Tutoring Reflects School System’s Failure

Tutoring Reflects School System’s Failure

In Germany, as in many other countries, school has not functioned properly for many years. It has also been discussed and debated for many years. One point that, in my opinion, receives far too little attention instead of helping a failing student on the issue of tutoring. As a rule, a pupil gets extra tuition if he or she falls back in the material and the grades get worse and worse.


There has always been tuition in various forms.

In the simplest form the parents or siblings or perhaps also a relative sit down with the child and explain, what it did not understand or practice, which does not sit yet correctly. Here actually hardly someone speaks of Nachhilfe. If the problems are very massive, the persons in the closer periphery of the child are overtaxed or have no time, then the paid Nachhilfe comes into play. Either it concerns then an older pupil, a student or perhaps also a teacher or other specialist. And all of them demand money for the tutoring service. Today, tuition means in most cases tuition in a specialized institute.

According to a Bertelsmann study (see link at the end of this article), about one in nine students receives tutoring and parents spend an estimated 942 million to 1.47 billion euros on it in Germany every year. The majority of students from grammar schools and secondary schools are customers of private tutoring institutions. However, fourth-grade primary school pupils are also already involved with about 15% (according to the IGLU study 2006). Tutoring is expensive and therefore not every family can afford this luxury. Presumably, the number of students taking professional tuition would be even higher if the costs were lower.

Tutoring becomes real industry

What I find frightening about all these figures is the fact that tutoring has become a real industry. The well-known institutes now have branches in every major town. There is a need everywhere. For me, this phenomenon is the ultimate manifestation of the failure of schools in Germany. How can it be that pupils outside school have to seek such massive help in order to survive in the school system? How can teachers reconcile their professional ethics with the fact that their pupils do not learn enough from them to meet their requirements? Ultimately, this is no different than when a patient goes to a medicine man after insufficient treatment by doctors.

At school, the topic of professional tutoring is usually hushed up. Somehow it is also embarrassing in the end. Those who admit that pupils make up for what teachers cannot afford with external help have to admit their own failure.

It is no longer surprising to me that in some other countries pupils get by almost completely without extra tuition. No one will be surprised that these are exactly the countries that have scored well in the international learning tests, Canada, the Netherlands and, of course, Finland.

We know what is going on differently in these countries, and school policy has already responded to some of them. Pedagogy has also been much more advanced for a long time. Keywords such as individual support, individual learning, pupil-oriented teaching and similar reflect this. Only in schools and teacher training is there currently little interest in this.

Pupils’ problems at school

Many teachers complain about a lack of upbringing by their parents as well as a lack of willingness to learn, laziness and disinterest and also stupidity among their pupils, and see this as the cause of their pupils’ problems at school. Even though there are no methodologically flawless and comprehensive studies on the effectiveness of tutoring, “studies tend to indicate that tutoring actually works” (FAZ article). It certainly works not only because parents pay for it, or because it is the last and only way to avoid staying seated or save a degree. What the tutoring definitely shows is that students who don’t learn at school can learn no matter what moves them.

Especially those teachers who attribute the failure of their lessons to the students, their parents or other external factors should keep this fact in mind. Something about your reasoning does not fit here.

For me, it is one of the most compelling evidence that school needs to change. And it’s all about changing teaching, whether we have a unified school or a structured school system in whatever form. Teaching is and remains the central element of school. This is where change has to start first.

Changes in the structure of a school, whether a standard school or a structured school system, whether a half day or a full day, whether 45 or 60 minutes of lessons, can support these changes or, in the worst case, also affect them, but cannot make them impossible. That, at least, is my conviction. It only needs people who want the change.

Zaida S. Goodman

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