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21 Oct 2017 10:44
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  •   Home > News > International

    High school students paying thousands to tutoring colleges in struggle for an academic edge

    Some parents are paying up to $20,000 per year to have their children "coached" by tutors to ace high school, but critics say it undermines the education system and those who cannot afford the fees are being left behind.

    Like many Australian high school students, Shoryu Das-Zaman feels pressure to get ahead.

    Waking at 6:00am, the Year 11 student attends classes at a selective school in North Sydney during the day, then takes additional classes at a privately-run tutoring college.

    He often studies until 11:00pm before going to bed after midnight.

    "It used to be about how hard you studied or how hard you worked," Shoryu said.

    "But now, on top of that, it's 'where do you go [for] coaching' or 'how much tutoring do you do?'"

    The growing popularity of tutoring services, known as coaching colleges, is evidence the struggle to gain an academic edge is starting earlier and earlier.

    Once on the fringes of the education system, they serve a single purpose — improving students' exam scores.

    "To be competitive and to have relatively good marks against the rest of the grade, I have to go to coaching," Shoryu said.

    "A lot of students … they're going every afternoon and on weekends.

    "This can go up to 12 to 15 hours per week just attending classes, on top of the 25 to 30 hours they spend at the school."

    Tutoring industry unregulated, no qualifications needed

    The price is steep.

    His parents, two university researchers who migrated to Australia from Bangladesh a few months before he was born, pay $2,500 per term for the extra classes.

    But Shoryu worries many tutoring colleges are failing to adequately educate students, or give them proper value for money.

    He has launched an online petition calling for a parliamentary inquiry into the industry.

    "Senior high school students can pay up to $20,000 per year in coaching college fees — rivalling many of the state's top private schools," he said.

    "It's becoming a robotic process and the students who want to engage in the content and who are passionate about it are being left behind."

    Australia's fast-growing and lucrative tutoring industry is not regulated. No qualifications or accreditations are required to run or teach at a coaching college.

    Australian Tutoring Association chief executive Mohan Dhall has established a voluntary code of conduct but conceded some tutoring businesses lack transparency.

    "The number of students across the country being tutored, estimates [range] from one in six to one in seven," he said.

    "The amount people pay will vary from a minimum of $2,000 to $3,000 per year upwards of $20,000.

    "Parents from communities where English is a second language typically don't know their commercial rights and therefore they are quite vulnerable to claims made, the misleading use of statistics, the non-giving of refunds and the claims that a child needs more tutoring."

    Education Department 'doesn't endorse coaching colleges'

    Tutoring may help some students pass the entrance to prestigious university courses, but has also presented education officials with a fresh set of challenges.

    Three months ago, NSW Education Department secretary Mark Scott announced plans to overhaul the selective schools test after concerns were raised about a widening gap between rich and poor pupils.

    "Only 3 per cent of children from households with the lowest 25 per cent of incomes currently make it into selective schools," he said.

    "We want to make sure there is no perception that you need a lot of coaching and preparation in order to get into a selective school."

    A spokesman for NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes said the department does not endorse or support the use of coaching colleges.

    "The Education Department is reviewing our gifted student identification and selection procedures to ensure that all students in all schools have the opportunity to reach their academic potential," he said.

    Some universities are pushing back against the practice of taking hot-housed, highly coached students with near perfect test scores.

    Professor Andrew Dunn from the University of Sydney said selection for the highly prized medicine degree had been deliberately changed to include an extensive interview process.

    "Increasingly the community has demanded that doctors provide more than just intelligence and good scientific training and good skills, they want the personal connection," he said.

    "I want students to realise that you will do as well if you obviously practice but save your money because you won't do better by going to a coaching course."

    Meanwhile, Shoryu's most pressing goal is to get a university admission score next year that is high enough to study law and IT.

    "Obviously I'd like a higher range ATAR than what most people strive or aim for," he said.

    "Early-to-mid-99s, that would be really good. That's really what I'm aiming for, just to keep my options open."

    © 2017 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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