//vol.15-2 Youth Speak

Gwen Sin


Conversations with different youth featured in this section provide a qualitative approach to the implications for equity in education.


The Norm in My Life

Alex Geller, 15 years old studying in Hong Kong

“We don’t need no education”, sings my father who constantly blasts his favourite song, “Another Brick in the Wall” at home. I wished that could be my mantra, but I know it can’t. School and tutoring to supplement my studies have become the norm in my life. There are three things I want to share about tutoring, which I called the 3Ts.


T1: The Three Subjects

To prepare me for the transition from elementary to high school in 2020, I had to receive tutoring for three subjects: Maths, Science, and Mandarin. During that year, it was also the outbreak of COVID-19. COVID-19 prohibited us from attending classes physically and made me feel less prepared for the exams, which was why my mother sent me for private tutoring. So I’ve experienced online and physical lessons as part of my exam preparation. But all I could remember was putting on a mask, a permanent feature during our lessons.


T2: Thankful

The results were out – I made it to high school! I am
thankful that I did well and especially to my tutoring teachers, who seem to have more faith in my academic
capabilities than my parents and me.


T3: Tenacity

Anybody could have mistaken that my mom was the one who coerces me to sign up for private tutoring even when I am in high school now. On the contrary, I was the one who asked my mom for the extra lessons after school. I feel I need the tenacity to carry on with the private tutoring and to continue managing my learning well. It is not to chase A grades. That is not my purpose, and neither is it my parents』 expectations. The learning environment, friends, and a nurturing teacher are the key reasons for me to continue with private tutoring.


Greater Sense of Achievement from Self-Study

Oriana Hon is an undergraduate in her final year of studies.

My parents used to encourage me to study hard for good grades without the help of others when I was young. So I did not sign up for private tutoring in the past, as I did not see the need to. There is also a greater sense of achievement and accomplishment when I got good grades with my own efforts. At times when I failed to receive good grades, I would tell myself I have tried my best at least, and I think having this mindset is better than the constant pursuit of good grades.

Whenever I encountered questions or an unfamiliar topic, I would seek advice from my teachers, parents, or sister. They are more than happy to go through the doubts with me again.

I would often be preoccupied with extracurricular activities such as swimming, ballet, and ice skating. I would rather be participating in these activities than to be going for private tutoring. Going for private tutoring can be stressful while going for extracurricular activities are more beneficial to my overall personal development.


Another Avenue for Guidance to Better Learning

Alexander Tsang, is an undergraduate in his final year of studies.

Not all tutoring is the same. My experience with it varied significantly depending on the intention behind each session. Having received tutoring throughout primary and secondary school, lessons became more constructive as I gained more autonomy over their purpose. The most enjoyable sessions tended to be task-focused and self-motivated, with the occasional prods in the right direction.

There are many benefits from being tutored in a group setting. We pooled our thoughts together or spurred one another on with some healthy competition. Regrettably, this is only sometimes the case. I vividly remember an English writing session about ten years ago where this older boy aimed his toy airsoft pistol at me for half the lesson. It was only after an incident of negligent discharge that he was made to put it away begrudgingly. By the end of the hour, only two lines were written.

I would not recommend private tutoring as a way to stay emotionally motivated, though it did help me maintain an adequate level of practice throughout the year. To interrupt the ‘forgetting curve’, one needs a measure of tailored past questions covering a sufficient breadth of topics spaced at regular intervals. As long as exam grades are used to evaluate academic performance, private tutoring provides a sensible alternative source for guidance.


Extra Time to Grasp Concepts

Tejas V Hirah has just finished his bachelor’s degree and works as a freelance private tutor.

I had my fair share of tutoring in my younger days ranging from going for lessons at reputable tutoring centres to having private tutors. I also worked as an assistant teacher in 2020, while waiting for matriculation into University. I also give private tutoring for English and Malay now and then. So I would say that I have a well-rounded perspective on tutoring as I was on the receiving end and am now on the giving end for private tutoring.

The biggest merit of attending tutoring is about having extra and more focused time to grasp concepts. In school, we are limited to our class timings and can be in classes of up to a high ratio of students, which can make it only partially conducive to grasping the lessons. With tutoring, I had the extra time to digest and grasp concepts, learning at my own pace.

I attended extra tutoring specifically for mathematics and science. I have always been inclined toward language, humanities, and the arts. However, mathematics and science were my weak links. I also felt more comfortable asking questions during tutoring, as compared to school. In school, I felt more conscious to ask questions in front of friends and also I felt that some teachers did not respond well to questions that they deemed “stupid questions”. With tutoring, I was paying for their time and to clarify and ask as much as I wanted to.

While I do vouch for tutoring, I must also add that having freelanced in the tutoring industry for four years now, Asian parents tend to go overboard with private tutoring, often overloading the child. This can be counterproductive as the child is given too much to absorb and ends up not absorbing anything at all. tutoring also must be used in moderation for it to be most effective.


Possibility of Influencing Lives

Nicole Tse has been an English tutor at an enrichment centre for 12 years.

My journey with giving private tutoring began at 17 when I was still a secondary student. At that time, I was asked by my school to tutor some junior students who were lagging in their studies. Initially, I took it up solely to earn some extra pocket money. After all, the hourly tutoring rate was at least twice higher than other part-time jobs. The monetary reward was incredibly attractive to me then.

