Sharon Levy and her son

Sharon Levy, Founder and Director of Learning Unlimited, shares her views on “what to watch out for when choosing online tutoring for your child”.



Is cost the main criterion in choosing a suitable tutor/tutoring centre?

Education is an investment in your child’s future; not merely a commodity.

I recently had the experience of researching suitable inverters in order to teach online through load-shedding periods. In selecting a suitable device, I found myself working with the following criteria: reliability, quality, durability, customization and agency. The last two are important for both personal needs and the ability to use effectively what one has chosen to buy.

Only when I was assured that the device satisfied the above criteria, did I then look at cost. We understand investment in monetary terms and on this basis we invest in shares, property or businesses. This does not mean we should buy the cheapest shares on the market. The idea is to get the best return on our investment.

Had cost been my first criterion, I would have gone down a rabbit hole of looking at a plethora of cheap devices. Using these criteria streamlined my search process.

Typically when a parent reaches out to me and in the first sentence asks me about the cost of tuition, I ignore the email. However, I am happy to spend time with prospective parents and students finding out about their particular needs, interests and backgrounds so that I am assured that there is a correct match. Ultimately it is the quality of an hour well spent rather than the quantity of many hours poorly spent that must be taken into consideration.

Are exam results the main criterion for enrolling your child?

To educate (educare) means “to lead out,” to be able to draw out of the student’s innate abilities, talents, interests and cultivate these. It is not surprising that some of the greatest geniuses such as Einstein were school dropouts. The conditioning and conforming that goes on in schooling undermines the flowering of the individual. Now more than ever students need to develop enquiring minds and question authority, becoming more discerning; self –reliant and resourceful in tackling a rapidly changing world and uncertain future.

Paradoxically it is precisely when one attends to these criteria that the exam results improve dramatically.

Is a good teacher someone who merely transmits information?

“A teacher cannot give knowledge except by re-inspiring others with his/her inspiration.” – Walter Russell

Learning is not merely a gadget that needs to be plugged in to ensure the transmission of facts which have to be regurgitated in an exam.

Learning is not merely about what to learn, but learning how to learn; a life-long skill requiring discernment, intelligence, application of the relevant facts to solve problems and, more importantly, self-discovery.

A suitable teacher should be a role model to exemplify the values and attitudes that one wishes to cultivate in a child.

Does the tutoring centre offer flexibility in terms of the child’s own needs, temperament and goals, or is it simply a one size fits all establishment providing a methodological straight jacket?

Placing students in groups may not be the optimum learning environment for your child. Group instruction is often used as an excuse to reduce costs. However, individualized, customized instruction may be able to achieve greater success and cost less in the long run.

Can graduate students teach your child?

The key to successful learning is the relationship between the learner and teacher.

In short, education is as good as the teacher who provides it. Experienced teachers have the skills and expertise to fine tune and hone the syllabus to the particular interests and learning styles of your child; drawing on international research on the best learning/teaching methods.

These “skills” are imparted by role models and mentors who have grappled deeply with their own teaching methods and learning processes.

I once had a mother attend mathematics lessons with her child. When I discovered that she had a PhD in mathematics I asked her why she didn’t teach her son herself, to which she replied: “I know mathematics but I cannot teach it. You can!”

A number of tutoring centres recruit university students or graduate students to tutor your child. Even if they themselves obtain high grades, this does not guarantee that they are good or even competent teachers.

Does being a registered Cambridge Centre guarantee best results for the CAIE exams?

Education is not the preserve of a single institution.

To register with an external body means to be dictated to by the rules and regulations of such a body. e.g. the number of hours of tutoring required to cover the syllabus.

While it is important to build strong partnerships with other providers with outstanding track records such as the International School of Cape Town–a number of our tutors are drawn from their staff and we share their laboratory facilities–the independence of a tutoring centre is of the utmost importance in ensuring that international best practice is drawn upon and that teaching methods are constantly under review.

Can a CAPs teacher be converted to a Cambridge teacher?

There are a number of prestigious schools who are, after decades of pussyfooting, finally caving in to parental pressure to offer Cambridge A levels as an alternative matric.

They insist that their CAPs teachers can seamlessly convert to the Cambridge curricula overnight. While some teachers may negotiate the transition successfully, this result cannot be taken for granted for many reasons.

First of all, parents should be aware of the enormous difference in academic standards between the two systems: in core subjects such as English and mathematics, full A Levels are about 16 months ahead of a local matric, and not merely in the contents of the syllabus but also the criteria by which students are marked and assessed.

As important in my opinion, is the fact that the two educational bodies differ fundamentally in approach.

  • In CAPS it is possible to do well by remembering facts and reproducing them on demand.
  • In the Cambridge system in contrast, rote learning counts for little compared to an ability to apply one’s knowledge to problems and situations one has not encountered before.

A good Cambridge teacher therefore has to have an ability to work out the essential skills required for his or her subject and have the ability to impart them, which brings one back to the earlier question of teaching methods and reflection on them.

It is this ability which also results in long-run savings as someone who has thought through such problems can often teach the same curriculum in much less time than someone unfamiliar with its distinct emphases and challenges.

Does the tutoring centre take care of the child’s personal development and provide guidance for suitable subject selection and career choice?

So often students are at sea with their subject choices or are influenced by family members or societal expectations to follow a particular career. The centre should not simply take it at face value that the child knows what subjects/ careers are best suited to his/her innate abilities and passions.

Suitable care and guidance should be provided that takes cognisance of your child’s unique personality, interests and needs without which your investment in his/her education may lead to frustration and undermine personal and academic development.

Sharon Levy, BSc, MEd

Sharon has been an educator for 40 years and has extensive experience in curriculum development, teacher development, research into internationally recognized methods of teaching and learning and assisting children across the spectrum, from gifted children to children with learning difficulties.

Her conviction is that every child has a unique gift and contribution to make to the world and that education should provide the tools and skills to unlock this potential in each individual.


Carolyn and her sonI enrolled my son with Learning Unlimited, in order for him to study his GCSEs and write the exams, as we were moving to the UK. It was no easy feat, as Sharon and her team only had 5 months in which to tutor him and get him ready to write his exams for 5 GCSE subjects.


Moving from the South African to the British curriculum was a huge challenge for my son, as well as the amount of work he had to condense into 5 months, and yet the tutors were extremely dedicated, patient and committed to helping him transition and master the subject matter in the various subjects. I am extremely grateful to Sharon and her wonderful team of tutors for their assistance in this process. – regards, Carolyn