions. So what options do teachers have to increase their earning capacity? With a demand created for tuition by over anxious parents, teachers wait for the final school bell to ring to rush home or wherever else to conduct their tuition class which gives them more money than their day job. As time progressed the tuition market grew by leaps and bounds and today there are “tuition factories” with over 500 students in classes that are run simultaneously with close circuit television cameras and screens. 

The irony is that the initial reason for parents to send their children to tuition classes was because of the lack of attention they got from their teachers in school. To add to the prevalent competition, students in local schools now tend to compete with international students to get into foreign universities, thereby increasing the anxiety levels for parents and adding to the tuition culture.         

Let us look at the tuition fees that parents spend. Say an over anxious parent spends Rs. 1,000 per class for one subject. If the aim is 8 A’s at the GCE Ordinary Level examinations, then the parent may decide to send the child for tuition for all eight subjects. But for argument’s sake let us say that the parent sends his or her child for five subjects because of time and monetary constraints, it is still Rs. 5000 per week and totals to a whopping Rs. 20,000  per month.  

In the case of the GCE Advanced Level examinations, it is even more. Without realising a parent would spend Rs. 80,000 a term or Rs. 120,000 a semester. The student, on the other hand, has been robbed of his or her childhood, as it is a case of going from one tuition class after another just to stay in the race in order to get into university or some other accepted tertiary educational institution.     

This is then the current situation. The majority of parents are convinced that their children need to go for extra classes in order to pass their examinations. Without realising they spend large amounts of money for tuition. Going for tuition class is a routine thing for even an average student and the education structure has slowly accommodated this informal mode and now it is an accepted fact that a teacher would give tuition classes to compensate for a low salary. The basis for this new economy is the poor standard of education that is dished out by schools. 

The tuition syndrome which is by itself a catch – 22 will continue to keep the standard of education at a low level. After all, there is no incentive for the teacher to give his or her utmost for the students. Neither the parents nor the students are expecting their school teachers to deliver, so that what was once a respected vocation is nothing more than yet another job. But in terms of school fees and tuition fees, it has become a great burden for even middle-class families. Without realising they are already paying what a parent would pay as fees for a top end international school.

“At CSA, we do not hold with tuition. In fact, we maintain a ‘No Tuition’ policy,” stated Shaleeka Jayalath, Principal of the Colombo School of Arts and Sciences, a Cambridge-associate school based down Jawatte Road. Jayalath went on to guarantee good results for her students without them having to go for any tuition class or any extra external lessons. Speaking to some of her students, we understood that if Jayalath hears of a student having gone for a tuition class, parents are called into her office to find out the reasons and the teacher who covers the subject is questioned as to why this has happened.

“The model of education we follow at CSA does not require students to go for tuition. Students are assessed on a continuous basis and we know the status of the student,” she confirmed. She went on to state that the sad reality is that many parents do not realise the actual cost of tuition. She pointed out that at the end of the day they spend maybe Rs. 10,000 or even Rs. 20,000 per month.         

“The proof of the pudding is in the results that CSA has shown during their short track record. The school is hardly three years old. However, students at CSA have successfully obtained A*, A  and B grades at the Cambridge O-level and Cambridge International A-level exams during the last two years, and received Outstanding Cambridge Learner Awards at A-levels,” added Jayalath. 

The model of education at CSA is radically different to other private and international schools. Fortunately or unfortunately there are no comparisons. Shaleeka Jayalath believes in “mentoring” the students not only to excel in exams but also to be “learners” who would make it their second nature to constantly learn on their own. The philosophy of the school is to make their pupils, students of life. “The tuition culture has made students in our country too complacent and they expect teachers to spoon feed them. But at CSA we empower our students to become better learners and excel in life. We instil an ‘ever learning attitude in a student’s mind. It is all about a life style, which is what education was meant to be in the first place. And with this model, I have proved that my students do not need tuition.”

CSA offers a refreshingly different classroom. It is not only an antidote to the tuition syndrome in our country that is taking away, not only our children’s childhoods, but also their thinking and learning skills; it also prepares a 21st-century secondary level student to face life and be an overall success.

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