Supplementary Education Stepping Out of the Shadow Part II: Comments and Observations

All comments based on presentations rather than papers (for now, perhaps).


Brehm and Silova characterized the fact that shadow education may be supplanting conventional schools in importance as a “uniqueness of the Cambodian context”. As the subsequent discussion also showed, this is not unique to Cambodia at all and may in fact be part of a broader trend described by the title of this post, i.e. that shadow education is stepping out of the shadow. In the Cambodian context this stepping out of the shadow is occurring (as the presentation showed) through the role of conventional schools as an entry point to tutoring. Since it is teachers themselves who are offering tutoring (this is one of the common characteristics of shadow education in developing countries where it is mainly linked to low salaries for teachers), classes in conventional schools (already curtailed by the infrastructure need to double cohorts in school facilities creating a short school day) are a funnel into gradations of tutoring, “extra study” and “extra special study” in local parlance.

Hong Kong:

The pop start character of some tutors obviously distinguishes HK and is something that is not at all widely visible in Japan. While there are certain juku and yobiko instructors in Japan who have a bit of a start following, the large billboards of teams of prominent tutors that can be found in Hong Kong make for a celebrity status that seems somewhat outlandish in most other places. A couple of years ago CNN ran a report on one such celebrity tutor that Mark Bray also referred to as part of his presentation.


I did not know anything about shadow education prior to this presentation, so it was great to learn more, even though it was not surprising to hear that supplementary education is a substantial sector in Malaysia as well.

In contrast to Hong Kong, Cambodia, Japan and elsewhere, “private tuition” in Malaysia does seem to remain in the shadow in that Kenayathulla responded to a question that there is no sense of “the real learning is happening in shadow education”.

Another very interesting aspect of shadow education in Malaysia is the different use of tutors by ethnic groups linked to language needs and preferences.

Now some themes that I saw in these papers and which I talked about briefly at the session in my role as discussant.

1. The interaction between conventional schools and shadow education seems to be shifting in many jurisdictions. When I first began with my research on juku about six years ago, juku in Japan seemed very separate from schools, public or private. Recently, we’ve seen some occasions/spaces/programs in Japan where that separation is being watered down, for example through so-called 校内塾 (kônaijuku), that is juku within schools, that are offering juku services, aka classes, on school grounds in the afternoons/evenings or on weekends. This is primarily occurring in within the 23 wards of Tokyo to my knowledge though may also be spreading.

That’s one version of shadow education leaving the shadow. The other version is the anecdotal reports (including on Cambodia and Hong Kong in the presentations and Q&A) that students increasingly (over time? cross-regionally? what ages?) hold the view that their “real learning” is occurring in juku and that they sleep in conventional school to preserve their energy for juku classes, or because they studied until late into the evening in juku and are thus tired.

Shadow education thus seems to be increasingly (primarily over time) exerting an influence on conventional schools. Mark Bray spoke of “backwash” to the school system in this context, or of a “blending” of schools and shadow education.

This blending was also a theme, by the way, in the discussions at a workshop on “The Worldwide Growth of Supplementary Education” that I co-organized with Janice Aurini (U of Waterloo) and Scott Davies (McMaster U) last June at Waterloo.

2. Parents’ and students’ choices are increasingly driven by widely held perceptions of the quality (or, generally, lack thereof) of conventional schools. In the discussion and Q&A Mark Bray used the metaphor of shadow education as a “virus” infecting school systems. In this metaphor, popular perceptions are clearly the factor that are significantly weakening school systems’ immune systems and making them susceptible to this virus. The fact that the spread of this virus is not at all based on any established facts or, God forbid, research on the efficacy of tutoring, doesn’t surprise Bray at all, since educational policy has rarely been based on real data and evidence in other areas either.

3. While shadow education in developing countries (say, Cambodia), industrializing countries (Malaysia, perhaps), and developed countries (HK) may be increasingly similar in the breadth of its impact on conventional schools, one of the main distinguishing features that remains is the organizational form. In Japan, across East Asia, but also with some of the cross-border M&A activities in Europe by growing concerns like Acadomia (based in France) or Studienkreis (based in Germany), shadow education in developed countries is increasingly taking on the characteristics of highly institutionalized industrial sectors or organizational fields. In developing countries, tutoring continues to be a more personalistic affair.

4. There are some areas where public/state education policy is preserving its influence very strongly.

  • curriculum: almost all academic shadow education continues to focus on the content defined by public curricula and courses of study, even if this content is often mediated by (entrance) examinations of various kinds and thus not set in its specificity by public policy makers.
  • transitions: the progression from one level of education to another (primary to secondary, secondary to vocational, etc.) is still governed by the structure of the education system as it is determined by public actors
  • policy makers are experimenting with regulations of shadow education. The longest-standing example is the South Korean state’s battle against shadow education in the name of (in)equality, but the no more than 45 students per classroom policy in Hong Kong, or voucher systems in Malaysia, are clear examples of more widespread (albeit ineffectual for the most part) experimentation with the regulation of shadow education.

5. Inequality, inequality, inequality. All kinds of inequalities seem to be exacerbated by shadow education: economic, rural/urban, ethnic, etc. Inequality in access to shadow education is also believed to lead to inequality in education outcomes, though that is conditional on the unproven efficacy of shadow education.

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