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Article of Interest - Canada/Toronto

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Bridges4Kids LogoThe Education of Amuthini Wijendra
by Andrew Duffy, The Toronto Star, September 26, 2004
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By 2002, 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 life."

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 their children.

"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 engineering program.

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 after-school services.

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 to help."


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