Rising demands for tutoring in B.C. as COVID-19 concerns for in-person learning persist

As the uncertainty around in-person learning continues to grow amid rising cases of the Omicron variant, an increasing number of parents are turning to tutors for academic support.

Susan Cumberland, the founder of School is Easy Tutoring, said 2021 was her busiest year in 20 years of business, with a number of parents calling because they were worried about their kids falling behind.

“There was a 48 per cent increase in the number of tutoring hours in 2021 compared to 2020,” Cumberland told CBC News. “COVID has had a big influence on that. I’m certain of that because the students have definitely fallen behind.”

She said when the pandemic first hit in March 2020 more than half of her tutors and students cancelled their sessions and dropped out, but the demand for tutors picked up again the summer of that year.

“We ended up with an unprecedented summer. It was crazy. So many people were concerned about the loss of March-until-June and so they wanted their kids to catch up,” Cumberland said. 

By the fall of 2020, she said, parents continued to register their children for tutoring as many of them were still unsure when students would return to in-person learning and how successful the hybrid model would be.

Melanie Bannister, the centre director at Sylvan Learning Centre in White Rock, said she also started seeing an increase in students signing up for tutoring in September.

“I saw at the centre a lot of kids in grades one, two and three,” Bannister said. “They seem to really miss out on a lot of some of that foundation for learning to read.”

Bannister said she also noticed a number of high school students needing extra support in math.

Students are pictured going back to school on the first day returning to class at King George Secondary School in Vancouver on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022. (Ben Nelms)

“Having big gaps of not doing math actively had a really big impact, and of course, then the foundation is much weaker for moving forward with math,” she said.

On Monday, students K-12 in B.C. returned to classes with the plan that if too many school staff call in sick due to COVID-19, students will have to go back to online learning.

Worried about university applications

Both Cumberland and Bannister said they’ve also noticed an increase in high school students seeking tutors during the pandemic as many of them were concerned about their marks and their university applications.

“What I saw is that some kids had great goals to go to university, but they just checked out and they weren’t getting it online,” Cumberland said.

She said high school students, especially in grades 11 and 12, have already missed a week of learning this year as students didn’t return to school until Jan. 10.

An electric sign outside Earl Marriott Secondary School in Surrey, displays ‘Classes Resume January 10/22’ as students and teachers returned for the first day of classes. (Ben Nelms)

“I think next week, we’re going to have a deluge of calls coming in … because kids who are in high school are about to finish off a semester and they’ve lost a whole week in those subjects like chemistry and physics. That’s pretty tough,” Cumberland said.

Suzanne Sachinidas said she decided to sign her 17-year-old son up for one hour tutoring sessions when she noticed he was struggling with pre-calculus.

“He wanted to make sure he was going in with a strong mark, knowing that he would be applying for university this year now,” Sachinidas said, “and we couldn’t help him with this level of math.”

She said on top of the one hour weekly sessions, they also use a 24-hour help line where students can ask questions online and one of the centre’s tutors will answer.

“I think knowing that … you can have a tutor and have the support of somebody else who makes sure that you’re being accountable of your marks … we appreciate that resource,” Sachinidas said

Nancy Marie Pecchia said having a tutor for her 11 year old son has been beneficial as he has been learning from home since schools were shut down at the beginning of the pandemic.

“We started in September 2020 because there wasn’t an online option and I was worried about COVID,” Pecchia said.

She said with increasing daily COVID-19 case counts and another delay to the school year, she decided to continue to use tutoring services in addition to home-schooling.

“We have him in social studies. I pick up some school work for him at school for science, and then he has a tutor for Math and English as well,” she said.

Pecchia said she plans to continue to use tutoring to supplement her son’s learning and will consider sending him back to school in September 2022. 

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