If a kid is not very good and does not attend a private institute, people say the mother must be either crazy or poor.’ This Korean mother highlights two basic factors driving the growth of private tutoring: the wish of a parent to ensure that her child gets the best education, and social pressure.
She is just one of the many voices in a new publication by Mark Bray, Director of UNESCO’s IIEP. The book is a follow-up to his much cited The shadow education system: private tutoring and its implications for planners, published in 1999.
Mr Bray continues to shed light on an industry that exists in the shadows, feeding off and changing with the mainstream education system − and bringing with it major social and economic implications.
He first became interested in the topic when his 1996 comparative study of household costs showed how much families were spending to supplement their children’s schooling. The current book draws on an IIEP policy forum in 2007 which reviewed changing patterns and highlighted growth of private tutoring in all regions of the world.
There is no easy black-and-white approach to private tutoring. The phenomenon is deeply embedded in East Asian societies such as Japan, Hong Kong and the Republic of Korea, where high achievers make up the bulk of customers. The former Soviet countries and Eastern Europe witnessed a rapid expansion of private tuition in the 1990s catering to students of all abilities. The phenomenon is developing fast in Western Europe and North America, and is poised to take off in Africa with the growth of a relatively prosperous urban elite.
“Private tutoring can be a positive thing. It can help weak students to catch up, and strong students to aspire even higher,” says Mr Bray. “Pupils may learn better precisely because they have chosen the tutor, and they or their families are paying. It can build human capital which in turn aids economic growth.’
But tutoring can be a major expenditure for households desperate to ensure that their children perform adequately in exams and do not miss future opportunities. And when the rich and middle-income groups invest in tutoring, low-income groups may be forced to follow.
At its best, tutoring can build a powerful and rewarding relationship between pupil and tutor. At its worst it breeds corruption, with teachers withholding part of the curriculum during the day in order to sell it to their students outside school.
Tutoring can also strip mainstream education of its value, warns Mr Bray. ‘In some areas of Azerbaijan and Turkey, around the period of high-stakes exams pupils abandon school altogether, sleep through the day and study with private tutors at night.’
The tutoring methods are as varied as the effects. Some tutoring can be one-on-one, while other tutoring, as in Egypt, is given by ‘star’ tutors to classes of 100. It can be dispensed by phone, television and internet. It can reach down to give a hand to those who need it, as in the government-sponsored No Child Left Behind scheme in the US, or appeal to the high-achieving families who want to achieve more.
Although tutoring often exists because the mainstream system is weak, it is not always the case. The UK, US and Republic of Korea have well-developed systems, but experience strong demand for tutoring fuelled by competitiveness and exam-based learning.
‘Parents want the best for their children, and societies are increasingly marketized, and competitive,’ said Mr Bray. ‘The French government is giving tax relief to families to invest in tutoring, and most of those who take advantage of tax relief are relatively wealthy. France is in the process of unleashing a fundamental change in social relations and educational processes, and may later regret it.’
Japan is a particularly interesting case because its vast network of tutorial schools known as juku fill the gap between teaching at public schools and the demands of the entrance exams.
‘Parents accept an egalitarian mainstream system because the jukus act as a safety valve,’ said Mr Bray. ‘High achievers can study advanced materials, and low achievers can catch up. The schools and the juku system are coming closer together.’ It is less a case of public or private education, but rather public and private education.
Yet private supplementary tuition has not taken hold in all countries. Finland, Norway and Denmark, for example, have good education systems with little culture of tutoring. The governments provide plenty of money for education (supported by strong systems of taxation), and teachers are valued. The factors underlying these patterns deserve further attention and analysis.
Mr Bray believes that once private tuition is firmly entrenched, it is very difficult to remove. For this reason, governments should learn from the problematic experiences before it is too late. The experiences of the Republic of Korea and Mauritius sound particular warnings.
Attempts at complete banning of private tuition have been unsuccessful. However, in some countries it is illegal for the same teachers to privately tutor the students that they already teach in the mainstream system. Mr Bray believes there is a strong case for replicating this rule in most countries.
More surprisingly, he believes that the mainstream system can learn from the shadow. ‘Educators in the mainstream should ask why tutoring exists, and endeavour to provide better services in the public sector.’
A starting point in all of this must be awareness. Mr Bray notes that many governments do not know much about the shadow system, and some do not want to know. As a first step, he argues, policy makers and planners should confront the phenomenon of private supplementary tutoring by assessing its shape, scale and implications.
Mark Bray is Director of UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) in Paris. Prior to taking this post, he was Chair Professor of Comparative Education and Dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Hong Kong. He has written extensively on aspects of planning and financing of education, and has worked as a consultant for many international organisations.
International Institute for Educational Planning
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