The Covid-19 pandemic still raging across the world has disrupted nearly the entire academic year for schoolchildren and university students alike, but enterprising undergraduates are proving that even the cloud of a global epidemic is not without a silver lining.
From the movement control order (MCO) enforced in March which saw schools shut down for nearly four months to the return of a conditional MCO in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Sabah earlier this month, classes have been thrown into disarray as teachers and students struggle to adapt to the new normal.
While tuition centres have been caught up in the wave of turmoil affecting much of the education sector, though, small-time private tutors have fared better.
Undergraduates, in particular, forced to return to virtual lecture halls themselves, are finding themselves in high demand from parents anxious to ensure that children sitting for public examinations later this year will not be left behind in their studies.
Farabi Halim, an applied science student at Universiti Teknologi Mara, told MalaysiaNow that he was now teaching 15 Form Five students in his neighbourhood additional mathematics and physics.
It all began when a parent asked him to help check her child’s homework questions. From there, he began teaching the student twice a week.
“After news of my classes spread, some other parents also asked me to teach their children who will be sitting for the SPM examination,” he said.
“My schedule is now full, teaching these students, to the point where I have had to turn down others due to time constraints.”
The income he receives from his tuition classes, while not exorbitant, has made a difference in his savings as well.
“For a two-hour session, I am paid RM20,” he said, adding that he sees his fees as commensurate with his qualifications.
“In a month there are four sessions, which means eight hours, so the average payment I receive is RM80 for one subject.”
“It is very different with private classes. Students say they are more comfortable when classes are conducted physically, face-to-face.”
This all adds up to about RM1,000 to RM1,200 a month, half of which he sets aside for his studies.
Rabiatul Khalisah, a third-year education major at the International Islamic University of Malaysia, mostly teaches around the Gombak area and in Kuala Lumpur.
She said she had experienced a sharp demand for English and biology classes since the MCO was enforced in March, going from 11 students to 35 in just a few months.
“There were 10 more parents who contacted me, but I had to turn them down due to time constraints as I have to attend online lectures as well and complete my own assignments,” she told MalaysiaNow.
Rabiatul teaches face-to-face at her students’ homes as well as online. Her fees start at RM18 an hour with as many as four classes per month. For biology tuition, she charges more: RM20 an hour with three classes per month.
Farabi, too, finds it tricky balancing his time between teaching and attending his own course lectures. But his students’ parents are usually open to more flexible class schedules which allows him to stay on track.
He says parents are generally anxious that the online approach taken by schools does not yield the best results in terms of learning. There are also concerns over the focus and emotional stability of students given the long periods of screen time involved.
“It is very different with private classes,” he said. “Students say they are more comfortable when classes are conducted physically, face-to-face.
“It helps them understand the syllabus better and their state of mind is calmer.”
Of course, he take strict precautions to prevent any spread of Covid-19 during his tuition sessions, complying with SOPs such as physical distancing, temperature checks and the use of face masks and hand sanitiser.
With new cases recorded every day, this may prove the norm for some time yet.
Those who have been teaching private tuition for a while now have some advice for rookies who are just starting out.
“Start with a low fee first for the purpose of gaining experience,” said Irma Nadia Morzailan who began running a home tuition service in Nilai, Negeri Sembilan, in 2015 and now owns a company providing tutoring and module preparation services.
Teach in your field of expertise is another piece of advice for greenhorns.
In any case, demand for private tuition appears to be rising, and undergraduates are rising to meet the challenge.