The tutors who've helped Australia's migrant students get through the pandemic

Thousands of school students in New South Wales and Victoria return to the classroom this month as lockdowns lift. But for many recent arrivals and children of migrant parents, there have been additional challenges.

Parsa Mahdavi and Ethan Chung

Parsa Mahdavi and his student, Ethan Chung. Source: SBS

Ethan Chung is a Year 5 student who attends a public school in Sydney's Castle Hill.

The 10-year-old has been working extra hard during the COVID-19 lockdown, he says, in the hope of qualifying for a selective high school next year.

“I would like to do well at school because I want to become a paramedic. I want to save people's lives.”

Ethan’s father, Charles Chung Tin Wan, is from Mauritius, and his mother, Aye Min, was born in Burma - now known as Myanmar. Aye Min's father worked for the United Nations and the family relocated to Papua New Guinea, where she grew up. 

“I cannot help Ethan as much as I want to because I did not go to school in Australia,” she says.

"I struggled myself with written English and was not very good with literature."

The tutors who've helped Australia's migrant students get through the pandemic

Ethan excels in mathematics but, like many children of migrant parents, struggles with writing sentences.

“I have good ideas, it's just that I can’t put the ideas on paper,” he says.

To help, the family hired a private tutor.

Parsa Mahdavi, 19, emigrated from Iran in 2008 and has been tutoring Ethan online through Alchemy Tuition since pandemic restrictions impacted classroom learning in July.

“Having that face-to-face [contact], nothing beats it. But we have had to adjust like everyone else had to adjust during COVID,” he says. 

Parsa Mahdavi is a tutor in Syndey.
Source: SBS Jennifer Scherer

Mr Mahdavi is studying science at Macquarie University. As his first language is Persian, he says he understands the challenges facing many migrant families.

“Having been a good student in the Middle East, getting really good grades, I found school in Australia was quite difficult because my English was really limited.” 

That experience helps him connect with students from overseas.

“Writing English is something that a lot of students struggle with initially, including me personally, coming from a different background,” he says.

“So I help them with language devices, writing structures, how to write more effectively and how to really check your work before submission.”

School students in Sydney are due to return to in-classroom learning in October after vaccination rates in New South Wales surpassed 70 per cent. Victorian schools began a staged return to onsite learning this week.

But starting back in term four offers students little time to catch up before end-of-year exams.   

Ethan Chung and his sister Jessie.
Source: SBS Jennifer Scherer

"I particularly feel for Year 12 students sitting the HSC, VCE, and QCE, and students preparing for selective school entry," says Nic Rothquel who founded Alchemy Tuition six years ago.

He now coordinates more than 1,000 tutors, mainly in east coast capital cities.

Alchemy Tuition only offered face-to-face tutoring prior to COVID-19. Now, 90 per cent of tutoring is delivered online. Face-to-face tutoring costs $66 per hour, while online tutoring costs $49 per hour. 

Mr Rothquel expects a lot of students to struggle this year, with some entering exams without having seen a teacher in person for several months.


Tutor Mr Mahdavi agrees.

“Assessment and exams have been quite difficult this year,” he says. 

“Changing from a written format [to online tests] has disadvantaged students who can't type as quickly, or who don’t have a fast internet connection.

“So some parents are referring back to tutoring to get that extra support, to make sure that a child isn't falling behind.”

Parsa Mahdavi left Iran as a child.
Source: Supplied Parsa Mahdavi.

Ethan is among those to have flourished with online tutoring, his tutor says.

“[His improvement] has been quite amazing. He is definitely progressing a lot in writing, so I'm glad to see that.”

But, he adds, not all students can maintain a focus on schoolwork while staring at a screen. 

“The biggest challenge with learning online has been student motivation, but the way we overcome that is by connecting with the student and discussing how they're going, rather than just [focussing on] academics.” 

Mohan Dhall, CEO and co-founder of the Australian Tutoring Association (ATA) says tutoring companies have seen a downturn since the start of the pandemic.

“While many families are craving the opportunity to remediate learning loss, not all students have had a positive experience with online learning.”

“And many parents have chosen to hold onto their discretionary income at this time. So tutoring businesses have lost more than 70 per cent of their former clients, and some businesses have completely left the market.”

He expects tutoring to pick up again as classroom learning resumes.

Ethan Chung hopes to be offered a place in a selective school.
Source: SBS Jennifer Scherer

Ethan is looking forward to being back in the classroom

“My favourite subject is science because you get to learn about really cool things, like renewable energy,” he says. 

His mother says the extra cost of hiring a tutor during lockdown was money well spent.

“His tutor not only helps Ethan with his schoolwork, he also helps him manage his time and study habits."

Published 9 October 2021 at 9:23am
By Sandra Fulloon, Jennifer Scherer
Source: Small Business Secrets