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Algeria Moves to Halt the Tutoring Trade

TLEMCEN, Algeria—More than a decade ago, tutoring was only for those students falling behind in school. Today, nearly every Algerian student wanting to advance to university has to get tutoring.

It’s a practice that has become lucrative for teachers and exploitive for many students, one pervasive across much of the Arab world. But in Algeria, education officials are moving to stamp it out.

The minister of education, Nouria Benghabrit announced she wants to institute spot-checks on schools to ensure they are not supporting extra-curricular classes. She also wants to start an information campaign to eradicate the practice.

“Regular checks are necessary to stamp out this unethical phenomenon in our schools,” said Benghabrit in late January.

“Parents should not panic as exams approach,” she added, referring to a time when the pressure is greater to sign up for extra tutoring.

It’s about time, say many parents.

“The teachers today profit well from the situation,” said Fatima Zahra, 50, a parent.  “They don’t offer courses to help struggling students understand the lessons and improve their grades—they do it for the money.”

Parents and students began seeking tutoring in greater numbers during the dark decade that began during the 1990’s—Algeria’s civil war. Tutoring gained popularity among rich parents who were afraid of sending their children to school.

When the conflict ended in 2002, the practice lingered and spread to middle and lower-income parents. At the same time, Algeria failed to reform its schools. The curriculum remained stagnant and outdated, and teachers’ salaries low.

As a result, many teachers began to see tutoring as a way to earn extra money. They defend it as necessary.

“We have a hard time making two ends meet with our salaries,” said Bouaid Samira, a high school teacher at Daoud Mohamed Djabli high school.  “They don’t pay us enough to teach.”

“If the teachers were paid justly, this would never exist,” she said.

But students and parents say the system has become exploitive, with the tutoring turning into mandatory classes.

“The teacher purposefully doesn’t teach the subject well in class so that we have to come to him for extra help,” said Fadia Bensaade, who is in her third year of high school at Medjaoui Habri. “And if he knew that we went to another teacher for help, he wouldn’t give us the grade we deserve.”

Public education is free in Algeria. But the cost of the extra help has climbed quickly over the past decade.

“When my older daughter was doing her baccalaureate in 2006, the price for a month of tutoring was 500 dinars, ($5.70)” says parent Fatima Ariout. “For my younger daughter who graduated last year, that was the price for a single two-hour session.”

These days, say parents, they need to plan for the cost of these sessions when estimating their child’s total education bill.

“I have to attend the extra help sessions,” said Nourhane Nesrine a student in her senior year of high school. “We have a math professor, who requires us to take classes at his house—hundreds of students attend courses in his garage.”

Students say if they are lucky a teacher will hold the sessions in an empty classroom. Otherwise, the students will be stuck sitting in a basement or a garage that is bare and cold. With more than 50 children in some sessions, students have to arrive up to an hour early to get a good seat.

But it is that practice that education officials say is the hardest to stop.

“We can stop this practice most effectively when these courses occur in our schools,” says Benghabrit. That’s why, she adds, it is necessary to educate parents and students about the issue, and call on teachers to have respect for the job they do.

Many teachers already condemn the practice. “Teachers are there to educate, it is a civic duty, but the ethical values aren’t respected today,” said Mohamed Boutcha, a teacher at the Remchi Secondary School.  “Everyone is just thinking of how to make quick money.”

Fatima Zahra, 50, who is also a secondary school teacher is bitter about the practice, which she says is hindering learning.

“There are also some who tell the students that if they take tutoring with them that they will receive better notes on the exam and then tailor their exams to the extra help sessions,” she adds.  “Some students (even) think that they are improving when they receive better grades on their exams. A teacher is expected to teach children but in our time, they have become businessmen who only think of making money.”

Parents hope education officials can make headway to stamp out the practice. “It’s absurd,” said parent, Mustapha Salah, an engineer, who called the tutoring industry exploitive. “It’s a deeply rooted problem that we need to deal with.”
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