Private Tuition Blog: Archive for June 2009
Posted on 20th June 2009
From The Guardian
By Jenni Russell
In Britain, one industry is booming - private tuition. Now widespread at every level of the education system, it distorts exam results, disadvantages poorer families and obscures the real problems in our schools.
It’s the only boom I ever predicted. Seven years ago I wrote about the hidden world of tutoring. It was clear then that all the competitive pressures on schools, parents and children were going to make it a growth industry. I didn’t do anything sensible with that insight - set up an agency, retrain as a tutor - but it did mean that I have watched the spread of the phenomenon without surprise. Well, almost. Actually, this month’s report from the Sutton Trust, reporting that 43% of 11- to 16-year-olds at state schools in London have been tutored, up from 36% four years ago, was genuinely startling. In the capital at least, tutoring has gone from a fringe activity to a mainstream one. And yet the reasons for that, and its effects on education, are still largely ignored.
It’s the naked competitiveness and target obsession of our education system that has pushed people into tutoring in such large numbers. Nationally, more than a fifth of children say they’ve been tutored. And tutoring is no longer reserved for the classic pinch points; 11, 16, 18. The government’s own research shows that in some cases it’s starting at a surprisingly early age. Now that pupils are being graded from the age of five, children who might have been allowed to develop at their own pace in the past are being told they’re falling behind, and because they’re being made to panic by anxious teachers, parents feel they have to respond too. One father wrote to me, distressed by the fact that his six-year-old son was coming from school in tears, saying he was stupid because he couldn’t read. That father had found a tutor because books had now become a source of such fear and high emotion that he needed someone calm outside the family to deal with it. He was furious with a school system that was ruthless about inducing guilt and anxiety in small children, but didn’t have the time to respond to their individual needs.
Mylene Curtis, who runs one of the biggest tutorial agencies in the country, Fleet Tutors, with 5,000 staff, says that in a survey of her clients 81% said they were using tutors because they were unhappy with some elements of the state system. She says that at the primary stage parents are often losing faith in teachers. Parents believe that teachers are trying their best, but fear that staff are worn out and over-burdened by the ceaseless flow of bureaucracy and government initiatives. That makes parents insecure. At secondary level, many are compensating for the fact that their children are being taught by teachers who don’t have degrees in their subjects - something that is particularly common in maths and sciences. Others want their offspring to get the kind of focused attention and chances to ask questions that just aren’t possible in a class of 30.
Curtis’s business has grown fivefold in five years. She believes a lot of that is business from parents who, for financial or ideological reasons, want to keep their children in the state system, but aren’t prepared to see them underachieve as a result. They may be able to afford £400 a term for tutoring, but not the £4,000 a term for private school fees. She thinks it is very positive that the tutoring option is keeping parents in the system who might otherwise feel they couldn’t stay.
Curtis is of course right that it has become common for parents who can afford it to reinforce teaching, or make up for a school’s failings, by paying for it themselves. It’s obviously more desirable for children to grasp maths or French or physics than to be left in a haze of incomprehension. At an individual level, tutoring is completely understandable. But its distorting effect is threefold.
First, the prevalence of tutoring means that the government’s league tables tell parents very little about the teaching at a school. High scores indicate only one thing with certainty; that this school has a parent body who will give their children whatever support they need to do well in their exams. It isn’t an assurance that the school itself will deliver those results.
Secondly, it means that poorer or less knowledgeable parents will fall behind in the competition, because they are unable to afford to do the same thing, or are unaware that it is an option. A fifth of parents from professional backgrounds have had their children tutored, while 5% of working-class parents have done the same. And thirdly, it successfully prevents a national discussion about real failings in the education system, because they are not being publicly recognised.
A nurse that I know feels the deep injustice of all that. She is a single parent, living in north London, who was hugely relieved when her daughter won a place at a grammar school at 11. It was only when her child’s peer group were sitting GCSEs that it dawned on the mother that all her daughter’s friends were being tutored in several of their subjects. Their results were slightly, but noticeably, better. To the mother’s anguish, the tutoring continued at A-level. She could not afford to do the same thing. When the grades came out, the friends had all got into their first choice of university; her daughter, who had one poor teacher, had just missed her offer. The mother wrote to me, saying that although she was proud that everything her daughter had achieved had been through her own efforts, she was bitter that nothing in the system gave her credit for that, or recognised the lifelong advantage that her friends had bought.
