Category Archives: Country-Specific Posts

French “Prépas” as a Parallel to Juku?

One of the most frequent reactions I encounter in discussions of juku is, “Oh, that’s an Asian thing!”. This is a silly reaction in so many ways, but one of the obvious flaws in this perspective is that juku-like educational institutions exist in so many places around the world.

One of the examples I have pointed to in the past without any in-depth understanding is France.

France is unusual in terms of its policy response to supplementary education in that it is the only jurisdiction I am aware of where juku tuition is explicitly tax deductible.

Partly on the basis of this tax advantage, the supplementary education industry has grown significantly in France and has become “big business”. It parallels some of the developments in Germany that Steve Enrich recently discussed. There have also been some corporate M&A activities involving companies like Acadomia that have been an element in the increasing Europeanization of supplementary education at the corporate level.

Another aspect of supplementary education in France are the “prépas”, however. The exact nature of these public schools that are sandwiched between secondary education and entry to the very peculiar grandes écoles is still a bit of a mystery to me even though I tried to learn more about this during my stay in Toulouse as a visiting professor in Spring 2011.

I have recently watched a documentary on the prépas that immediately called the atmosphere in some juku to mind. The documentary is very well-done in the tradition of more in-depth television reporting that is pursued in France, though I should disclose that the documentary was made by a very good friend, Jean-Karl Lambert.

One of the first things I noticed in the portrayal of Pierre, a student who was beginning his two years at the well-known prépas Lycée Hoche in Versailles was the apparent conviction of the direct correlation between (hours) input and success. Clearly, the prépas, like most juku and yobiko (which are more directly parallel to the prépas given enrollment after completion of secondary education) breed an ethic of the total devotion to studies required to success in a hypercompetitive selection to higher education. Jean-Karl describes the entry into the prépas as “methode shock” when students are confronted with a schedule that has one 2nd-year student note that she can go out from time to time, but that she has to watch herself in that regard. Interestingly, food is provided at the prépas in a cafeteria allowing students to be on site from early in the morning until late at night.

Note that entry into the prépas itself is highly selective. The Lycée Hoche, for example, had received 6,000 applications for the 400 seats in the 1st-year class. In the discussion with the prépas長 (“M. le proviseur”), Jean-Karl learns that in the selection the prépas takes the status of a student at the head of his/her class very seriously as an indication of the will to succeed. This is an attitude regarding competition and the required attitude that is also very frequently emphasized in Japan.

To present a more well-rounded portrayal of the prépas, Jean-Karl also included a brief portrayal of a student who dropped out of the prépas due to a lack of motivation and a depression of sorts. Finally, there was a segment on a private alternative to the prépas that made the resemblances to the Japanese situation even more clear in that the students considering this private – and so costly, perhaps, that the students as well as Jean-Karl were asked to leave when the discussion turned toward fees (though a student later discloses €10,000, for 3 hrs. of instruction per week) – alternative are in effect the equivalent of 浪人 attending a yobiko in Japan.

Clearly, the prépas – public as well as private – are a form of accelerated supplementary education that goes beyond the remedial focus of tutoring in much of Central and Western Europe. It is also a form of supplementary education that is firmly institutionalized.

Great reporting and in my mind clear further evidence that the growth of supplementary education is neither limited to Asia nor particularly linked to Asian values and attitudes.

Guest Post: German Nachhilfe

A guest post by Steve Entrich, PhD Student, Univ of Potsdam:

 “Private Nachhilfe” or after-school lessons as given in juku-like institutions, private tutoring at home, and all other forms of supplementary education has been the focus of an annual debate in Germany.  Parents, education experts and politicians, who see this kind of “shadow education” as a result of shortcomings in schools, regularly express their concern about the growth of supplementary education.

Where once a school was able to guarantee children an education good enough to succeed in society, many parents now see the future of their children at risk due. The fear that the school system is not changing quickly enough or at least not in the right direction to meet the challenges of the 21stcentury leads to more private agitation.

Naturally, demands for responses focus on schools’ accountability. To do so, reforms of the educational system are necessary and were implemented over the past few years – mainly as a result of the bad performance of German pupils in PISA 2000. In general, PISA has led to an unbelievable amount of research activities.

What is often forgotten is the fact that research focused not just on the assumed failures of schools is needed, but also about Nachhilfe, which was also the topic of a lot of discussions.

