We’ll start with something bold, if controversial. Schools are not able to complete their missions on their own. As a career educator and educational leader of eleven years, I know. I’ve worked at and attended schools that are considered leaders, not only in their nation, but in their global region as well. All have had mission statements to develop students according to the needs of the individual learner; none have succeeded. You probably wouldn’t be visiting this site if they had. The very fact that private tutoring is such a successful endeavor for those who partake in it shows that the current system of formalized schooling simply does not develop every student to his or her greatest potential.
Understaffed and overcrowded, schools struggle to maintain a semblance of order even approaching that of criminal institutions. Overworked and underpaid, teachers, who mostly entered the profession with an altruistic vision of shaping the future through selfless work with children, become exhausted, frustrated, and cynical husks of their former selves, dragging themselves into work each morning for the sake of a paycheck or those few students who can manage to benefit despite the obstructions on their path to success. Overindulged and underserved, students must cope with a cookie-cutter learning plan; which, despite calls for differentiation, is the only way teachers can manage to cover core content written by curricular cronies thousands of miles away. Those who do manage to thrive in this environment are few and are constantly held back by the requirement of the teacher to dedicate time to those who have no desire to learn. Those with the desire but without the tools to overcome the roadblocks are left behind by a system named to prevent that very situation.
The fact of the matter is that someone always gets left behind. Whether it be the student needing remediation, or the advanced learner, the student with an empathetic learning style, or the child with autism; one teacher in a classroom simply cannot lead all of these students to the greatest potential of each. Homeschooling and supplemental instruction in the form of private tutoring provide a viable alternative for those who want more for their children. While the author believes that homeschooling is often the best alternative for students, it is also infeasible for many families. Some people genuinely lack the skill and patience to teach; others simply lack the time. In-home tutoring can also prove difficult due to prohibitive cost and, sadly, safety concerns.
Online tutoring is a realistic option for those who would like to enrich the learning experience of their children without paying exorbitant rates or inviting strangers into their home. Online learning environments have now advanced to a stage where interaction approximates in some aspects and exceeds in others that of face-to-face tutoring. Interactive whiteboards and virtual classrooms allow for real-time sharing and editing of documents, solving equations, manipulation of geometric shapes, graphing functions, text chat, video conferencing, research capabilities, and much more. Few classroom teachers have such tools at their disposal with which to engage individual learners at traditional schools.
Online tutoring also eliminates geographic boundaries, allowing parents and students to select the best option for their needs, wherever they are. Those who have always dreamed of seeing the 50 states or the cultures of the world with their children no longer have to sacrifice such a wonderful educational experience for the sake of another. Families living in remote locations can have quality instruction at their fingertips, and students across the globe can benefit from the best practices and unique perspectives of teachers on the other side of the world, helping to reach the often unmet goal of many schools: to create successful GLOBAL CITIZENS.
All this said there are things to look out for in online tutoring. Not all tutors or tutoring websites are created equal. Some have little or no concern for academic honesty, and few have even more than a cursory tip of the hat towards online safety. Some platforms can actually detract from the learning experience. Chat interface platforms such as Skype are great for casual and even business communication, but they were not developed as learning tools and should not be used as such. The add-on applications and social networking capabilities they come with can also serve as a distraction from learning and good time management. Many service providers also lack a focus on needs assessment and the individual learner, serving just as a meet-up forum where students can locate teachers and vice versa without any real dialogue between professionals and parents as to the best option for the student.
In a further white paper, we’ll discuss what to look for and avoid in online tutoring; but for now, let it suffice to say that there are services out there that address one or all of these issues. Whether you’re a homeschooling family or looking to augment the educational offerings of a traditional education, help can be found. With due diligence on the part of parents and students, a match is almost certainly out there that will enrich the educational experience of a committed student with a supportive family.