Demand for tutors grows in Edmonton as parents address pandemic learning loss

The owners of three tutoring companies told CBC News their businesses have expanded over the past two years to serve a growing number of students who have fallen behind academically during the pandemic. 

Tutoring companies see surge in pupils, but many families can’t afford extra help

Grade 6 student Riya Sidhu attends a tutoring session at a Mathnasium learning centre in southeast Edmonton on Jan. 19. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Tutoring companies in the Edmonton area are expanding to accommodate a rise in demand for one-on-one instruction.

The owners of three companies told CBC News on Wednesday that their businesses have ballooned over the past two years to serve a growing number of students who have fallen behind academically during the pandemic. 

"People are finally recognizing that their kids are getting farther and farther behind," said Ray Friedman, co-owner of the Mathnasium learning centre just east of Edmonton's Larkspur neighbourhood. 

Pupils there doubled between October and November and increased again in December and January, he said, requiring five new part-time staff members.

A&D Tutoring, also in Edmonton, has doubled its staff to meet a 40 per cent increase in tutoring hours since the pandemic began.

"I've seen a larger percentage of kids coming in with years of missing information," said Angie De Benedetto, the company's CEO. 

Literacy, numeracy skills lacking

Lara Courtepatte started building her company Tutor Teach in July of 2020, recognizing that many students and their parents had struggled with online learning.

Initially focusing on French immersion support, she and her team now offer tutoring in all core subjects, plus languages and music.

Courtepatte said the areas where students have fallen farthest behind are literacy and numeracy.

"We had one parent tell us that the entire class was failing, and math seems to be the pain-point for high school right now," she said.

She said some of her students have struggled with homeschooling. Others have been enrolled in distance learning but need help to make up for a lack of in-person interaction. For others, switching between online learning and in-person school has been disruptive.

Lara Courtepatte is CEO of Tutor Teach in Sherwood Park. The company held a donation drive for the Strathcona Food Bank in 2021. (Submitted by Lara Courtepatte)

Lisa Lamabe of Strathcona County reshuffled her family's budget to be able to pay for services from Tutor Teach for two of her four children. 

"I think the pandemic has caused a huge gap in learning," she said. 

She said the extra help is making a big difference: her daughter in Grade 7, who started online tutoring in September, has already improved by about a grade level in reading. 

Equity concerns

A rise in tutoring should raise a red flag about the state of public education in Alberta, according to Phil McRae, associate coordinator of research for the Alberta Teachers' Association.

An Alberta School Councils' Association survey of more than 20,000 parents of K-12 students in the fall of 2020 found that nearly 19 per cent of parents had hired a private tutor or paid for outside educational services in the past year. 

The survey asked parents who had hired tutors to estimate the overall academic performance of their children. Nearly 74 per cent were either A or B students. 

"It's called the Matthew effect: the rich get richer and the poor get poorer," McRae said.

Mentioning Australia and the United States as examples, he said a rise in tutoring happens because of an erosion of public education in many countries. 

He said closing the equity gap means making sure the public system is adequately funded with reasonably sized classes and realistic curriculum.

De Benedetto knows many parents cannot afford to send their children to a tutoring service like hers so she is creating a non-profit organization, A&D Educational Association, to teach students with financial need. 

"There are people that can afford it and there are people that just can't, which, to me, should not be what education is about," she said.

Another option for low-income families is free one-on-one tutoring offered by Edmonton Public Schools' Metro Continuing Education. The sessions are open to high school students and Grade 9 math students.

An EPSB spokesperson said demand for that service, which began in the fall of 2020, has been consistent.


Madeleine Cummings is a reporter with CBC Edmonton. She covers local news for CBC Edmonton's web, radio and TV platforms. You can reach her at madeleine.cummings@cbc.ca.