Being a private tutor on the side is cool and monetarily rewarding, but developing it as a career is something else. Almost everyone I have encountered would display some sort of bewilderment, disbelief, or slight disapproval when I told them I worked as a full-time tutor. Compared with other jobs like lawyers, doctors, or bankers, being a ‘tutor’ is perhaps a not-so-glamourous job, or more brutally speaking, a ‘lowly’ or ‘skill-less’ job. Not many would consider it a proper job unless you are the business owner. It’s not as ‘professional’ as a lawyer, not as ‘well-paid’ as a banker, and not as ‘stable’ as a school teacher.

Tutoring is like being a sole proprietor running our own business. My earnings are dependent on the number of students I have. I need to build a customer base from scratch to have a good reputation that enables me to get referrals and have more students to teach. If one student drops out, I will bring home less but it inevitably creates a new layer of fear and uncertainty.

Nonetheless, I still choose to be a private tutor as my career, as it gives me the great inner satisfaction I get from teaching students, building relationships with them, and the possibility of influencing lives. Tutoring allows me to get to know a student deeply. I am not just passing knowledge to them, but also knowing each of them individually, including their personalities, background, and family situations. I love empowering them through tutoring, and seeing them enjoy learning and eventually improving their English gives me unspeakable joy. Giving tutoring has become part of my life. When giving lessons, I never feel like I am ‘working.’ It is the feeling of doing something I enjoy naturally and am passionate about.

Throughout the years, I have made some observations from tutoring students. First, many kids these days are ‘warriors’ fighting in the exam battles. In this result-driven and highly competitive society, every score counts. Parents and tutors like myself are working neck to neck every day to help these ‘warriors’ win every battle. Sometimes, it feels like a dilemma, because learning is supposed to be fun, but it’s more realistic to learn to score. Learning becomes an agenda, not something stemming from sheer curiosity to understand more about this world. Students tend to feel tired from the endless school work, thus losing sleep and fun childhood time. Therefore, to empower and equip these ‘warriors’ without terrifying or making them over-stressed, we need the right balance of discipline and love, harshness and encouragement, and pushing and pulling. The education system or learning culture might not be changed overnight, but we can adapt our method and walk with the kids every battle of the way.

Does private tutoring help? It depends on many factors like students’ learning ability, students’ input, tutor’s teaching style, parents’ follow-up, etc. Generally speaking, I’ve noticed over the years that those who received tutoring at an earlier age tend to fare better than children who came for tutoring at a later age. That was because the former can benefit from extended, personalised teaching which addresses students’ weaknesses and individual needs in learning, which can hardly be achieved from regular curriculum education alone.


Only The Most Suitable Tutor, Not The 「Best」 One

Sophy Chum has been a private tutor for one year. She is currently still an undergraduate.

I believe we should provide students with plenty of compliments and encouragement. This helps to build their confidence and keeps them motivated to continue learning. Positive reinforcement goes a long way in helping students to feel good, not only about themselves but also their progress, raising their self-confidence and self-esteem.

One of my students has won a lot of medals in chess but wasn’t interested in studies. It’s important to recognise that not all students are the same. Good tutors should be willing to teach students of all levels and abilities. We ought to be patient, understanding and adaptable in our teaching approach so that we can cater to the needs of each individual student.

There is no such thing as the “best” tutor, only the most suitable one. If we are willing to put in the effort we can be the most suitable tutor for them. A suitable tutor is crucial in understanding a student’s temperament and providing the best individualised lessons.

Tutors can also benefit from teaching. I can gain valuable experience, and develop my patience and communication skills. I have learnt much, particularly how to relate to students. I also feel a great sense of satisfaction when my students achieve their goals. I can see that all my students have improved themselves, both their self-confidence and their academic results. This feeling of accomplishment is a great source of motivation to continue my teaching!

The basic requirement to attain a good grade is to be hardworking. I personally believe that no matter what you set out to do, hard work is the key to achieving good results and reaching our potential.

Good grades are the result of a combination of factors, including hard work, intelligence, and a good teacher. A good tutor can inspire and motivate students, provide effective instruction and feedback, and offer guidance and support when needed. Unlike school teachers who often teach in a ratio of about 1 to 30, many private tutors can provide 1 to 1 tutorial services which focus more on the student’s needs.

I am currently a first-year student at HKU and have a lot of academic obligations and responsibilities. I don’t have much leisure time for myself, I need to be very organised, have better time management and manage to find a balance between my own studies and helping others.

Some of my family members, particularly my grandparents, worry that I am too tired and busy. They have asked me to cancel some tutorials if I get too pressured. I am extremely grateful for their love and care, but thankfully, I can deal with all my stuff and achieve a satisfactory work-life balance.

I am normally a cheerful, kind and caring person, but sometimes, I do lose my temper. Then, I remind myself that what I am doing is not for myself and that I am trying to help someone else.

I’m very sure that although I may not be the best tutor, I’ll always try my best so that my students can achieve their life goals.

My philosophy towards learning and education is that encouragement is better than criticism, no matter whether we are in school or university. Only with a positive mindset can we make education less stressful.