The question of what’s been bought, what’s fair, and what deserves reward is at the heart of our anguished debate about our education system. On the one hand, skills and education are undoubtedly good for the individual and for the country. On the other, they are also chips in an increasingly intense competition. Many parents are in a constant and uneasy debate with themselves and one another about the advantages they are buying or forgoing. Parents who condemn private education as securing privilege may think nothing of moving house, tutoring in five subjects, and doing their children’s coursework for them. Others defend grammar schools as meritocratic, but think helping with homework is cheating. Public-school parents can think that not helping a child in every way you can is tantamount to neglect. What none of them can avoid is the consciousness of how they are performing in comparison to their peers. Tiny differences in exam results can determine lives. When others start raising the stakes by engaging tutors then everyone else feels intense pressure to follow suit.
Nowhere is that pressure greater than at age 10 and 11, when children have to apply, and in many places compete, for places in state or private secondary schools. It is then that many parents realise the extent to which tutoring is operating as a shadow education system, with its own hidden rules. One mother of a 10-year-old was turned away by the tutors she tried to book in south London. They told her she was at least a year too late. The children getting places at a nearby school were all scoring 100% in the entrance exam, and her daughter, a bright girl, would have needed 18 months’ preparation to do the same.
Patty Rhodes is one of the thousands who found herself caught up in tutoring her child because she realised that he would be at a disadvantage if he didn’t. She lives in west London, sends her four children to a state primary, and because she is from the Netherlands the hysteria and competition over secondary-school places came as a complete surprise. Her first choice of school for her son Elliot was a Catholic comprehensive, and the second was Holland Park, also a comprehensive, but she was warned by other mothers that she couldn’t count on getting into either. Elliot would need to be prepared for private entrance exams. His mother says that doing two hours’ group tutoring every Saturday morning demanded dedication. The constant practise was vital. Elliot had to learn how to focus, and his creative writing had to become consistent. “Because there’s so much competition out there, he needed to be not just good at it, but very good. Everyone else is doing it, so you have to do it too - it’s a rat race.” She is relieved that she did, because Elliot wasn’t offered any of his state-school places, but he did get in to Latymer, a nearby private school.
State-school parents tend to assume that tutoring is something that is only necessary in the state sector, or needed as a bridge from state to private schools. After all, are not small responsive classes and individual attention exactly what private-school parents are paying for? But those who move into the private system can be profoundly shocked to find that their children still seem to be falling through the gaps, and that tutoring is widely seen as the answer.
An architect and single parent I talked to had assumed that once her boys had been through a year of cramming at 11, and had places at a prestigious private school, she wouldn’t have to think about tutoring again. Far from it. Some of the teachers at the school were excellent, and some were absolutely dire. The school did not seem to care - “If you weren’t Oxbridge material they weren’t interested in how you were getting on.” She couldn’t plug the gaps herself, because she didn’t have the time, knowledge or emotional resilience for it. “If I’d tried to make my eldest work, we’d have had world war three. He needed some discipline, and help I couldn’t give. I got tutors in to spare the relationship. I didn’t think I should have had to do it. In the end you realise that it’s par for the course, because everyone else is doing it. You’re cheating your child if you don’t. And the schools happily collude in it, because it gets them what they want; better grades without the effort of it.”
This mother’s experience suggest that the government and Sutton Trust figures on tutoring in fact substantially understate its extent. Their research only covers children in the state system. It seems clear that not only are many private school children likely to have been tutored before 11, but they are also very likely to be tutored thereafter. All the tutorial agencies have a substantial number of clients in private schools.
If that hasn’t been accurately measured, nor has the newest phenomenon in tutoring - the undergraduate client. Kate Shand at Enjoy Education in Chelsea had 10 undergraduates on her books two years ago, and now she has 100. She says that students are asking for help because they are disillusioned with the sizes of classes and lectures, and they feel that in a huge anonymous organisation, there’s no one to turn to.
Curtis has also seen a huge increase in demand, and is scathing about the reasons. She agrees that university students are horrified to discover how little contact or teaching time they’re given, but she thinks the main cause of their desperation is that many of them have had years of inadequate teaching. They arrive at university unable to write essays, or structure their thoughts. In north London, Dr Karina Halstead at Home Tutors says it’s the mature students at the new universities who tend to come to her. They aren’t getting the support they need form the institution that’s taken them in and frankly, she says, she often can’t understand what they’re doing in a university at all. They’re adults who don’t have the skills to manage it, and tutors alone aren’t going to take up the slack.
