School uneasiness and resort to private tutoring. Evidences of a study in the upper secondary schools of Canton Ticino

Zanolla, Giovanna (2017) School uneasiness and resort to private tutoring. Evidences of a study in the upper secondary schools of Canton Ticino. In: Marcionetti, Jenny and Castelli, Luciana and Crescentini, Alberto, (eds.) Well-Being in Education Systems. Hogrefe, Firenze, pp. 216-219. ISBN 978-88-98542-25-3

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Since the early 2000s the attention on the phenomenon of private tutoring initially focused on Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea turned to other parts of the world where it had grown considerably (Bray, 1999; Bray, 2003; Baker & LeTendre, 2005; Southgate, 2009). Nowadays in Switzerland as in many other Western countries the importance of private tutoring, which consists in instruction in subjects of relevance to student progression which is provided for a fee outside of regular school hours (Bray & Lykins, 2012), can be easily perceived (Mariotta and Nicoli, 2005; Hof & Wolter, 2012; Zanolla, 2013). For example, in the Swiss Canton of Ticino, the Italian speaking region to which the present work refers, more than 37% of 15 years old pupils declare to have attended private tutoring at least occasionally in the last year as well as 31% of upper secondary schools students (Zanolla, 2013). These rates resemble the proportion of other central European countries although the use of different definitions for this phenomenon and its frequency (Bray, 2011) makes the comparison difficult. The resort to private tutoring is first of all a matter of inequality as, as it is easy to imagine, it may be a too heavy burden on low-income families (Bray, 2011). Moreover, according to some studies, investing in private tutoring has often more to do with the logic of enrichment than with that of remedial (Hof & Wolter, 2012; Zanolla, 2013): even with better school results and less need for extra lessons, students with a more advantaged social origin show a greater propensity to use private tutoring. The parental style of concerted cultivation (Lareau, 2003) is typical of middle and upper class families and includes attempts to transmit their children through enrichment activities the cultural capital that will guarantee them a positional advantage in competitive education and labour market. These parents tend to report higher level of school dissatisfaction which are probably due to higher expectations about school quality (Gibbons & Silva, 2011) and their parental style can add to its beneficial effects the side effect of making children exhausted and more likely to experience anxiety and decreased well-being (Elliot & Thrash, 2004; Bayer et al., 2006; Fischer et al., 2007; Sideridis & Kafetsios, 2008; Spokas & Heimberg, 2009; Creveling et al., 2010; LeMoyne & Buchanan, 2011; Affrunti & Ginsburg, 2012; Schiffrin et al., 2014; Schiffrin et al., 2015). Sometimes the fear of teachers, of failing examinations or of getting bad grades experienced by the students are independent from the parental approach and have more to do with the wish to escape aversive social or evaluative situations at school (Kearney et al., 2007). Whatever the origin of school uneasiness, private tutoring can constitute both an opportunity for a more individualized learning through which middle and upper class families can ensure that their offspring do well in school and progress in higher education and a way to decrease achievement anxiety (Maszl, 2004; Mischo & Kessel, 2005) more than ever in systems which are teacher-centred and/or intolerant of slow learners (Bray, 2003). This contribution, derived from a wider study commissioned in 2012 by Canton Ticino’s Department of Education, Culture and Sport in which an online questionnaire was administered to all the students attending the first and the last grade of all the six public upper secondary schools of the canton (5 lyceums and the Cantonal School of Commerce of Bellinzona), is aimed at testing the hypothesis that, other things (sociocultural background, gender, school attended, school grade and self-evaluation of school performance) being equal, the use of private tutoring is more typical among students who show higher levels of school stress, nervousness and fear of asking when something is not clear. This hypothesis was tested through a logistic regression model, a method which is suitable for cases in which the object of analysis is a dichotomous variable typically associated with making a choice and which allows evaluation of whether - and to what extent - each of the independent variables entered in the model contributes to changing the way in which the dependent variable manifests itself, all other things being equal. What emerges is that the three variables regarding the school uneasiness increase the probability to use private tutoring. For example if an upper class male student attending the first grade of the lyceum of Bellinzona with a poor school performance but who rarely experiences states of stress, nervousness and fear to ask when something is not clear, has a probability to use private tutoring that amounts to 0.33, the probability raises to 0.68 for a student with the same characteristics but who often experiences feelings of stress, nervousness and fear to ask and drops to 0.57 if the second mentioned student has a more disadvantaged social background. In conclusion both a certain degree of school uneasiness and social origin influence the decision to invest in private tutoring. Private tutoring is probably a means to obtain a custom-made education and get individual attention without feeling criticized in case of difficulties in learning. When asked about the possible strategies in order to reduce the phenomenon of the resort to private tutoring, many students have in fact answered that if school offered some lessons outside school hours and gave more attention to individuals, the phenomenon of private tutoring could be reduced. One of the limitations of this work concerns the operationalization of the concept of school uneasiness. The questionnaire was in fact not conceived for this purpose but was aimed at quantifying and providing a general description of the phenomenon of private tutoring. This work however can be a starting point for further investigation about the student - teacher relationship, the quality of the classroom climate and school anxiety.

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