Category Archives: China

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!

Shanghai PISA Results

In today’s Globe and Mail Mark Mackinnon had a folio about primary and secondary education in Shanghai. This piece basically started with last year’s PISA results where Shanghai students scored highest among comparison “countries” to tell a story of a narrow focus on exams and test-taking. While the article describes the situation in Shanghai well and fills this description out with some interested quotes from officials, the situation in Shanghai as it is described will be quite familiar to readers from other hypereducation societies.

This also confirms my long-standing prediction that China is quickly headed to hypereducation on a national and thus massive scale.

One element in Mark’s article that I noticed was that he wrote that “In faraway North America, there was the usual handwringing that children there are falling further behind studious (and numerous) Asian kids.” I would contend that at least for Canada there was relatively little of that handwringing in part because participating Canadian provinces consistently do well on PISA and similar comparative standardized tests. This seems to have given the Canadian public a certain self-confidence that borders on the self-satisfied when it comes to the discussion of education elsewhere.

The other element I noticed in the article was that Mark didn’t mention the doubts about the results from Shanghai in last year’s PISA. PISA results have been subject to extensive methodological scrutiny in almost all participating jurisdictions. Some commentators suspect that some of the test-to-test improvements in students’ achievement are primarily the result of gaming the test system on the part of education authorities rather than of substantive improvements, especially when no policy changes have been implemented between test iterations.

One obvious methodological challenge with the Shanghai results is that these compare students in a single city (and one that can be assumed to be particularly resource-rich and filled with ambitious parents compared to the national Chinese average) to entire countries. This is also true of Hong Kong and Singapore results, of course, but brings with many fewer sources of variation in achievement through rural-urban inequalities, etc.

The Shanghai results in some ways seem so outlandish that it’s difficult not to doubt their veracity. 600 on math when the next closest score is 562 (Singapore) and other point differentials tend to be in the single digits between countries? Hm…

Finally, I couldn’t help but notice that Mark repeated the OECD’s claim that 80% of Shanghai students attend supplementary education. Little further information has emerged about this claim, though I suspect that most of it is in the form of private, one-on-one tutoring, but there have been numerous discussions about the pressure that this exerts on all Shanghai students. This, of course, will once again be familiar to parents and observers of many other hypereducation societies.

An Era of Hypereducation?

In 2010 I wrote an Asia Pacific Memo that argued that “hypereducation” was the way of the future. In this Memo, I was primarily referring to contemporary education in South Korea as a hypereducation system, but also predicting that China was heading in this direction.

What do I mean by hypereducation?

Here are some aspects that define hypereducation:

  • private investment that approaches or surpasses public investment in education even when this public investment is substantial
  • a strong, collectively-agreed upon belief in the importance of education/educational credentials for intergenerational social mobility
  • a highly institutionalized supplementary education sector that goes beyond immediate and short-term concerns with remedial efforts or exam preparation
  • a broad lack of trust in conventional schools (including private schools) that flies in the face of empirical evidence that suggests a high level of achievement

What societies have entered this era of hypereducation? In East Asia: South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. If you agree with my Asia Pacific Memo argument, then China is not far behind? Elsewhere? The island of Manhattan, clearly. I still know too little about non-Asian cases like Brazil, Egypt, Greece, Portugal and Turkey to be able to judge whether hypereducation is also developing in these countries. 

Juku-Flyer: Learning American English in Chinese Juku-Courses in Summer

A Guest Post by Steve Entrich, University of Potsdam, Germany:

What we are all well aware of is the fact, that shadow education institutions are established all over the world and seem to gain greater importance from year to year. The presented flyers show a typical side of these institutions: juku are also season oriented organizations, which aim to get more students especially while summer break.

I found another flyer in China, which represents a part of the private tutoring sector, that seems pretty dubious to me and shows that also just earning money is one of the reasons to run such a business:

The article related to this flyer is posted in the German online magazine concerned with themes all around Asia, the “Asienspiegel”:

The german article you will find when following the link posted above shows you a Chinese juku flyer that was especially printed for a English language course which is held during the summer holidays and addressed to primary and middle school students that aim to upgrade their English knowledge. At second thought you might think, maybe not the students themselves are meant but their parents, on whose worries the juku owners are taking advantage in order to earn some money.

The problems you will find here are the same ones we find in a lot of other countries too: there are no quality standards that define the teachers educational level. And if that isn’t enough, in this special case the juku owner seems to lie about the qualifications of their tutors and the outcomes of the received learning sessions. The price is also quite delicate: about 40000 Yuan (ca. 6272 US $) were paid by a chinese mother after visiting a trial lesson that in the end wasn’t comparable to the later received lessons.

Meanwhile the Peking administration for trade and industry – that has already created a bunch of hotlines for such cases – advises parents to report all malpractice of those institutions. But in the end parents can’t be protected of falling into numerous traps unscrupulous juku-owners had set for them. Like in many other states the education at juku-like institutions will remain in the shadow if the state itself doesn’t install legal regulations.

Asia Pacific Memo on Hyper-Education as the Way of the Future

In an Asia Pacific Memo last year, I asked: “Is South Korea’s Hyper-Education System the Future?” (APM #2, July 13, 2010)

A recent workshop at the University of Waterloo concluded that hyper-education will spread globally in the future. Currently, South Korea’s education system seems to be the most extreme. It is increasingly structured around tutoring in “hagwon” (supplemental education institutions). Korea has taken on even more extreme forms of examination “hell” than Japan.

In Korea, there are reports of students sleeping less than 4 hours per night to prepare for entrance exams to special high schools. An education system embodied in high-stakes standardized exams resulted in this pressure-cooker environment. In a rigidly hierarchal higher education sector, knowledge is emphasized over understanding. The government’s ongoing efforts to combat supplementary education and its excesses are not effective.

The Japanese supplementary education system originated in the early 1970s during the “juku-boom” (when many small supplementary education institutions, or ‘jukus’, were founded). In Japan, a hierarchal education system caused examination “hell” in the context of expanding household income and declining birth rates.

Japan now appears to be following in Korea’s footsteps. In Korea, ‘mom n’ pop’ “hagwon” have been replaced by corporate behemoths of 50,000 students or more. Similarly in Japan, this development began in the 1990s and continues as operators of small, independent “juku” retire without successors. In Japan’s future, declining birth rates may lead to a decline in competition for higher education. However, in the immediate coming years, there will be further economic concentration of businesses active in the supplementary education industry.

On the other hand, China presents the “perfect storm” of conditions for an education system even more extreme than Korea. Single children are far removed from their extended families and are raised by ambitious and increasingly affluent parents. It is becoming a capitalist pressure-cooker as competition for entry into an expanding higher education system increases.