What the boom in tutoring exposes is that our education system, state and private, from five to undergraduate level, fails do what it claims. It is being supported by a shadow industry, only fully accessible by those who have money, the social networks to access good tutors, and the antennae to realise that their child isn’t doing as well as they could. It’s true that the government, in a belated recognition of the difference tutoring can make to children, is to offer some private lessons to the bottom 3% of performers in English and maths. But that still leaves a huge swathe of children in the centre who are not getting the chances that others do.
Only a fundamental reform to the system - less cramming, smaller classes, an education based on less testing and more on learning to think - is going to make any difference to this trend. If I had to make another forecast, it would be this - in five years, the proportion of tutored children is going to be sharply up again.
Posted on 7th June 2009
From Angels and Urchins
For any parent considering private education, making the right choice of school can become an obsession. I say choice; in reality of course it’s not parents who choose. The schools choose the children.
London has some of the country’s leading private day schools. These schools have powerful brand images, seeming to offer a golden future for those lucky and clever enough to get in. Car companies and supermarkets would kill for this level of desirability. Like massive magnets, these brands draw parents in. Demand is sky-high, places are limited, and they are nigh on impossible to get into. Entrance exams are brutally all-or-nothing. Either children get a place, or they don’t. It’s a crazy mix of high stakes, and long odds. The difficulty of succeeding just adds to both the allure and the stress for ambitious parents.
If you have a child sitting the 7+, 8+ or 11+ next January, you will already know which school you’d ideally like your child to go to next. Unfortunately plenty of other parents are thinking the same thing. Some of your child’s competitors might even be their school friends, for added fun when the results come out.
It is hardly surprising that parents get stressed. The trick, apparently, is not to pass that stress on to your kids. This is a rude awakening for affluent parents, able to buy just about anything for their kids, not to be able to just throw money at the school place issue and get them in. Although, hang on a minute, there is a way you can throw money at it…you can hire a private tutor.
Private tutors either exploit panicking parents, or provide a necessary service, depending on how you look at it. Unarguably, there is a lot of private tutoring going on in London. According to a study by the Institute of Education, 25% of year 6 children nationally have been tutored. This figure is much higher in affluent parts of London. Not all children being tutored are being coached for exams but an increasing number of primary aged children are. “Our phone never stops ringing with concerned parents” says Will Stadlen of Holland Park Tuition. And it is not a cheap option, with costs started at around £40 per hour plus an introductory fee.
Selective schools discourage tutoring, pointing out that it can lead to later problems with a child unable to handle the pace. Peter Winter, Head of Latymer Upper School says: ” Bright children need time to waste. They need time to think things over” Jeremy Edwards, Headmaster of Westminster Under School agrees: “We would prefer children of this age to be outside playing cricket after school or reading or enjoying music or just having time to themselves. They need time for fun at the end of the day - not sitting in a room with a tutor for another hour of hard slog!
Independent heads accept that there are instances when exam tutoring is acceptable.
Edwards concedes that a child at a state primary school might not be taught enough maths curriculum before the exam, or receive the exam and interview technique practice of children at private prep schools; while Winter recognises that some children might have had a year of an under-par teacher, and need to make amends. ” I have sympathy with parents who are frustrated with their current quality of teaching”
The reality of course, borne out by the statistics, is that the use of tutors for exam preparation is mushrooming. Rather than ‘cheating’, it is seen by many as a way of evening out the odds for their child on a playing field that’s far from level. Whether its peer pressure, a concern that a child is at an underperforming school, there will be a seemingly good reason to justify the need for extra help.
Private tutoring remains an unregulated market. Jeremy Edwards has concerns “There are unscrupulous tutors out there who prey on anxious and ambitious parents. They claim to have inside knowledge of us, when in fact we have no associations with any tutors”.
No tutor is going to be able to ensure entry of a child to a good London school but, while there may be unscrupulous tutors out there, there are other companies which are well run.
Finding one is hard though “It’s a completely taboo subject” says one Wandsworth mum. Nobody wants other people to think their child has won their place through underhand tactics. Despite what might go on at home, parents do not want to be seen as pushy, so mums don’t talk about it. Consequently there is little or no word of mouth recommendation, making it very difficult to choose a tutor.
