The modern-day obsession with success has hit overdrive in Lebanese schools. While it is a trend that is difficult to quantify, it is obvious to anyone with a child in school or who works in education: students have never been under more pressure to outdo their peers academically.
This pressure is compounded by well-meaning, if sometimes misguided, parents who naturally want the best for their children and resort to any means to ensure what they perceive as their children’s happiness. Those means include hiring the best tutors money can buy to boost grades and secure a spot in a reputable university.
It is the new norm for students as young as seven-years-old to have after-school tutoring in almost every subject. This is a trend that now continues on through university where students regularly pay for tutors to help with their course work.
Private tutoring is not new to Lebanon, but in recent years its scope and the profits it yields has widened to the extent that an entire unregulated industry is being built around it, with a plethora of new companies opening up offering to source tutors for students for any subject they need, in exchange for a percentage cut of the tutor’s fee. Independent tutors, and especially the reputable veteran ones, can easily pull in $100 for a two-hour session. The closer the examination period is, the higher the prices go, but many parents willingly dish out this amount.
“I want the best career for my daughter and I do not believe that our universities here can provide her with the education to achieve this. Ivy League universities are competitive of course and this is why my daughter needs to be in the top 10 of her class; this is why we got her a tutor,” says Maha, the mother of a student at the American Community School of Beirut. Maha pays her daughter’s physics tutor a $100 per session, three times a week, amounting to $1,600 per month. “It is equivalent to a school tuition, but if it means getting into an Ivy League university, then I do it gladly,” explains Maha.
But the pressure on children is undeniable, regardless of the nature of the tutoring. As a professional educator in my past career, I once tutored an eight-year-old who had three other tutors for different school subjects, one for guitar lessons and another for basketball: his breaks during the day were to eat — while watching “scientific documentaries” — and sleep. Though the boy would have achieved good grades even without all the extra lessons, his parents’ reasoning was that they wanted him to have the most well-rounded and competitive CV possible.
One can try to argue that there is no harm in all this tutoring when it leads to better performing students, who end up in good universities and later good careers. But besides missing out on the simple pleasures of childhood, such as play and leisure time, the danger is that students become too dependent on their tutors and on receiving extra help. This is showing in the attitude that some have in the classroom, with many teachers I know complaining that students who are ‘over-tutored’ become too used to having a second chance to learn what they are being taught, and thus their concentration lags.
To a certain extent, tutoring can be necessary and helpful at the high school level when students are still young and are required to study compulsory topics they might not be good at. At the university level however, students are expected to be young adults studying a topic of their own choice, meaning that they should be able to prepare independently. But when they have been raised to have someone holding their hand at every step, it becomes difficult to wean off that habit and so tutoring thrives. The question is: where does it stop? Will it become acceptable to bring your tutor with you to work? It seems we are raising the next generation to be comfortable with being coddled, leaving the future of independent thinking and creativity — exactly the traits that have made Lebanese so employable in the region and around the world — in doubt.
Nabila Rahhal is Executive's Consumer Society editor