Friday, September 29, 2006

Homework and e-tutoring

Today, this Reuters article about outsourced private tutoring and homework popped in to my news aggregator. It put me in mind of recent posts by Harold Jarche among others.

Since I work outside of the field of formal education, I don't really feel qualified to pass judgement on whether this is a Good Thing or a Bad Thing, but it would be interesting to watch the conversation develop. I feel a bit like Diane Stark Rentner of the Center on Education Policy in Washington, who says, in the article:

"The big test is whether the kids are actually learning. Until you answer that, I don't know if you can pass judgment on whether this is a good or bad way to go,"
A Blogger search for "homework" revealed several blogs that are covering this topic at the moment, including this response to the original Reuters article from Michael Shedlock.

Obviously, there is some resistance to off-shore e-tutoring from teachers' unions in the US, who feel that the quality of tutoring that the kids receive online will not measure up the standards of an onshore provider. If it is true, as Michael quotes Time CNN as saying, that "80% of the kids entitled to after-school tutoring--at taxpayers' expense--aren't getting it", then surely it's better than the status quo. Do I get the impression that these folks would rather that the kids continued to underperform until such time as they can find a solution that they control?

From where I sit it all seems a bit hinky, but then I'm an outsider.


Anonymous said...

There is another angle to consider in these developments and that is the whole concept of homework and what purpose it actually serves whether tutors for it are on or offshore. There are moves here in Australia to rethink what homework should consist of. Kids in primary schools where I teach have far busier lives than I did at their age - with parents chauffeuring them from one pre-planned activity to another. Add to that the fact that many kids commute from one parent's house to the other's in shared custody arrangements and where homework fits into a busy child's lifestyle is a real issue. Also with childhood obesity as at a critical level in Australia, is "chaining" the kids to the homework desk or computer for another hour or two after the school day has ended such a vital cog in their future? I do think that here in Australia there is a big push on homework, mainly from parents and politicians, and it has fed an industry of tutor programs as you point out (Kumon is an example) where kids are put under the pump using traditional drill and rote methods their parents "fondly" remember from their school days. These programs are not cheap so turning to the web and outsourced tutors are a non-surprising next move which is still to gain momentum her down under. I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with it but a web savvy parent could probably construct a tutor substitute program from free web resources - a great example of this Darren Kuropatwa and his Maths blog tutor program for his niece.

Anonymous said...

As a matter of interest, Graham, what time does the school day start and end in Australia?

I was once offered the opportunity to become a Mastermaths tutor, but resisted. My brother-in-law is a Kumon (maths) tutor and he has always nagged me to enrol my kids - he thinks it's the greatest thing since sliced bread. I just can't bear the thought of more structured lessons outside of school hours, when the school day is already so long. I also worry that they "teach to the test" and don't engender any real improved depth of understanding of mathematical principles.

Anonymous said...

Our school day generally runs from 8.45 am until 3.15 pm with 30 minute breaks for recess and lunch, Monday to Friday. Of course, the teachers' days run much longer than that. We have a Kumon centre just around the corner from our house here and it's cars and kids there from 3.30 to 6.30 every evening. I too worry that it is worksheet based learning without depth or relevance - but there is a real market for it to fix real or perceived problems.