If you are lucky enough to find a local tutor by word of mouth, you will need to take responsibility yourself for seeing CRB checks and references, and ensuring that the tutor is the right match for your child, in terms of personality, and knowledge of the curriculum in question. Alternatively, you may want to approach a company. Companies will charge you an introductory fee, and for this will conduct CRB checks, and collect references, for example. Some match you up with a tutor by postcode, while others take it further. “I think the most important thing is to match up personalities,” says Kate Shand, Enjoy Education.
So long as London’s top selective schools remain so desirable, private tutors are here to stay. The ultimate goal of a place at a leading school is simply too tempting for many parents to risk sitting back and doing nothing.
How to choose a tutor:
- Do they have the right personality for your child?
- Will your child look forward to seeing them?
- Do they have successful experience of teaching one to one?
- Can they provide recent tutoring references?
- Can your tutor commit to the period of time you need?
Ensuring value for money from the tutoring sessions:
- You will want to make sure that the time spent with the tutor is productive, and progress can be demonstrated.
- Ask the tutor to make a baseline assessment, and develop an action plan.
- Ask whether they give homework. Agree an amount with your child.
- How will they measure progress?
- Ensure the tutor has experience of the curriculum in question.
- Will they know exactly what to teach?
Selection of tutoring companies to talk to:
- Bright Young Things Tuition. www.brightyoungthingstuition.co.uk. Introductory fee £90, hourly rate £40.
- Enjoy Education. www.enjoyeducation.co.uk. Introductory fee £40, hourly rate £40. Meets every child as part of assessment.
- Bonas Macfarlane. www.bonasmacfarlane.co.uk. Introductory fee £50-£200 depending on degree of assessment needed. Hourly rate £45. Will try to meet the child as part of the assessment.
- Holland Park tuition. www.hollandparktuition.co.uk. Introductory fee of £75 then £36.75 per hour one to one, or £45 for 2 or 3 children together.
Posted on 7th June 2009
From The Telegraph
By Simon Johnson
University students are increasingly turning to private tutors to help them pass exams because they are unhappy at the standard of teaching on their degree courses.
Tutoring agencies say they are finding a burgeoning market among undergraduates complaining that they do not get enough face-to-face teaching from lecturers.
They reported a large increase in students willing to pay for their services, which cost up to £40 per hour. This is on top of universities’ annual tuition fees of £3,145.
Students complain that they receive very little feedback on their work and have little opportunity to discuss assignments with tutors and lecturers. Their grievances have been backed by Government research which suggested British universities offer less teaching time than European counterparts.
Fleet Tutors, one of the country’s biggest private tuition agencies, with offices in Hampshire and London, has seen a 30 per cent rise in the number of undergraduate clients in the past year.
“This is one of the highest growth areas for us,” said Mylène Curtis, the company’s managing director.
“Students are finding they get to university and have inadequate teaching. Contact time is not enough and those who are struggling need more face-to-face contact to enable them to cope with their workload.”
Chris Guy, a retired physics lecturer from Imperial College London, said he had provided private classes to undergraduates at three high-profile universities.
“Lectures are so huge at many places that it has become the norm to have courses that simply do not succeed in getting the information across,” he said.
Kate Shand, founder of the Enjoy Education tutoring agency, based in London, said she had up to 100 undergraduates on her books, up from 10 two years ago.
Discontentment with teaching standards is at such high levels that students have organised nationwide protests to force universities to devote more resources to lectures.
The National Union of Students wants to raise the issue ahead of a Government review into tuition fees this autumn.
Posted on 7th June 2009
From The Sunday Times
By Sian Griffiths and Jack Grimston
Students are taking drastic steps to rectify what they regard as poor teaching on their university degree courses
University undergraduates are hiring private tutors to help them pass exams because they feel they are receiving inadequate teaching on their degree courses.
Tutoring agencies have traditionally been used by affluent parents - including Tony Blair, the former prime minister - to boost the prospects of school-age children.
Now, however, they say they are finding a burgeoning market among university students who claim to suffer from a lack of face-to-face teaching.
Institutions where the practice is becoming established include Oxford, University College London (UCL), and Warwick.
