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Confronting the Growth of Shadow Education

The Policy Forum entitled “Regulating the Shadow Education System: Private Tutoring and Government Policies in Asia” took place on 8 and 9 April 2013 at the University of Hong Kong (HKU).

The event was organized by HKU's Comparative Education Research Centre (CERC) in partnership with UNESCO Bangkok and the Asian Development Bank.

Private supplementary tutoring, widely known as shadow education because of the way in which it mimics regular schooling, has a long history in some parts of Asia but has greatly expanded in recent decades. In the Republic of Korea nearly 90% of elementary students receive some sort of shadow education, and in Hong Kong (China), about 72% of senior secondary students do so. Proportions are lower in other countries, but throughout the region "the shadow" is spreading and intensifying (Bray & Lykins, 2012)   

Private tutoring can be beneficial when it facilitates children's learning; and this learning may be a form of human capital for economic development. Yet tutoring can have a negative impact on schooling and the larger society. It imposes excessive burdens on students, and reduces the available time to develop non-cognitive skills. It especially undermines schooling in settings where regular teachers provide tutoring to their own students. Moreover, tutoring may maintain or exacerbate social inequalities since richer families can afford greater quantities and better qualities of tutoring. Given all the negative dimensions, shadow education has far-reaching implications for achieving the EFA goals.

An increasing number of governments have started to include shadow education in their official agendas. However, few have succeeded in effectively regulating the system. Clearer policies and more effective mechanisms are needed throughout the region to encourage the positive dimensions of shadow education and discourage the negative ones. 

The Policy Forum brought together researchers, government personnel, practitioners and other stakeholders representing 16 jurisdictions. Drawing on empirical studies, conceptual studies and personal experience, researchers and practitioners compared the nature of policies on shadow education at different levels, discussed the contexts in which they have been devised, and evaluated the factors which underpin effectiveness in the regulatory and guiding systems. Such factors vary in different cultures. For instance, examination-oriented education systems contribute to the prevalence of shadow education in some jurisdictions, while the low quality of mainstream education seems to be a major factor in rural settings.

At the end of the Policy Forum, participants affirmed commitments to follow-up actions in their own spheres of influence. They agreed that more forums or workshops on this topic are desirable, at national and sub-national as well as regional levels. Further details are available at CERC website.

For more information, please contact Ramya Vivekanandan [r.vivekanandan(at)] at the Education Policy and Reform Unit

Written by Wei Zhang [w.zhang(at)] 

Related links:  

•  CERC Policy Forum
•  HKU's Comparative Education Research Centre
•  Asian Development Bank
• Shadow Education by Mark Bray and Chad Lykins