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Private tutoring: The shadow has spread

Millions of students worldwide receive additional academic instruction through some form of private tutoring, or “shadow education” since it exists in the shadow of the formal education system. In parts of South and East Asia in particular, such tutoring has long existed on a large scale. It is now becoming increasingly prevalent in other parts of Asia and in Africa, Europe and North America.



Translating the metaphor of light and shadow into public education versus private tutoring, Gwang-Jo Kim, Director UNESCO Bangkok, welcomed Professor Mark Bray, designated UNESCO Chair Professor of Comparative Education and Director, Comparative Education Research Centre (CERC) at the University of Hong Kong, who discussed the phenomenon of shadow education with UNESCO Bangkok staff. 

According to a 2009 study by Prof. Bray, “Confronting the shadow education system - What government policies for what private tutoring?”, 88 per cent of elementary school children, 78 per cent of middle school and 63 per cent of students in high schools in the Republic of Korea receive some form of private tutoring. South and East Asia are marked by the highest rates of private tutoring worldwide, with tremendous costs for the households concerned. In the Republic of Korea these costs mount to US$ 17.3 billion annually and are equivalent to 80 per cent of the Government’s total expenditures on primary and secondary education. 

“It is not necessarily the weak students; tutoring is more common among the strong ones”, said Prof. Bray. He also highlighted a strong social dimension to the issue of private tutoring; it is even more of an issue if, as in France, private tutoring is indirectly subsidized by the government through tax reductions for parents.

During recent decades, private tutoring has become a vast industry. In the Asia-Pacific region, private tutoring is particularly widespread. Pupils commonly receive fee-free education in public schools and then at the end of the day and/or during week-ends and vacations receive supplementary tutoring in the same subjects on a fee-paying basis. Private tutoring can happen at home, at specialized tutoring centers, via the Internet or even at the very same schools which students attend. The picture and implications of private tutoring in the region is the subject of the upcoming Asian Development Bank-CERC publication “Shadow Education: Private Supplementary Tutoring and its Implications for Policy Makers in Asia” authored by Mark Bray and Chad Lykins.

Prevalence of private tutoring combined with strong social competition has several implications for education. First, it creates and perpetuates social inequalities. Second, it consumes financial resources that could be used for other activities. Thirdly, exam-oriented private tutoring may distort the curriculum in the formal schools. 

Looking at the international “Education for All” agenda led by UNESCO, Prof. Bray said: “Private tutoring was not discussed in Jomtien 1990 and not in Dakar 2000, but now in 2012 it is discussed. The shadow has spread, and better data are available”.

Supplementary private tutoring can have positive dimensions. It helps students to cover the curriculum, provides a structured occupation for young people outside school hours, and provides incomes for the tutors. However, tutoring may also have negative dimensions. If left to market forces, tutoring is likely to maintain and increase social inequalities and can create excessive pressure for young people who have inadequate time for nonacademic activities. International competition is clearly raising the level of parents’ and students’ anxiety. 

Especially problematic are situations in which school teachers provide extra tutoring in exchange for fees from the same pupils for whom they are already responsible as part of their normal jobs. Some of these teachers may reduce their effort during regular classroom teaching in order to pressure pupils to attend tutoring. It is crucial that governments secure appropriate salaries for teachers so that teachers cannot justify this practice on financial grounds. Tutoring brings “major issues of corruption and backwash, as it affects the mainstream education system”, and also “takes away some of the best teachers”, according to Prof. Bray.   

Summarizing the various issues around private tutoring, Prof. Bray called upon UNESCO to bring increased attention to this phenomenon. UNESCO can discuss the issues with national governments to determine which types of tutoring they consider desirable and which ones they see as problematic, and to support the design of appropriate national policies.


More information about Prof. Mark Bray at:


By Dieter Schlenker, UNESCO Bangkok