For some years the German media is now bringing up the problem of Nachhilfe but except a few regionally specific social scientific projects no national or even comparative study has been carried out.

In the end, not all the debates about concerns towards this kind of education were pointless.

Finally, in 2007 the government reacted and the BMBF, the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research, commissioned a report. Shortly after, the selected private research institution, the FiBS (Institute for Education and Socio-Economic Research and Consulting), came up with a survey of over 169 pages summing up all the available data about forms of commercial Nachhilfe, data records about offering institutions and an international overview about comparable data including Austria, England, Poland, Japan and South Korea.

The survey was titled with: “What do we know about Nachhilfe? – Status and Examination of Research Literature about Offering, Need and Effect” (in German).

All in all, the education experts of the FiBS stated, that the current state of research was “fragmentary” or rather “confusing” (p. 12) and so a lot of work has to be done until we can fully understand how we – in political as well as societal terms – have to deal with this educational reality.

Clearly we will have to observe other Nachhilfe-systems around the world to see what concepts seem promising to us for dealing with Shadow Education. Sadly not much was done after the FiBS report was published. While I myself am in the middle of a research project about Shadow Education in Germany and Japan, not much is done in German research institutes to see what is going on in Nachhilfe-institutions. Just one thing seems to be clear: Nachhilfe – or however you may entitle this kind of private tutoring – is expanding all over the globe. Last year FiBS started a survey about Nachhilfe in the G8-States and found out, that the need for supplementary education of this kind is growing steadily.

One reason for this – Nachhilfe institution operators themselves said so – are the school reforms mentioned above, e. g. the structural reform of the Gymnasium, where students don’t need to go to school for 13 years altogether (including 4 to 6 years of primary education) but just 12 years. Pressure in school has intensified and so more and more students (and parents) look for help – and they find it. If you follow FiBS, 58 % of institutional Nachhilfe offers stated that the request for their private after school lessons has steadily increased over the past few years.

I still hope for more research activity in this field of study and am happy, that the BMBF has already included a section about out-of-school learning in the national report on education as a result of the FiBS report. We do know that Nachhilfe exists and is expanding; we just have to understand how to deal with this fact in the present and the future as well.





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 Berlin I

I’m branching out in my collection of juku flyers, this time to Berlin, Germany [thanks, Mom!].

Cover of a German juku flyer

I suspect that some people will recognize the design of this flyer as it is advertising the local branch of the juku that is probably THE most active internationally. There is not much information on the front of the flyer, except for a generically happy-looking, perhaps stereotypically German looking girl. The back of the flyer does contain a little more information. From the information it is clear that this particular juku is targeting primarily remedial purposes. This seems to be (still) generally the case in Germany and in most of Northern and Western Europe.

“Lernfreude” and “Konzentrationsvermögen” look like they are right up there with “Fahrvergnügen” in the canon of compound German words that have a chance at English adoption. In this case, they are referring to a “joy to learn” and “ability to concentrate” respectively. Departing a bit from the generically remedial script the second bullet point promises not only a “focus on weaknesses in learning”, but also a “targeted expansion of strengths in learning”.

An emphasis on the emotional aspects of learning (weaknesses) is also in clear evidence with such terms as “joy”, “confidence”, “relaxed approach to challenges”.

Finally, the flyer offers a no-cost two week trial period for newly enrolled students.

Back Side of a German juku flyer

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.

Juku Policy: Areas of Regulation

Juku are currently not, nor have they been regulated in their function as education providers. They merely operate as any other service business would, i.e. with a business license.

The only regulation that has an impact on juku in terms of their teaching function is that teachers at public schools (in their role as public servants) cannot work at juku.

This is in contrast to other countries, for example South Korea, where supplementary education institutions are regulated as education providers not mere businesses.

In the South Korean case, hagwon are regulated primarily to attempt to reduce the impact that fee-based education has on access to education and thus on (in)equality. Attempts to regulate hagwon have stretched form an outright ban, to limits on fees that can be charged and hours of operation.

Similarly, in countries like Turkey where school teachers are directly involved in the provision of supplementary education, regulation is aimed at keeping track of hours worked by teachers in their regular school function as opposed to their supplementary education role.

