Private tutoring in the upper secondary school of Canton Ticino: enrichment, remedial or answer to school discomfort?

Zanolla, Giovanna (2013) Private tutoring in the upper secondary school of Canton Ticino: enrichment, remedial or answer to school discomfort? In: 6. International Academic Conference, 23-26 June 2013, Bergen, Norway. (Submitted)

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Research and policy attention began to focus on the phenomenon of private tutoring in a significant way only in the 1990s. Much of the initial attention focused on Asia, particularly on Japan and South Korea, where tutoring has been established for longer periods as a major element in the lives of young people and their families. In the following decade attention turned to other parts of the world in which tutoring was becoming significant. In Europe differences in use of private tutoring across countries can be very large. While it is a marginal phenomenon in Scandinavia and the Netherlands, the southern European countries and the former Soviet countries show very high rates of tutoring (NESSE, 2011). In Switzerland private tutoring is quite an unexplored topic, although its importance can be easily perceived. One of the main collateral effects of private tutoring is that it may be a heavy burden on low-income families and can contribute to maintaining or even increasing social inequalities. According to the credentialist theories (Collins, 1979), upper class families seek to limit their children’s risk of downward social mobility and do their utmost to ensure that their offspring do well in school and progress to higher education. In other words the reason why paid private tutoring is used might have more to do with the concept of enrichment, rather than remedying any gaps and would reflect the so-called "Matthew effect", whereby the children of better educated families are more likely to study more and longer (Blossfeld & von Maurice, 2011). Private tutoring may also reflect the lack of satisfaction of students and their families with the educational quality in mainstream schools or be a spy of a system teacher-centred rather than child-centred and/or intolerant of slower learners (Bray, 2003). This paper aims to provide an in-depth description of the phenomenon of private tutoring in secondary education in the Swiss Canton of Ticino, quantify it and determine whether it can exacerbate social inequalities and/or be the sign of school dissatisfaction. For these purposes we analysed the answers to a questionnaire of a sample of over 1300 students at their first or last year of upper secondary school. 30% of them are taking private lessons at the moment of the interview. The analysis put into evidence the higher level of school discomfort of private tutoring users. Although most of them show poorer school performances and a logic of remedial seems to prevail, private tutoring is more common among the better educated upper class families.

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