Category Archives: Cambodia

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

Mark Bray and Chad Lykins have just published the definitive current statement on supplementary education in Asia, “Shadow Education -Private Supplementary Tutoring and Its Implications for Policy Makers in Asia” as a book (PDF, available for free) through the Asian Development Bank.

Here’s a paragraph from their introduction that offers a flavour of the book:

Private supplementary tutoring is widely known as shadow education, since it mimics the mainstream. As the content of mainstream education changes, so does the content of the shadow. And as the mainstream grows, so does the shadow. This study shows that shadow education has a long history in parts of the region, but in recent decades it has greatly expanded. In the Republic of Korea nearly 90% of elementary students receive some sort of shadow education; and in Hong Kong, China, about 85% of senior secondary students do so. Figures are equally striking in less prosperous parts of the region. In West Bengal, India, nearly 60% of primary school students receive private supplementary tutoring; and in Kazakhstan a similar proportion of students do so at the senior secondary level. Proportions are lower in other countries, but throughout the region the shadow is spreading and intensifying. (p. X)

Countries covered in the book include: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Georgia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taipei, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam.

The report was released just as co-author Mark Bray was awarded was awarded a UNESCO Chair professorship in Comparative Education. Congratulations on the chair and the publication!

CIES 2012: Hidden privatization of public education in Cambodia

Comparative and International Education Society

William Brehm, This Life Cambodia; Iveta Silova, Lehigh University, USA

“Hidden privatization of public education in Cambodia: equity implications of private tutoring”

The 1990s international construction of a new political economic order in Cambodia after two decades of civil unrest has had contradictory effects on education. The rhetoric of democracy thrives alongside corruption and human rights abuses; and the Education for All initiative exists alongside privatization of public education. In this context, private tutoring has emerged as an essential part of the public education system. A mastery of the required curriculum is now possible only through a careful combination of public schooling and private tutoring. Only those who can afford private tutoring thus receive access to the complete national curriculum while those who cannot are stigmatized. This paper draws on an analysis of qualitative and quantitative data, including 28 classroom observations (evenly split between private tutoring and public school classes), 20 focus groups with a total of 100 participants, grade and attendance tracking of 444 9th grade and 200 6th grade students, and informal interviews with 20 participants. The presentation concludes by explaining how a seamless combination of public schooling and private tutoring in terms of curriculum and pedagogy creates a public-private educational arrangement that stratifies Cambodian youth along socioeconomic, interpersonal, and familial lines.

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.

Supplementary Education Stepping Out of the Shadow

Wonderful session at CIES this morning:

Markets, shadows, and schools: The impact and implications of private tutoring in Asia
Chair and Organizer: Mark Bray, Comparative Education Research Centre, University of Hong Kong

The hidden privatization of public education in Cambodia: Quality and equity implications of private tutoring” William C Brehm, This Life CambodiaIveta Silova, Lehigh University, USA

“The evolving shadow: Supplementary private tutoring in Hong Kong” Mark Bray

“Tuition syndrome: Determinants of private tutoring in Malaysia” Husaina Kenayathulla, Indiana University, USA

First, some quick summaries/observations of the presentations/panel. Then, some broader comments inspired by the panel discussions.

Brehm/Silova on Cambodia:

They argue that private tutoring is a conduit by which traditional social relations (primarily hierarchical) are reproduced in education even though the public education system is committed to the provision of free education to Cambodian students.

Data come from fieldwork in Cambodia that include interviews with teachers and students and focus on the costs and organizational structure associated with private tutoring. Through this fieldwork Brehm/Silova are able to offer summary data on the cost of tutoring in different categories, i.e. by level of education and rural/urban location. These costs range from 200 Riel/hr (approx. C¢5) to 16,000 Riel/hr (C$3.75).

The presentation highlighted the fact that students are classified into different achievement groups in public schools and that this classification may well have come to be based on students’/parents’ willingness/ability to pay their school teachers for tutoring.

This intertwining of classroom practices, teachers’ salaries and private tutoring is increasingly turning public schools into a mere ‘façade’ on an entry point to private tutoring.

Bray on Hong Kong:

Bray relied on visuals to provide a striking impression of the current context of private tutoring in Hong Kong. From videos focused on celebrity tutors and their students, to photographs of the splashy advertising that the tutoring industry decorates Hong Kong with, this industry clearly has become a very visible part of schooling in Hong Kong.

As an anecdotal aside Bray mentioned that classroom size is limited to <45 students (by regulation), but that celebrity tutors circumvent this by having glass divisions between classrooms staffed with “dummy tutors”.

Kenayathulla on Malaysia:

Kenayathulla presented her models of the likelhood of spending on private tutoring and the amount spent.

CIES Presentation Brehm-Silova: The hidden privatization of public education in Cambodia

William Brehm and Iveta Silova have kindly sent me the abstract for their presentation.

Monday, May 2: Session 99. 8:30-10h, Queen Elizabeth Hotel, Floor C – Saguenay


The contemporary practice of private tutoring in Cambodia is a complex phenomenon. Since government school lasts only four hours/day and primary teachers earn about $44/month, it is impossible for students to receive the full national curriculum (longer than the actual school day) and for teachers to earn a livable wage without conducting private tutoring. What results is a system where teachers charge students to learn the remaining curriculum after school hours, often times inside government school buildings. In addition, students can hire a teacher for individual tutoring (called “extra special tutoring”), which takes place in the student’s house, or students can attend private tutoring lessons offered in another government school.

Although Cambodian private tutoring has recently been linked explicitly to educational inequity (Bray, 2005) and teacher corruption (Dawson, 2009), the system is far more complex and historically rooted than observers are likely to recognize at first glance. Notwithstanding the cost barriers or lack of governance, private tutoring functions in a Foucauldian sense to order society along traditional hierarchical lines as a mechanism to cope with the five decades of rapid and often conflicting geopolitical transitions (see Silova, 2009 for examples of private tutoring as a mechanism of coping for rapid transition in Central Asia). In this presentation, we will argue that the modernity project in Cambodia (with all of its rhetoric of education access and equity) has been no more than a carefully appropriated façade, concealing the real system of education that rests on notions of hierarchy, inequality, and absolutism—ideas traditionally associated with Cambodia since the rule of God-King Jayavarman II (Mannikka, 1996)—ordering society into the people who have (neak mean) and people who do not (neak kro). The aim of this presentation is therefore to situate the emergence of the system of private tutoring within the Cambodian context and then to explore how it, together with the modern institution of education, (re)orders society along traditional lines of power and hierarchy.