Private Tutoring and Shadow Education in Asia

Article | 7 June 2012

An ADB study, undertaken in partnership with the Comparative Education Research Centre of the University of Hong Kong, brings into the spotlight the phenomenon of private tutoring, also called "shadow education". A growing practice in Asia, shadow education risks dominating the lives of young people and their families, maintaining and exacerbating social inequalities, diverting needed household income into an unregulated industry, and creating inefficiencies in education systems. talks to Jouko Sarvi, Practice Leader for Education at ADB's Regional and Sustainable Development Department, to find out more about what the study "Shadow Education: Private Supplementary Tutoring and Its Implications for Policy Makers in Asia" says about this alarming phenomenon.

What are the findings of the study and how does it impact developing Asia as a whole?

This phenomenon is expanding more rapidly in Asia than in other regions of the world. The economic boom in Asia has been accompanied, unfortunately, by growing disparities. Economic growth has not been inclusive. The role of education is increasingly important in preparing adequate human resources that have the knowledge and skills to participate in and contribute to the growth to make it inclusive. In this context, issues of the efficiency and inclusiveness of education systems, and equitable access to good quality education are in the forefront.

Poorer students don't have the means to pay for private tutoring services. As a whole, the trend reinforces poor education practice and inequality.

Shadow education can seriously undermine many of these aspects. It has some positive elements but there are very heavy negative implications of it expanding in Asia. The reason we prepared this study this time is to really map out in detail the phenomenon in Asia. Such a study hasn't been prepared in the region before.

Have there been other studies similar to this?

There has been a study in Europe, and also in a more global context. Our study is really mapping the phenomenon in Asia and showing that, while shadow education was more associated with East Asia countries in the past, it is now spreading rapidly throughout the region.

In countries where it has not spread so much yet, there are possibilities, through appropriate policy and regulatory measures, to slow down its expansion and improve the quality of private supplementary tutoring, and discourage the other negative implications.

What was the impulse for this study? Is the government education system partly to blame for this phenomenon?

In recent years, in media and and in the dialogue among education leaders, shadow education has become a concern but there was not enough information about it. There was a need to undertake this comprehensive study to help bring shadow education to the radar screen of policy dialogue. Usually, policy discussion is about mainstream education, what is happening in schools, in colleges and all that, and no notice is taken of this shadow education side, although it is expanding and households use huge sums of money on it.

The poor quality of education in government schools is not the only reason for the expansion of shadow education: it is also happening in countries that have a good education system, overall. For example, in the Republic of Korea, 90% of secondary school students undertake supplementary tutoring. In comparison, in South Asia and Central Asia it's currently about 60% and increasing.

The issue is more about education systems that are heavily examination-oriented and where competition for slots for further education becomes the main focus. This reinforces rote learning and undermines deeper education objectives in terms of human resource development. The poorer students don't have the means to pay for private tutoring services. As a whole, the trend reinforces poor education practice and inequality in education provision in societies. It also has negative implications for education planning and sustainable public and private financing of education.

How have policymakers and other sectors received this report? Has there been any resistance to the recommendations?

There's no resistance. On the contrary, there was an increasing demand for comprehensive analysis of the phenomenon in Asia. The study serves as the missing key piece in the puzzle. We now have a tool to support policymakers and other stakeholders in their discussions and dialogue, and can better help them in their efforts to tackle this phenomenon.