Monday, July 16, 2012

Shadow Education

Via the Edge, the Asian Development Bank has issued a new report on shadow education (excerpt):

Shadow Education: Private Supplementary Tutoring and Its Implications for Policy Makers in Asia

In all parts of Asia, households devote considerable expenditures to private supplementary tutoring. This tutoring may contribute to students’ achievement, but it also maintains and exacerbates social inequalities, diverts resources from other uses, and can contribute to inefficiencies in education systems.

Such tutoring is widely called shadow education, because it mimics school systems. As the curriculum in the school system changes, so does the shadow.

This study documents the scale and nature of shadow education in different parts of the region. For many decades, shadow education has been a major phenomenon in East Asia. Now it has spread throughout the region, and it has far-reaching economic and social implications.

The report covers spending and time spent on shadow education, as well as a fairly comprehensive survey on the research into the phenomenon in Asia.

There’s a number of angles covered here, such as how shadow education reinforces rote learning as opposed to “real” education, and how shadow education also bolsters income and wealth inequality – the stats show kids from better-off families not only are more likely to have tutoring, but spend more time and money on it (presumably benefiting from higher quality tutoring).

There’s also the impact on the formal education system itself where teachers in the system who are also involved in private tutoring, either undermine or neglect their “official” duties in favour of their private activities.

For Malaysia, there is an ethnic dimension as well, though some of this can be explained by the urban-rural divide.

Somewhat surprising to me is that education outcomes from private tutoring are actually pretty low and highly subject to diminishing returns – at some point, more time spent on tuition classes results in worse education outcomes. There’s also selection bias involved, in that kids who are most likely to benefit from extra tuition are also likely to do well without it.

As a parent however, can you afford not to send your children to tuition classes if it’s within your means however small the marginal benefit, given the highly competitive nature of university admissions?

Whatever the pros and cons, the report makes a case for including the shadow education system in any discussion of education reform.

Technical Notes:

Bray, Mark & Chad Lykins, “Shadow Education: Private Supplementary Tutoring and Its Implications for Policy Makers in Asia”, ADB Publishing, May 2012

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