The willingness of undergraduates to pay up to £40 per hour for private tuition - on top of annual fees of £3,145 - is the latest evidence of students’ discontent about teaching standards that do not match their expectations.
Students at universities including Bristol and Manchester have recently staged protests against cuts in teaching hours, growing class sizes and a rise in the use of postgraduate students to fill in for academic staff. Recent government research has found that British undergraduates have the shortest teaching hours in the European Union.
Fleet Tutors, one of the country’s biggest private tuition agencies, with offices in Hampshire and London, has seen a 30% rise in the number of undergraduate clients in the past year.
“This is one of the highest growth areas for us,” said Mylène Curtis, the company’s managing director. “Students are finding they get to university and have inadequate teaching. Contact time is not enough and those who are struggling need more face-to-face contact to enable them to cope with their workload.
“Others find it difficult to structure their thoughts into coherent essays. They are not arriving at university with adequate skills.”
Chris Guy, a retired physics lecturer from Imperial College London, said he was providing private classes to undergraduates at Oxford and UCL. He also recently taught students at Queen Mary, a college at London University.
“Lectures are so huge at many places that it has become the norm to have courses that simply do not succeed in getting the information across,” Guy said.
Joanna al-Zahawi, 22, in the third year of a business economics course at Kingston University, London, has received coaching from at least two private tutors, including a course of seven hour-long lessons costing £210, to prepare for exams that end tomorrow.
“My lecturers at Kingston come from different countries and I cannot always understand them because of their accents,” Zahawi said. “It is not very fair. The way some of them teach is quite basic. They give us a chapter to read before we come to lectures and just highlight points from it.
“Another friend on my course is also using a private tutor. And I know people in other departments at Kingston who use them. My mum doesn’t mind paying for tuition if it helps to get a good mark but she says that in her day there was no such thing.”
Kate Shand, founder of the Enjoy Education tutoring agency, based in London, said she had up to 100 undergraduates on her books, up from 10 two years ago.
“They tend to come to us for particular modules where they come up against specific problems and find they cannot get the specialist help at university,” Shand said. Tuition for maths and sciences was in highest demand.
She added that tutoring was often carried out by PhD students studying at the same university as the clients themselves.
Flora Spencer, 22, a business and management undergraduate in her second year at Bath Spa University, is such a case.
Spencer, a former pupil at the fee-paying Sherborne school, paid £28.50 an hour for private tuition from William Close for a recent accountancy exam. Her own lecturer suggested she take private tuition classes.
“There is one module in accountancy and financial management which I find very difficult because I am not very good with numbers,” Spencer said. “My lecturer . . . gave me a couple of free extra sessions. Then he suggested I contact Bath Tutors \.”
Spencer says she has to sit in large classes at university and receives only nine hours’ teaching a week.
“I would like more because I work better with more teaching hours,” she says. “We have lectures where there are 100 people there. In our seminars there are 25 people. At school, we had much more intensive teaching.”
Although the biggest tuition agencies are based in London and the southeast, there is demand from students across the country. Huazhu Zhang, a PhD researcher at Warwick business school, privately coaches four undergraduates at his own university and other students from Reading, Sheffield, Southampton and the London School of Economics.
He said he knew of four of his colleagues who were also charging undergraduates for private tuition, particularly for course modules that they found especially difficult.
“Sometimes they do not understand the lecture notes,” he said. “They should be able to have their own \ tutors or to go into their lecturer’s office and ask but this is not always possible.”
A spokeswoman for Kingston said it had a “long-standing reputation for teaching excellence”. She added: “In the case of the economics department, just under half the lecturers are not native to the UK but the majority have been working as academics for many years and are very fluent in our language.
“We are committed to providing the best experience for students, so encourage anyone with concerns to contact their course director or head of school.”
Additional reporting:Alex Webb and Ruth Lewy
Posted on 6th June 2009
From Eds Up
Children love a good adventure. From the knights taming the beasts and saving the princess while conquering all fears in our fairytales to camping in the garden, building dens, feasting at cook-outs, scouring through the SAS Survival Handbook, (a must-read not only for boys) - all prepare us for the wonders and risks of future life adventures.
So, what better way then to give them a taste of what “real” adventure is all about while choosing an experience that will expand their knowledge and one which they will remember forever. If learning is for life then a break away from the routine must be a good place to start. Many of those who have been to Africa argue that a once-in-a-lifetime trip to one of the many countries that the continent has to offer provides just that.
