Updated: Jul 2
It fills me with much pride to say that in Trinidad, we place a very high value on education. Even the poorest of parents or those with the lowest levels of formal education try to make sure that their children get the best opportunities, no matter the financial or emotional burden. It’s the classic “rags to riches” story here in our beautiful land. Take for example, our great silver fox, the Honourable Basdeo Panday, who walked bare-footed for miles just to attend primary school and later became the fifth prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago in 1995. It’s a story that many of us know - one that inspires us to be resilient on the quest for excellence in education.
However, we have an incorrect view of education as being almost entirely academic in nature. We continue to wrongly value people’s level of education based on purely academic standards. This has contributed to a very cutthroat culture and unhealthy competition throughout our schools, starting from as early as Primary Infants Level. At the final stage of primary school, we compete for top placement in SEA to secure limited spots in “prestige” schools. Similarly, at the form 5 level, we then compete for top grades which we mistakenly believe are the ultimate gateway for future employment and further educational opportunities. This has created an obsession with SEA performance, prestige schools and CSEC grades causing teachers, parents and students to exhaust drastic measures no matter the physical, emotional or mental cost.
This obsession is what has made extra lessons commonplace in the primary and secondary school journeys. Extra lessons are now almost a compulsory part of students’ academic lives. We somehow believe that more is always better. Without proper diagnosis or intervention, we enroll our children in extra lessons for even a 1% slip in overall percentage in an end of term report in form 2. We spend thousands of dollars in extra lessons fees every year just to make sure our children have a spot in the cramped classes of the most popular, “best lessons teachers”. Who cares if after a long day of work, that you have to try to catch some Z’s in your car while you wait for your child to be done with lessons? Who cares that after 8 hours of school, 4 hours of extra lessons, plus homework from 8 school teachers and 3 lessons teachers, that your child does not have any energy to just be a kid and enjoy some play time? No, really? Who cares that the mental and emotional health of both parents and children are deteriorating rapidly, causing much strain on their relationships?
There are many factors which affect learning and achievement. We need to do a thorough assessment to understand the unique circumstances of our children and take a holistic approach in catering to their learning needs. This is the only way to develop strategies that support and increase learning and achievement. It is only then that we can decide if enrolling in extra lessons is warranted. Check out my last article to learn about good assessments here: https://www.tgarcia.education/post/good-assessments-support-and-increase-learning
It’s about time we become more intentional and resourceful while honouring the overall well-being of both ourselves and our children, as we seek to provide them with the best opportunities that allow them to thrive not only academically but holistically.
Here are some things that you can do to better understand your child’s unique learning needs and create a sound plan for overall success:
Talk to your child’s teacher. Since teachers spend the most time with our children during their school years, they are able to provide valuable insight on strengths, weaknesses, types of intelligences and other personality traits. This is useful in making a decision on what type of extra support or help might be needed. A teacher can advise on strategies that will improve and increase learning which may or may not include extra lessons. Teachers are also trained to pick up on signs of emotional and/or learning disabilities which parents may not be able to discern.
Talk to your child! This one is very important. We do not speak to our children enough. Build a safe relationship with your child so that he/she can openly communicate about different challenges that they might be facing. Oftentimes these might not even be academically related but they do affect academic performance.
Talk to other parents. Connect with other parents, especially those who have children around your child’s age. Find out about what they’re doing to support learning. For younger kids, you can organise playdates which can then turn into study dates. Even if extra lessons are warranted, you and the other parents can then share the responsibilities of organising classes.
Talk to other teachers or education experts. Other teachers can give additional insight into what’s currently happening in the classroom. They’ll also be able to help you find lots of resources that you can use. If you are still unsure about where to begin with creating a success plan for your child or figuring out if he/she needs extra support, you can register for a free consultation with T. Garcia Education at https://www.tgarcia.education/freeservices
Finally, and most importantly, please do not feel pressured to enrol your child in extra lessons if it is not within your financial capacity to do so. There are tons of free resources available that can provide additional academic support. My personal experience with learning with https://www.khanacademy.org/ and https://www.mathsisfun.com/ was incredible. I even used these websites as teaching tools in my days as a teacher. Fellow local brilliant teachers also have great free content such as Kerwin Springer of the Student Hub https://kerwinspringer.com/ and the renowned Fayad Ali and Shereen Khan https://faspassmaths.com/ If you do not have devices or access to the internet at home, our local libraries are equipped with free devices and wifi (also a favourite place of mine when I was a student). Please feel free to reach out to me to find out about additional free resources.
I know this was quite a read but there is not enough information about extra lessons from credible sources and many parents are misinformed or completely lost. It is a conversation that needs to be had, as it continues to have a significant impact on our children’s mental and emotional well-being. Thank you for reading.