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

Zanolla, Giovanna (2013) Private tutoring in the upper secondary schools of Canton Ticino: enrichment, remedial or answer to school discomfort? International Journal of Teaching and Education, 1 (1). pp. 121-137. ISSN 1804-9796

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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 were becoming significant. 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, 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. Private tutoring may also be a clue of a system teacher-centered rather than student-centered and/or intolerant of slower learners (Bray, 2003) and reflect the sense discomfort of students who end up feeling nervous, stressed, not enough supported in case of difficulties and dissatisfied with their school experience. This paper aims to provide a description of the phenomenon of private tutoring in upper secondary education in the Canton of Ticino and to determine whether it can exacerbate social inequalities and be the sign of school discomfort. For these purposes I analyzed 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 had taken or were taking private lessons at the moment of the survey. The multivariate analysis put into evidence the higher level of school discomfort of private tutoring users. Although many of them show poorer school results and logic of remedial seems to prevail, private tutoring is more common among the better educated upper class families.

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