Regulating Private Tuition Industry in Sri Lanka

A Poster for a Tuition Class

I have only three years’ experiences as a teacher of English at two state schools and only a few months’ experiences as a private tuition master. Had I continued as one, I might have become a millionaire by now if not a multimillionaire. But I chose not to. I was more comfortable in teaching free of charge to the students in my village.

I share my thoughts about the private tuition industry in Sri Lanka and you obviously have the liberty to differ. Though I encourage liberalization of the economy, I still believe that the education should be low-priced if not totally free. I am the 8th child in a family of 9 children and EVERY MEMBER in my family benefited from free education. If we did not have free education, I wouldn’t have been able even to write this post.

The Poster War

My point is that the better way to counter the private tuition mafia (sorry, I had to use this 5-letter-word because I have seen it that way in numerous occasions) would be to empower/train/improve the present schoolteachers at state schools and also recruit good teachers from the private tuition industry to the state schoolteachers’ cadre. This would create a competitive structure based on the quality of education they provide. State schoolteachers will have to perform better to retain the job. If they don’t, like it happens in the western hemisphere, they should be laid off.

The private tuition classes could be done inside state school properties and this would also reduce the costs in the private tuition industry so that the benefits could directly go to students in terms of lesser tuition fees. In addition, students will have better security inside state school premises. The state schools could recruit either parents or security guards/caretakers when the tuition classes are held.

Private Tuition Classes Cluttered with the Students

(All photos used here are taken randomly from the Internet and used for public good.)

Back to Teaching English

It was after a few months that I got back to teaching English. On a request of a friend, I started an English tuition class for primary kids in Colombo.  The last time I did a tuition class was last year in Anuradhapura for three OL students and 2 of them got A passes while the other who did less homework secured a B pass.

I was not that interested in teaching primary kids earlier but yesterday, it was a different story. 9 boys and a girl had got together for the class and they had come with their parents amidst the torrential rains. First I talked to the parents for a few minutes and asked if the parents need just to increase the marks at the term tests of the students or me to provide a holistic English education that enable the students to speak, write, read and listen to English. If they chose the latter, it will take some time and the parents will have to wait for few months to see results. Parents preferred the second option. I said I would be using computers and internet a lot as teaching aid, and other reading, listening, speaking and writing material will be prescribed later. Parents and the kids equally liked the idea of computers being used. All children except one had computers at home and some had internet too.

Then started the class. I went to the class without much preparation as I had no idea about the English standards of the children. I insisted that the whole class will be done in English and no Sinhala explanations will be given. Students too will have to express themselves in English. It became successful from the very beginning.

We started with self-introductions and informal talks and I felt that the students’ English knowledge was pretty impressive. With this rate, students will be able to speak English in few months’ time and other skills also can be developed faster than I anticipated. I can download the necessary material from the internet and go to few bookshops and DVD shops as well. Kids these days need more technology to learn and we have to make the classroom an exciting place for them. Though the government has provided new technology and teacher training to the public school system, the instances of them being used is scarce due to various reasons. This is why a need has been created for private tutoring by adding an additional burden to parents’ pockets.

Janadhi was a very energetic and talkative girl who understood almost everything I said and responded quicker than others. She had a bigger vocabulary than the others and was a quick learner too. Anupama, a boy with an innocent look was the next best in responding and he was not shy to sing and talk. Sachithra was a very good cartoonist and drew a picture of Spiderman exactly like the original. The pint-sized Yuhan, though a Montessori student, was very active and knew words than some of the other students did. Ravindu was a very quiet student and did not answer a single question I asked. But I didn’t pressurize him at all and let him build his own confidence slowly. In few minutes he started responding slowly and there was applause from the other students for the every answer he gave. In no time, his shyness vanished and he began to respond like the other kids. Visal was a quieter student too, maybe due to lack of exposure and confidence, but will follow others very soon.

From the next week onwards, we will video some lessons of the class and let the students see how they perform by playing the video for them. This would help them to avoid mistakes and build up their confidence levels. This is something I tested at Horizon Lanka successfully.

Some of the parents stayed in the classroom till it was over as the rains prevented them leaving the classroom. According to my friend, the parents are satisfied with the class and they too needed an English class for adults. This is something I have to take time and decide.