Not only are juku not regulated in Japan, but the Ministry of Education continues to ignore them, at least officially when it comes to policy-making. Surely, some of the employees of the Ministry cannot have their heads buried so deep in the sand that they do not know about or acknowledge the existence of juku, especially as juku operators like to point out that bureaucrats are among the professions who are virtually guaranteed to send their children to juku.

I agree entirely with Mark Bray who has pointed out in several of his publications that it would behoove policy-makers to have an accurate sense of who is availing themselves of supplementary education, for what purposes, in what subjects, for how long and with what financial and equity consequences.

If policy-makers were to decide to address supplementary education based on an understanding of its operation, regulation could potentially focus on a) consumer protection, b) educational standards, or c) health and safety.

Consumer Protection

When it comes to quality assurance and consumer protection, there have been periodic discussions in Japan of encouraging or even requiring some kind of certification of instructors at juku. This would surely be welcomed by corporate juku, especially if the training required for certification would be relatively costly, but not intrusive on teaching methodologies, etc. Given the setting of the juku industry, a standardized examination comes to mind as an obvious solution, and corporate juku would surely begin to offer courses to prepare candidates for this examination within hours of its creation.

For smaller juku who rely on casual labour to a greater extent, certification would be yet another costly barrier to their operation. The introduction of some kind of certification may thus hasten the demise of smaller juku who may well be the more likely source of substantive innovation than corporate juku who are beholden much more to economic drivers in their operations.

Oddly, teacher certification or at least some kind of indication of any kind of teacher training does not seem to be demanded by parents, nor students, so any impetus for such regulation does not seem to be coming from consumers themselves.

Educational Standards

Another area of quality assurance and consumer protection would be a requirement to document the efficacy of juku offerings. This would obviously be very difficult in a situation where 塾生 are free to enrol and leave a specific juku at will.

Some kind of accounting for the efficacy of juku instruction would address consumer protection concerns as much as it would a concern for the quality of education provided and thus its contribution to national development.

Elsewhere I write about attempts to measure the impact of supplementary education. It would require a huge public effort to implement some kind of testing system that would give parents and students a real indication of any contributions that particular juku might make to the education of a student. This testing system would likely become such a monstrous beast in and of itself, especially in a system that is already rife with testing, though this would also mean that few parents or operators might object, that it would not seem to be worth the effort of offering more sophisticated consumer information.

In my mind these considerations demonstrate the absurd ends to which arguments for accountability can be taken.

Health & Safety

Addressing health and safety concerns related to children’s participation in supplementary education seems the most straight-forward measure to take. This seems to be, in fact, the approach that authorities in Taiwan and Hong Kong are taking, where they require the registration of juku as such and address safety standards through local regulation. Some possible measures could include regulation of maximum number of students per classroom (as in Hong Kong), minimum space and furniture standards for students, some kind of ombudsman role to report abuses, etc.

Many juku have implemented CCTV systems on their premises to assure students’ safety and they also offer systems that address safety (and truancy) concerns regarding students’ commute to and from juku. It has always struck me as ironic that the area of most active self-regulation on the part of juku seems to be the commute to and from the juku when crime rates and real dangers to students are in fact very low.

In another post, I write about challenges to regulating juku.

Recurring Concerns about Tutoring in Germany

Yesterday I had a chance to meet Steve Entrich, a doctoral candidate at the Univ of Potsdam near Berlin. Steve is planning to write a dissertation that will compare aspects of shadow education in Japan and Germany.

Steve presented his plans for his dissertation. In the discussion, including discussions with his supervisor, Wolfgang Lauterbach, it was clear that research on supplementary education and tutoring in Germany is going through the same development that many of us are experiencing elsewhere, i.e. suffering from the fact that our research interest seems to fall between institutional cracks, particularly in Faculties or Schools of Education where supplementary education fits neither with K-12 education (focused exclusively on formal, state-recognized schools), nor with adult education (focused on, er, adults).

However, I also learned that Nachhilfe (remedial tutoring) does attract a fair bit of periodic attention in the German press where it is largely perceived as a growing “problem”. One of the main concerns is with equity and class-specific access to educational resources. A focus on the inequality that is – at least on the surface – inherent in for-profit, fee-based supplementary education, seems to be an important “hook” to motivate this kind of research in academic contexts with a strong focus on inequality (continental European sociology, Korea, etc.)

