Private lessons – or “grinds” – are part of the life of many high school students. But what about grinds for elementary school kids?
A quick glance online will take you to hundreds of teachers across Ireland promoting their services on websites such as SchoolDays.ie to parents of young children.
Meanwhile, a number of companies, including some international franchises, are offering extracurricular classes to elementary school children. Business, by all accounts, is vibrant in part because of the impact of school closures and concerns about children’s loss of learning.
However, the growth of these grinds poses difficult questions for some: Are these services helping children, or are they putting them under unnecessary pressure? While they can provide life-saving supports, do they deepen inequalities and give more privileged children an added advantage over others?
School is Easy is an international franchise, originally founded in Canada, which recently moved to Ireland. The company offers pre-made online tutoring and a School is Easy app for on-demand tutoring, and uses subject matter experts to deliver lessons for elementary, secondary and even third-grade students.
Some of the children we work with are those who have been excluded from school and need academic support immediately
Roy and Maria Lalor are the master franchisees in Ireland and recruit franchisees all over Ireland who in turn recruit their own team of tutors.
“I am a retired teacher who worked for 30 years in the field of continuing education,” says Roy Lalor.
“I worked in a PLC in Finglas because that was where I could do the most good and now, using this profession, I can help the learners. We can offer interventions for people with literacy or numeracy issues or for a child in grade 1 who does not understand math and may not be able to communicate their needs in a large classroom.
“There are children who cannot get by in the one size fits all [Irish] education system and, for many of them, early intervention can make a big difference. Some of the children we work with are those who have been excluded from school and need academic support immediately. And we can support families who home school their children but may not have the skills in areas like math.
Another organization with a more established presence in Ireland is Kumon International. Originally founded in Japan in 1954, the program allows children to complete worksheets and literacy sheets daily. Children should devote approximately 15 minutes to their Kumon work each day and each Kumon center will tailor a program for each child.
Kumon says there are more than 70,000 students learning at 650 study centers in the UK and Ireland – and four million students worldwide – and that its programs “aim to develop independent and advanced learners. , with a positive attitude towards studying “and” achieving a level of study beyond the international standard for their age. “The program is designed for gifted and struggling children.
Dr Paul Downes is Associate Professor of Psychology in Education and Director of the Center for Educational Disadvantage at Dublin City University. As a member of the National Working Group on School-Age Child Care, under the auspices of the Ministry of Children and Youth Affairs, he raised concerns about the “schooling” of the sector. extracurricular.
“The idea is that we should not go in the direction of more [academic learning] after school because it puts a strain on children’s mental health, ”he says. “Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child emphasizes the need for children to rest and be entertained. It is really important to instill a love of reading, but over-structured time can risk [damaging] this love of reading.
Schools made heroic efforts, but some parents or guardians were just not comfortable or able to act as educators
“Over-structure in the extracurricular sector could lead to a loss of initiative, and it is much better for children to learn through play and unstructured time. If a child is struggling on an individual level, there may be a case for non-intensive extracurricular support. However, the educational benefits for students who are already doing well are questionable, as they impact the self-directed element of learning.
Downes says a lot depends on how often structured learning after school takes place.
“Not very intense one-on-one support, maybe once a week, is not a hotbed, and there are remedial literacy programs such as Doodle Den that can be invaluable – although the potential fatigue of a child should be taken into account. “
Pressure on families
The closure of schools during Covid-19 has put pressure on families – whether it is a stay-at-home parent struggling to act as a teacher or a working parent trying to balance their work with the demands of ensuring their children do their schoolwork – and Lalor says this has seen a growing demand for School is Easy’s services.
“People want their kids not to fall behind,” Lalor says. “We are aware of the idea that they might be doing too much, but no one thinks twice if a child is good at sports and is encouraged to do so. We adapt the tutor to the child and find someone who can meet their needs. Schools made heroic efforts, but some parents or guardians were simply not comfortable or able to act as educators.
Downes believes there is an equity issue at stake and Irish children would benefit more from an extracurricular strategy that makes informal learning accessible to everyone, not just those who can afford it.
“Parents have the freedom to invest their money however they want, within reason and within parameters. But a stronger national extracurricular strategy focused on project-based learning around a range of themes, including food, the arts, outdoor education, where they can develop skills in science or geography, music, theater and more.
Kumon was approached for comment.
Are we doing enough to compensate school closures in the event of a pandemic?
In September, the Ministry of Education announced funding of € 50 million for a new remedial learning initiative.
The Covid Learning and Support Scheme (Class) will provide additional funding for schools to hire qualified part-time teachers to support students who have fallen behind due to Covid-19.
The fund supports the provision of additional teaching hours as well as opportunities for schools to share the practice that is considered to be the most effective in mitigating learning loss.
It has been well received by the Irish National Teachers’ Organization, although their secretary general, John Boyle, says more resources will be needed.
However, Professor Judith Hartford and Dr Brian Fleming, both academics at UCD’s School of Education, say this is an inadequate response and at least € 100million would be necessary, “and this may have to be repeated over several years.”
With concerns that some children are falling behind during the pandemic, could the growth of private, study-oriented after-school programs for elementary school children further widen inequalities?
Dr Paul Downes of DCU’s Center for Educational Disadvantage said that while the initiative is an important start, it needs to be integrated into a larger strategic vision.
“The Class program should not be just a one-off operation, but the first step towards a strategic vision of sustainable after-school supports to help fight poverty and social inclusion, and these should be varied and diverse. high quality. Children from marginalized backgrounds should benefit from the same cultural opportunities and the same cultural enrichment activities, ”he says.