Learning includes spotting tracks and identifying animals from their dung, the art of survival in the bush, the studying of herd behaviour and migration patterns and even the making of paper from elephant poo…
But why Africa? “Most of all,” says Ali Nash who has travelled there five times now with her family, “because Africa gets into your blood, the dust of Africa seeps through into your very bones.”
“Safari”, Swahili for journey, is a major draw in choosing Africa as the setting for the holiday of a lifetime. For children, the bonus of learning about wildlife, almost within hands’ reach, is undeniable. In what other circumstances would you catch images of a lion pride lazing in the scrub, an elephant herd coming to the watering hole to quench their thirst in the hot, hot day, giraffes entwined in foliage as they nibble the sharp hostile needles of the Acacia tree and birds, so many different birds.
In what other circumstances would you catch images of an elephant herd coming to the watering hole to quench their thirst in the hot, hot day and giraffes entwined in foliage as they nibble the sharp hostile needles of the Acacia tree
The Nash family felt that they wanted to see Africa rough and ready. Taking their children the first time when they were 7 and 5 years old, their first holiday was just under a month long. Aly believes that if you travel with an open mind there is something for everyone, from first timers to hardened travelling families.
The options are diverse with regards to where to stay, be it travelling from place to place and camping in tented camps or staying in game lodges and exploring from a central base. The many countries of Africa are now well equipped to host children on safaris.
The Safari experience remains Aly’s children’s (now teenagers) top trip for the pure thrill of adventure. The Nash children will never forget the days spent on a walking safari, trekking through the bush escorted by two Samburu tribesmen leading camels carrying their gear, pitching up camp each night, sleeping under canvas in remote landscape, the only luxury being the warm water heated by the brazier and poured over their heads as an impromptu shower.
Sunrise and sundown drives, on the prowl for spottings of elephant, giraffe, hippos, rhinos, gazelle, hyenas, zebras, warthogs, baboons . . . and on . . . when animals are more likely to show their faces, shape the day. The Nash family used the in-between hours to read, take siestas, soak up the atmosphere and get into the rhythm of “Africa time”.
Fly-fishing for supper in the river, riding zebroids through the bush, canoeing down rivers searching out animals, and hot air balloon rides sweeping low over the awe-inspiring vastness of the savanna at dawn are all added to the memory bank that stays with children forever. There were, the family recalls, moments that were heart-stopping for the sheer excitement of witnessing something not many get to share: from watching a leopard lazing up in a tree from the prime position of sitting directly below it in an open top jeep with the guide trying to convince them that it wouldn’t jump into the jeep as it had just eaten and was “too full up” to make a move on them, to taking to the air in a light aircraft and flying over Lake Bogoria between Kenya and Tanzania to view the pink haze of the famous 3 million lesser and 50,000 greater flamingoes.
In the case of the Nash family, Aly says that Charlie and Miffy absolutely loved every minute: “Charlie in particular was at an age where he wanted to see and do everything and, funnily enough, there never seemed to be problem with getting the children up each day for the 5am game drives. On the contrary, the children would be standing by the jeep, ready and waiting to go.” Night drives didn’t deter them either and if Miffy got tired she would just sleep in the back of the jeep.
Taking to the air in a light aircraft and flying over Lake Bogoria to view the pink haze of the famous 3 million lesser and 50,000 greater flamingoes was a heart-stopping moment
Being part of the experience is not just about viewing animals from the relative safety of the jeep. Learning includes spotting tracks and identifying animals from their dung, the art of survival in the bush, the studying of herd behaviour and migration patterns and even the making of paper from elephant poo . . .
The children each wrote travel journals noting all that they had learnt, something which Ali highlights as an amazing achievement as it is a rare occurrence for her son, Charlie, who normally will do anything to get out of writing.
Tanzania, one of the four most naturally diverse nations on earth, is now top of their list for their next trip to the continent, with its four iconic attractions; Mount Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti to watch the million-strong wildebeest migration, the Ngorongoro Crater and the white sands of Zanzibar.
But, Africa is not just all about the safari. The learning experience for children is not just about seeing wildlife with their own eyes. Africa offers children an insight into different cultures, tribal customs and the inheritance of ancient places and people. Rather than shying away from images of poverty, the children get to see how others live and learn that perhaps you don’t need to proffer expensive gifts to show the hospitality and generosity of spirit, that is so prevalent in many places in Africa.