While Nachhilfe thus shows up periodically in the German press, there is no sustained attention to this issue, nor has it become a focus for any research projects.

The discussions in Potsdam reinforced my sense that there is a great need for more exchanges among researchers with an interest in supplementary education.

Publicly-Financed Remedial Tutoring in Germany

[Due to recent travel, I haven’t been posting as actively as in previous months]

I am – by now – fairly certain that supplementary education is on the rise globally. This sense seems to be shared by a large number of the members of the emerging scholar community focused on supplementary education.

However, in some countries, this rise is clearly beginning from a very small base. Most of Europe (save some Southern European exceptions, Portugal, Malta, Greece, but also Turkey) would be in this category where supplementary education largely exists in the form of individual private tutoring. While this sector has been corporatizing since the 1990s with some real corporate education giants emerging, and is becoming more and more visible in cityscapes and advertising, there is no large-scale take up.

Some of the growth has been if not fueled, at least hastened or reinforced by public policies. France is thus a longtime exception in that it offers tax credits for supplementary education expenses.

Germany now seems to be following in the footsteps of the U.S. by offering some public subsidies for remedial tutoring. Unlike in the U.S. where eligibility for such funds is rooted in the consistent under-performance of schools, the emerging German model ties the funding to the income/welfare status of students’ parents. The promise of available funds has thus come as a part of the package of welfare reforms commonly described as Hartz IV. A subsidy of €10 per month per child has been mentioned. A quick check of some websites of German tutoring services suggests that this may pay for a single instructional session once a week, if that session is part of a larger package.

However, these subsidies are currently not formally on offer but have to be specifically applied for. Uptake seems to be very limited.

The proposed subsidy is also unusual in that it would suggest (to my eye anyway) federal involvement in education, a big constitutional no-no in Germany, through the welfare back door.

If this subsidy were to become more common, it would be a step toward a public policy that addresses the equity concerns often associated with supplementary education. At the same time, the current discussions offer no insights on the selection of tutoring services where this subsidy could be spent, nor age or subject ranges that would be eligible.

Curious Opposition to Tutoring among Exam Setters

I mentioned a NYT article about widespread tutoring in Manhattan previously.

Very early on the article notes that “Riverdale discourages […] tutoring” referring to Riverdale Country School, apparently a fancy private school in NYC.  This school requires the SSAT or ISEE test for admission, both SAT-like tests for younger children (for entry to middle and high school).

This appears to be a common pattern among institutions who administer admission tests, i.e. they like to discourage tutoring for these tests. Whether it is based on an argument (this seems to be quite transparently false) that these are “aptitude” tests and thus can’t be prepped for, or on an equally spurious argument that prepping is undesirable and not conducive to the development of students.

Even in a hypereducation system like Japan, officials at schools that require entrance examinations often stick to the line that their test can be mastered (i.e. passed with a very high score) without any particular coaching. This would have to mean that a high score can be achieved on the basis of school attendance only. Or so, some of the exam setters claim. Most parents seem to disagree.

Why I understand that no exam setters wants exam takers to be able to “game” the exam, I am less certain where this allergy against test preparation among exam setters comes from. I suspect, however, that it is an element of embarrassment as the perceived need for tutoring exposes the fact that such tests do offer greater chances at higher scores to exam takers who devote resources (time and money) to exam preparation; resources that are obviously limited and distributed unevenly among the potential test-taking population.

Another Article on Hypereducation in Exotic Manhattan

As a Japan researcher, I am perfectly accustomed to the exoticization of all things linked to Japan in most journalistic accounts. That includes the rare articles on juku, of course. But the cherry blossoms, “Fujiyama”, geisha, etc. articles and motifs have nothing on the extent to which I am accustomed to the exoticization of Manhattan as a supplementary education researcher.

This week, Jenny Anderson had an article on tutors hired by parents of selective Manhattan schools. While the article (and the comments on it) contain a lot of interesting information and discussion, it’s hard not to read this information with an easy “ts, ts, ts, these überrich Manhattanites” reaction.

That kind of reaction misses the reality of the Manhattan situation for many parents around the world. For the U.S., hypereducation may be limited to the always-exotic island of Manhattan (minus palm trees and jungle), but in countries like Brazil, Egypt, Greece, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Turkey, among others, it is a pervasive reality.