Putting Our Students First

Feb 19, 2021   |   Huey Sze Low

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Photo by Thomas Park on Unsplash

When it comes to the topic of online learning, the debate about its merits and shortcomings could be endless. While some pros and cons are applicable to selected individuals, most of them are sentiments that resonate with most students, and even with the teachers.

Being a tutor myself, it took a great deal of effort to walk through the unchartered territory—or a path rarely travelled before this pandemic—of online learning. With different approaches towards lesson delivery, classroom management and assignments, there was much to change but too short a time. Just like myself, Elyssa Koh, a volunteer from Heartware Tuition Programme (HWTP), was one of many tutors who had to go through this foreign experience.

Compared to private tutoring, HWTP aims to be an avenue for students from low-income families or with parents who are incarcerated to be motivated in their studies and improve academically. In this aspect, my experiences certainly differ from Elyssa’s in many ways.

Attending tuition almost seems essential in order to excel in Singapore’s competitive education system. Likewise, tuition centres are becoming increasingly competitive. As a result, we increasingly see countless tuition centres boasting the best methods with the most rigorous curriculum to improve students’ academic standing.

With increasingly exorbitant tuition fees, not everyone can afford to attend these lessons. Without the necessary resources, students thus lose the opportunity to be on a level playing field as they lack the enrichment that they require.

Even during online tutoring and e-learning, the difference in resources is somewhat noticeable. Students may lack the technological infrastructure to effectively attend online lessons, as observed by Elyssa, “Some of tutees were unable to switch on their cameras as they do not have an available function on their computers, so I wasn’t able to see them face-to-face.”

This is where HWTP comes into play to fill that void. Individuals like Elyssa who are passionate about lending a helping hand, dedicate their time to help students with weaker foundations to improve in their academics.

In fact, not only do tutors at HTWP need to educate, it is imperative that they inspire as well. I find Elyssa especially admirable for putting her best foot forward to be a role model to her tutees. For these young children, conveying the right messages and providing the proper environment for them is also vital, especially as they enter their adolescence. As tutors, not only should we educate them in their academics, we should also inculcate the right values to them that can build their character in the long run.

Elyssa shared her experience, “I try my best to relate to them as a friend. It’s the best level to get across to them and interact with them. Sometimes, if I come across as an authoritative figure, they might not respond as well. In terms of being a role model, I try my best to send my positive learning attitude to them, that it’s alright to make mistakes and that there’s no shame in asking questions.”

Elyssa conducting a virtual HWTP session.

Hardships bear the fruit of resilience

Fortunately, as the COVID-19 situation eases in Singapore and restrictions relax, primary and secondary schools were able to reopen. Enrichment centres such as tuition centres, music schools and dance classes also resumed with proper measures in place.

Though we were met with obstacles during the prolonged online tutoring, our efforts were paid off with something much more rewarding.

Elyssa shared about a memorable experience earlier in September, “I had some time after tutoring to [the children] how they were doing. I found it memorable because I got to know them more than just a face on the screen. At the end of the session, I found out that the next session would only be a month away due to term break and exams. What really touched me was that at the end of the session, they were quite sad. I wasn’t going to see them for another month, and it was really touching to know that they looked forward to the session every week.”

Despite differences in student demographics or teaching styles, at the end of the day, the rewards of this online experience are invaluable for both of us. Aside from learning more about the various technological know-how, I also had the chance to get closer to my tutees. From getting them to perform a special talent over a Zoom tuition session to making arts and crafts together to learn better, online tutoring helped forge meaningful memories that transcend the boundaries of space. For myself, the fruits of my labour came in the form of handmade Teachers’ Day cards mailed over by my tutees. Even though we had never met physically, the relationship that is created over learning could be the biggest gift of online tutoring.

That being said, these glimpses into online tutoring are best summarised by Elyssa’s words, “The work that we’re doing, be it volunteer or paid tutors, will really go to enrich other’s lives. It’s also about putting our students first, so we shouldn’t give up even though we are faced with the challenge of moving online. Even though it’s a trying time for many of us, it’s an experience that would serve to enrich both tutors and tutees.”

As we shared our experiences with one another, I realised that as tutors, our role is to educate students and enrich their academic developments. While we are tasked to enhance learning, through this period, we have also taken up the role of ‘students’, as we embark on a new learning journey on online platforms as tutoring shifts online. At the finishing line of this journey, we received the invaluable rewards of gratitude.