DHAKA, Bangladesh — Students across the globe use private tutoring to get ahead, but in Dhaka, Bangladesh special academic coaching has almost become a cure and a curse.

“Coaching,” or tutoring, has become so ingrained in the Dhaka culture that parents of young children feel they must conform and hire private tutors or jeopardize their child’s performance in school. This unique phenomenon has changed the face of Dhaka’s primary education system; it has become so accepted that parents of all income levels send their children to tutoring, creating what may be an unfavorable culture and educational cycle.

The consensus we found among many of the primary school children we interviewed from both Bangla-medium and English-medium schools is that teachers do not teach thoroughly in school, but still expect students to thoroughly learn lessons.

Since it is difficult for young students to teach themselves complex concepts such as those in mathematics or science, students must seek out tutors to fill the gaps of what they don’t learn in school. Maya*, a student who is attending grade six at Little Jewel’s School, a Bangla-medium government school, also gets coaching three hours a day, five days a week. Maya believes that she learns more from her coaches than her teachers as she says her teachers do nothing but write on the blackboard and rush through lessons.

Students who attend the English-medium Greendale International School speak similarly of their experiences of coaching versus school. Eliza*, a student in grade 6 at Greendale International School, values tutoring; she says that she would not be able to complete her homework without it. When asked to give a rough estimate of the percentage of students in her class who receive tutoring, she gave an average of about 90 percent. 

This is in stark contrast to the estimate that teachers at Greendale International School give: They believe that only about 20-30 percent of their students receive tutoring. The teachers say they discourage coaching for primary school children, since they believe school provides enough hours of enrichment. Tutoring should be for weak students only, they say.

Although we did not survey each student at Greendale as to whether or not he or she uses a tutor, the differences in opinion on coaching show that it is not readily accepted by teachers, but students still consider it valuable.

Parents at all income levels, including those with lower incomes, send their children to coaching. We spoke to Howlader Kholil, a driver who works for a family in Dhaka. He emphasized again and again that “money is a big problem” in Bangladesh.

Money is why he sends one of his children to a Bangla- medium government school, the Power Development Board (PDB) School, where he pays 7,000 taka (about $100 U.S.) per year for tuition plus coaching fees. He sends his other child to a madrassa where he pays significantly less. Kholil pays coaching fees only for the son who attends government school: 500 taka ($7 U.S.) per month for math and 500 taka per month for English.

Kholil believes that a student must get coaching to do well in school. However, he believes that he is in a worse position than most other parents of children who attend the PDB School. He says that since they are able to afford more hours of coaching for their children, their children are more likely to do well than his son.         

Coaching seems to reinforce wealth as a measure of achievement.  While Bangladesh strives to provide free education for all (EFA) through primary school, coaching may undo much of the good work that this act generated. Coaching is perceived as a must for acceptable performance in school but, based on our interviews with students, parents, and tutors, the factors of money and class directly affect how much coaching a student receives, and apparently, how well he or she performs.

We cannot judge whether or not the teaching culture, and therefore the coaching cycle, will change. Many teachers make extra income from tutoring jobs, creating a culture and cycle that repeats itself, according to Sherman Moreino, a student at BRAC University and tutor at Summation Coaching Center in Dhaka.

However, we observed that coaching affects the daily life of the Bangladeshi family by taking away time that children would otherwise allot for their families or for extracurricular activities like music or dance.

Is this urge for additional learning worth the cost? Perhaps this is better than what Bangladesh has been struggling with since its inception: not enough learning.

Parents and their children are demanding quality education, but they believe they only get it through quality coaching instead of quality teaching. Still, educators and others hope that this growing demand will help convert Bangladesh’s education system into a system that works … without tutors.

*Names have been changed.

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