Dialog eTeacher Program

Dialog eTeacher


I am working for Dialog Axiata on a short term basis contract on Nenasa education channel. I was interested in newly launched Dialog service, Dialog eTeacher and thought of taking a course or two. I started from the basics. Rather than asking Dialog for a free ride, I myself subscribed to the eTeacher service paying the regular fee through my personal mobile phone and tested two courses, Ordinary Level Sinhala and English Literature. I tested with a Dialog dongle from the second floor of Dialog’s Dharmapala Mawatha office. The subscription and registration process for a course was not that complicated. But the instructions were only in English even for Sinhala subjects. I think instructions should be made trilingual to make it easier for the user.

I first took OL Sinhala course offered by popular (and controversial) tuition guru Mr. Upul Shantha Sannasgala as I too am interested in Sinhala language. I have a Distinction for it at OL and a B at AL. Sinhala was my favorite language but due to professional reasons, I have to use English more.

Price of the Sinhala course was 150 LKR, a reasonable fee, I think, for any student.

Downloading the video lessons took more time than expected. This was disappointing at the beginning but the quality of the video was excellent. This is the compromise one has to come when it comes to online video content. The faster the downloading, the poorer the quality; slower the downloading the richer the quality.

Video – As far as I think, camera angles of the videos should be more academic and static showing only head and shoulders. They shouldn’t have videoed in artistic methods like zooming in and zooming out, reflections on tables which can distract the student. Better to have the teacher seated or standing up in a more formal place than on a settee. Teacher should dress properly, not casually. Mind you, there are thousands who are against the discipline of the private tuition teachers and their dress codes and such sensitivities should be taken care of. Overall, lessons were done perfectly well given the short time period allocated for a video. Students will prefer the videos than any other format and the videos are not too long to bore the student.

Notes – Attached notes look comprehensive and yet simple. They will definitely inspire the student more than the text books as the presented format in the computer screen is new. The PDF files of the lessons did not have the common Unicode errors that contain when converting to PDF. Extensive examples on grammar rules are given and this would enhance the student’s knowledge further.

Audio – Audio lessons are very clear as expected. It gives more or less the same content in the video and the students who access the lessons with a slower connection can download the audio files instead. It would have been better if the audio and video files could be saved by the student but one cannot simply ignore the copyrights infringements that could obviously follow. You would see the Dialog content freely available in Pettah for a song.

I did have some trouble starting my second course OL English Literature and when I contacted the help line it was directed to Dialog’s regular hotline 077-7678678 and gave me the same options such as reporting about lost mobiles, billing information, etc. I think Dialog should customize eTeacher helpline only to serve its needs without the student having to wait till all the regular options are read out by the helpline for which the student has nothing to do with. However, the helpline girl helped me satisfactorily to start the second lesson.

The cost of English course was 375 LKR, more than twice the price of the Sinhala course.

English tutor is Ms. Dhunushka Medawatte and I hadn’t heard anything about her till I subscribed to the course. But when going through her credentials, I found that she is a lecturer in a reputed Sri Lankan university and possesses a Diploma in English and Literature plus DELF diplomas in French. She has a 2nd upper in LL.B (English Medium) and Diplomas in International Relations (Hons) and in Industrial Relations and Industrial Law (IPM.)

Notes – When going through her notes, one understands that she has thorough knowledge of her subject. Notes are clear and to the point. Lengthy notes are available where necessary with more information about the authors of respective literary work. (Keener students can go to Wikipedia and other sources independently of Dialog eTeacher and access more information about the authors and their work.)

Audio – No audio lessons were uploaded yet.

Video – Available lesson was ok but the sound quality was very poor. There was an unnecessary hum in the background.

In both the courses, Dialog has not uploaded the full course content yet. I think that would be done soon as the students have already paid for the full courses. Dialog SMSes the student whenever a new lesson is uploaded to the site but it would have been better to start a course with total number of text, audio and video files.

Dialog’s initiative is an innovative step to uplift education and bridge the Digital Divide in the island. I hope Dialog would make the courses available through mobiles as well in future by enabling mLearning too.

* Views expressed here are my own and not in any way endorsed, requested or influenced by Dialog.