Education of Amuthini Wijendra
by Andrew Duffy, The Toronto Star, September 26, 2004
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Amuthini Wijendra seemed to have the kind of success that she
and her family had sacrificed so much to attain.
Ten years after coming to Canada from her home in war-torn Sri
Lanka, and three years after graduating from the University of
Waterloo with a computer engineering degree, Wijendra held a
lucrative job as a consultant with Deloitte and Touche.
"It was a very good job," concedes Wijendra, 30. "But when I was
a consultant, I didn't feel that at the end of the day, I could
say I made a difference in this person's life or that person's
So, two years ago, Wijendra left the prestige and security of
her consultant position to open a private tutoring school in the
heart of Flemingdon Park.
A1 Tutors is Wijendra's business, a place where she has found
meaning in her work life.
She opened her learning centre to serve those immigrant parents
whom, she believed, often could not afford private tutoring for
"Many parents want to give their children something extra," she
says. "We're trying to make it affordable for everyone."
Wijendra's learning centre opens its doors at 4 p.m. for an
after-school homework club, which costs only $10 a month. The
vast majority of her clients are immigrants, or the sons and
daughters of immigrants.
Wijendra understands the challenge they face. Within a week of
arriving in Canada from Sri Lanka in 1992, she found herself in
a Grade 12 classroom at Jarvis Collegiate.
She did not fear math or science, but equipped with just six
months of English lessons, she fretted constantly about the
extent to which her university ambitions depended on her ability
to succeed at English.
"It terrified me every time I sat down for a test," she says.
But Wijendra would get the 90s she needed to be accepted into
Waterloo University's intensely competitive systems design
Many of her current students hold the same kind of university
ambitions that Amuthini harboured as a young woman.
Those such as 10-year-old Krishanth Manokaran are already
successful students. A Grade 5 student at Grenoble Public
School, Krishanth, whose parents emigrated to Canada from Sri
Lanka when he was an infant, is always the first to arrive at A1
Tutors when it opens its doors. He spends four hours every
Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the learning centre, from 4 p.m.
to 8 p.m., studying math, science and English.
"I just wanted to learn a bit more and be a bit better in class;
I love school," says Krishanth, who earns As and Bs and recently
scored 24 out of 24.5 on a math test.
He dreams of becoming a doctor or scientist. "I just want to
help people who are sick," he says, explaining: "Then, I could
show my face in the country and people will notice me."
Wijendra's tutoring school has joined a burgeoning market for
A recent McMaster University study found that the number of
private tutoring centres — places with names such as Kumon,
Score, Sylvan, and Oxford — grew by 60 per cent in the years
between 1996 and 2000. In Toronto alone, the number of learning
centres climbed to 74 from 10.
And it appears there's an appetite for more. Researchers have
found that 24 per cent of Ontario parents with school-aged
children employ tutors, while 50 per cent of parents in a
national survey said they would hire a private tutor for their
children if they could afford one.
For Wijendra, it was an ESL teacher, Jessie Porter, who made the
difference. She took an active interest in the lives and success
of her students.
"I know I was lucky," she says. "I don't know what I would have
done without someone like Miss Porter ... So this is my chance
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