TUITION WANTED: At what cost?
“At the beginning of 2019, I found myself desperately in need of a job. With no other alternative, I resorted to looking for a job as a tutor and found myself in direct contact with one of the many tuition media pages on Facebook. The conditions were that I would have to make an advance payment of BDT 500 and a payment of 50 percent of my first month’s salary, the latter of which the tuition provider agreed to take after I received the salary. However, when I did not take on the student he offered, due to lack of preparation and shortage of time till the student’s exam, the tuition provider got woefully angry at me and refused to return my initial payment of BDT 500.”
That was the experience of one half of this writing duo, and it barely scratches the surface of this nightmare mini-market that has formed within the ecosystem of already pre-existing problems such as excessive levels of coaching classes and the poor quality of in-classroom education at schools.
With the level of competition increasing and our education system becoming more exam-centric, parents are increasingly concerned for their children’s education. Many want to ensure that their children are getting that extra bit of help, and so opt for hiring tutors. On the other hand, the university students of today are part of a generation that not only has an intense workload but also has to deal with extremely high costs of both living and tuition fees. Many pay their own university fees by working, and with firms requiring qualifications that many students don’t have, tutoring school children is one of the most sought after options for university students.
People have become aware of the desperation of both parents and university students, and many have decided to take advantage of this situation. Seeing this need, tuition media pages have sprouted up all over Facebook. A quick search shows you pages where thousands of students are members.
However, the way these pages operate seems to disproportionately disadvantage the tutor. For parents, relying on the services of the tuition provider seems to be one of the most convenient ways to hire a tutor. For tutors, there is the chance of being treated unfairly, having to give in to the whims of these pages owing to their lack of options. The tuition provider acts as an intermediary for both parties—tutors and parents. Technically they are providing a service, but while a service fee would be charged to both parties, here the brunt of the cost falls on the shoulder of tutors.
We looked at the policies of about 11 such tuition media pages, and found that while many say that the media fee (usually about 50 to 70 percent of the first month’s salary) can be paid after receiving the payment, we also saw many of them asking for membership or registration fees before even setting up a meeting between parents and the tutor.
Posts mostly display the grade of the student, the number of days per week that the student needs to be taught, and the salary that will be paid. The About section explains how they work and makes promises such as “reliable tuition media”, “extraordinary tutor team” and “extra high quality tuition job”. Some even state their purpose is not business or profit, but rather to help both parties.
How true these claims are is difficult to verify. In addition, while they require tutors to provide a lot of information, their process for vetting parents is unclear. Rabita Ahmed*, a university student who tried finding students through these pages says, “I think they collect information from the students only and not the parents. This is why I’ve seen some pages ask the girls to take someone with them when they visit a new house.”
The problems don’t end there. Even pages requiring the payment of membership fees don’t explain how they will guarantee that tutors will get students, with some pages outright saying that it’s not always possible for them to find a student for everyone owing to the huge number of people wishing to tutor.
Syeda Afrin Tarannum, studying in North South University, recounts her experience, “There is one page where you have to pay BDT 500 to be a registered member. They claim they’ll give you a student within a specific time, with no consequences if they don’t. But if you do get a student, you must pay them 50 percent of your first month’s pay.”
Such instances are not uncommon. The primary aim of these pages, despite their claims, seems to be getting the media fee i.e. a portion of that first month’s pay from the tutors as fast as possible without taking the time and care to ensure the tutor and student are well suited to one another. This is problematic for both tutors and students but more so for tutors because there is an imbalance of power in the relationship between parents and tutors with parents having much more power as they’re the one with the resources. Even without tuition agencies, when people get students based on recommendations from people they know in real life, parents have been known to abuse their power.
Ikhtear Alam*, a student of a reputed private university who got a student through these tuition pages says, “I once taught a student for four months. The parent informed me he would pay me on the tenth day of each month and I agreed. However, after the first month, he stopped paying me and ultimately owed me close to BDT 20,000. I kept asking for it, but only received it after my parents called them up.”
The list of awful things students’ parents do is long, and include acts such as cutting percentages of the tutor’s salaries when they miss days, not paying for extra days, abruptly informing tutors that their services will no longer be needed, not showing the tutor the student’s report cards, not informing tutors that they might be going on vacation but expecting them to not look for new students in the meantime and wait for them to come back, and so much more.
Some pages require that you give the student a free trial class. Veronica Jessica Gomes, a third-year student in BRAC University says, “I once had someone running these pages tell me to take a free class and let the parent decide when and if they’ll pay. He behaved very rudely with me when he found out I had discussed my salary with the parent, saying I should not have done so, even though the parent was the one who brought it up.”
One of us called a tuition agency under the guise of a student, and we found this statement about their behaviour to hold true. We asked what happens in a situation where a tutor realises they don’t want to teach a particular student after meeting them. Initially, the man from the tuition agency simply responded, “Don’t apply.” On the question of whether we could change a student, the man in a threatening voice asked which university the caller was studying at. Upon getting the reply that he wouldn’t get the answer to that until we were sure if we would be using this agency’s help, he mellowed down and stated, “The students are good, you won’t need to change.” However, he did not explain how they ensure such an issue. We also asked if a tutor would get a refund upon cancelling, and he told us to quit within seven days, which is basically the time in which the tutor would have to pay a large chunk of their salary had they kept the job.
The ill-mannered behaviour of tuition pages appears to be getting normalised. Not only that, many seem to be run carelessly, not bothered as to how it inconveniences the people using it.
Gomes adds, “They don’t even mention the student’s name or gender. You have to call the parents to find out more information, and sometimes it ends up being pointless and a waste of time because you realise it might not be a good match.” She also mentions how unresponsive some of the pages are, sometimes not getting back to the tutor even after asking for information.
Of the people we spoke to, another common issue appeared to be that the pages ask for unnecessary information. Our survey of the policies of several tuition pages support this. We found tuition agencies asking for both National IDs and passports, blood groups, nicknames, numbers of friends and parents, and even one asking about the tutor’s marital status.
Afrin discusses this issue saying, “They just need proof that you are qualified to teach. I was once asked to show my passport, NID and my O and A Level certificates even when the student wanted SAT tutoring.”
On the more insidious side, we heard of cases where female students received irrelevant messages from the people behind these pages. Many use these pages to approach women and ask for meetings. In addition, nearly all the tuition pages ask for the tutor’s home address. This is unsafe for female students, since it is unknown if the agencies will face consequences if the information is misused. While parents can ask for such sensitive information when discussing how to proceed, there is no reason why tuition agencies need to know, especially because so many of these pages don’t show who the people running it are.
Ultimately, the main problem with these tuition agencies might be the lack of regulation. With no authority overseeing their activities and holding them accountable when they don’t treat the people using their services fairly, tuition media pages take advantage of people. We are unaware when and if regulations will be chalked up to ensure agencies don’t engage in misconduct. In the meantime, all tutors and parents can do is try to be alert, ask agencies questions, reject ones that ask for fees before receiving their first month’s salary, and warn others about the negative experiences they had with certain tuition agencies so they don’t suffer the way they did.
*Names have been changed for privacy.