With the emphasis now being placed on responsible tourism and sustainability, African experiences can teach our children much more than we will ever know about what needs to be done to protect the animals they come to see and the savannas they pass across.
Children learn that you don’t need to proffer expensive gifts to show the hospitality and generosity of spirit, that is so prevalent in many places in Africa
Here, you find what real knowledge and ‘intelligence’ is. Out in the bush in Kenya, Aly Nash was amazed at the pride in the country and, in particular, the natural world that the people she met had: “The generosity of time and the sharing of their knowledge with us was eye-opening. We were taught all about the country, the trees, the animals, the birds. In England, we are lucky if we can recognise what a horse chestnut tree actually looks like let alone know its name.”
Such a wealth of subject matter and experiences for children can and often is taken to another level. With work becoming increasingly international and our desire to get children out of the confines of the classroom to see the world beyond, many now look to combine offering their children life experiences whilst keeping them up to speed and involved in necessary school work.
Sometimes this comes at critical stages in children’s education and families are looking more and more at the benefit of including tutors in their holiday plans.
Ben Long, writer and historian has been fortunate to tutor children on both short holidays all over the world and on longer stays where families either decide to take extended trips with their children, removing them from the school system, or through work needs, have to travel and want their family with them. Experiencing South Africa on long-term stays with families and on safaris, Ben believes: “An extraordinary amount of work can be done in a very short amount of time.” Lessons fit around the heat of the day or, in the case of safaris, the morning and evening game drives: “There is no benefit in telling a child they can’t go searching for exciting animals because the Maths has to be done so the study is built into the day as and when works best.”
In the cases when Ben has travelled with a family on one-off trips, he has found that the exposure to new cultures and climates is an education in itself for children and the tutoring serves to compliment rather than overshadow it.
“There is no benefit in telling a child they can’t go searching for exciting animals because the Maths has to be done so the study is built into the day as and when works best”
There is no need to be in the classroom all day. For Ben, the physical geography of somewhere like Africa provides fantastic teaching potential: visiting the source of rivers, looking at the changing terrain around them, exploring the reserves, getting out and about or merely sitting under a tree reading together and enjoying the experience is a major component in what it is all about.
“A really important part of education before specialisation in subjects is time for art and reading but when you are outside painting pictures of a storm rolling in over the grasslands, topics move on to learning about storms, to discussing the phenomenon of thunder and lightening which then leads to looking at the speed of light and sound, all the while continuing the art class.”
Working in a different place and in a different way on a oneto- one basis means the level of excitement but also a renewed interest in learning is very high. Teaching in relation to the local environment in somewhere like Africa is a huge bonus for children: “If it’s tangible and it’s there - go for it!”
While Ben works as a tutor for Enjoy Education, his experience as a writer and historian, along with fellow tutors, who often have other diverse careers, such as photography and film-making, means that they bring more to the classroom and are able to share their enthusiasm with their students. Kate Shand, Director of Enjoy Education, notes that the tutors are “exceptionally well-educated both academically and culturally. They are people you’d like your children to spend time with.”
Apart from the usual upset tummy, Ali and her family had no health issues at all. As they were staying in an area prone to Malaria, they took Malaria tablets but didn’t find any problems with this. There were “scary bugs” which Miffy was not to keen on but the Nash family strongly believed that this was part of the experience and something that the children just had to get used to. Ali thinks that to enjoy Africa you have to not let worries deter you. If you take the attitude of getting on with it, children are remarkably resilient and tough travellers: “This is the way to enjoy Africa.”
However, some areas of South Africa, for example, offer an excellent starting point for first time travellers, in particular, in the Malaria-free areas which can take away some of the stress of such concerns. The idea of a trip to Africa with children may be a little daunting at first but with common sense, safety is not an issue and the whole family can live the adventure.
Tanzania Odyssey: http://www.tanzaniaodyssey.com/
Recommended for Malaria-free holiday: http://www.bushbaby.travel/
Tailor-made holidays: http://www.kirkerholiday.com/
Fully trained tutors in the UK system: Enjoy Education: http://www.enjoyeducation.co.uk/
Everything you need to know before you go Rough Guide - First Time Africa from: http://www.roughguides.com/