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By Michael Boriero
Local Journalism Initiative

Last week, Fédération des syndicats de l’enseignement (FSE) President Josée Scalabrini expressed her opinion about the significant uptick in after school tutoring services and how, in theory, it could create two classes of students.

Scalabrini, who is quoted in La Presse, noted that not every student can afford tutoring services, which in turn could put a spotlight on social inequalities in Quebec. She also said that due to cuts to the education system, teachers have less time for individual attention.

In an interview with The Record, Scalabrini explained that her position in La Presse stemmed from a question about the rise in tutoring and inequality in Europe. According to the president, she was simply responding to whether a similar situation is developing in Quebec.

The use of tutoring services isn’t a new phenomenon, Scalabrini continued, but it has often been reserved for families with the means to pay for it. However, she does have qualms with the overuse of the term ‘tutoring’, which she views as problematic for educators.

“We need to be careful how we use the word ‘tutoring’. When we do homework supervision, recovery, even extracurricular activities, it’s not always tutoring,” said Scalabrini, adding the definition of the term is being used too loosely in the province these days.

She also believes if the government were to release funds for tutoring, it should be given to school boards and community organizations. But her opinion has left a bitter taste for those working in the tutoring sector, particularly out of Phelps Helps, a service in Stanstead.

Phelps Helps High School Program Coordinator Sarah Elliott told The Record that Scalabrini’s comments in the La Presse article raised some red flags. Her team was discouraged to hear about the FSE president’s attitude towards initiatives and programs outside of schools.

“We were just really disappointed that she wouldn’t take more of a tone of ‘hey, let’s work together’, education is like a complex, multi-faceted, multi-layered experience and we wish she had leaned into the idea of collaborating and working together on different levels,” she said.

Elliott believes tutoring services add a lot of value to a student’s educational experience. Kids need a space, time, and resources to succeed outside of school, she explained, especially when it comes to homework, which usually comes into play later in the evening.

But parents are normally busy, Elliott added. They have jobs, dinner to cook, preparations for the next morning, so Phelps Helps acts as a “parent” by encouraging students to study and complete their homework. And it’s too much to ask teachers to tutor after school.

“These positions that teachers fulfill are already full-time positions, so that’s my only sort of thinking, how can a teacher in a public school put in more hours than they do? It’s a well-documented fact that they put in a heavy work week,” said Elliott.

And at least for her organization it isn’t as though tutors are ill-equipped to provide one-on-one expertise. Elliott said they screen all of their volunteer candidates — Phelps Helps is a free service — to ensure students are receiving help from qualified individuals.

“The criteria, they’re not necessarily educators per se, but they’ve definitely had experience in the classroom, they have university degrees connected to specific areas that students tend to be challenged in like math, science and French,” Elliott said.

She doesn’t want tutoring services to be seen as a challenge to traditional, in-class education, but rather as a tool to be used to improve a student’s learning habits. Elliott said they aren’t trying to take away from the hard work done in Quebec’s public institutions.

She also told The Record that Phelps Helps has created a blue print, or a step-by-step guide, for other communities to use in order to build a similar organization. She shared Scalabrini’s opinion on social inequality, and she believes tutoring should be accessible to everyone.

“I definitely would agree with [Scalabrini] on that aspect, increasing the inequality in education, but I just think the better approach would be to make more online tutoring accessible to a wider range of students,” said Elliott, adding that they need more funding and less cutbacks.

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