Category Archives: Supplementary Education

Juku: It’s All About Perceptions

One of the most frequent question that is posed to me when I present my research on juku is: does supplementary education work? My two answers are: we don’t know, and it doesn’t matter for educational policy.

No Evidence of Efficacy of Supplementary Education

As to the first answer, we simply do not know whether various forms of supplementary education have any impact at all. There has been no careful and sustained research on this question that employs a credible scheme at controlling selection effects and we thus literally do not have an empirical clue.

Supplementary education advocates, especially if they are of the mind-set that the market and the introduction of market mechanisms “fix everything”, will respond that for-profit, fee-based supplementary education would not exist/continue to operate if it didn’t work.

That is not true, of course, and we might simply point to the large number of  herbal and pharmaceutical remedies that lead a happy and profitable existence in the market place without any credible hints at their efficacy.

Just like health remedies, measurements of supplementary education generally only come after the fact. In the case of accelerated instruction, supplementary education is only tested at its very end point, often the sitting of a standardized examination. At that point in time, however, it is impossible to consider not having participated in supplementary education.

All the same arguments apply for specific tools, teaching aids, and pedagogies. While many of these are intuitively plausible (e.g., yes, I suspect that an engaged student learns more and faster, and retains more of the learned knowledge/skills), there is very limited research that employs control groups or proxies thereof in formal education research either.

Beyond the ethical questions of interventions in children’s education based on a randomized trial, the greatest hurdle would be that we consider so many different factors important in shaping education outcomes, that we would need very large samples that would be subject to very specific and well-defined supplementary education interventions to establish the beginning of a causal relationship.

Whether or Not Supplementary Education ‘Works’, Policy-Makers Should Take it Into Account

But whether or not supplementary education “works”, the fact of its global growth is based on a wide-spread belief in its efficacy. Japanese parents do not seem to go through much trouble in informing themselves about a particular juku beyond word-of-mouth and trial lessons, as far as I can tell from my interviews with juku operators. Word-of-mouth and trial lessons obviously only provide an indication of efficacy, but no real measure thereof. Nevertheless, parents and their children are clearly willing to take a leap of faith and believe that these kinds of tutoring “work”, or more plausible, they are simply too insecure and nervous to question the perceived efficacy when they see all their neighbours believe in efficacy claims and do not want little Takeshi or Yumiko to fall behind.

The large-scale participation of students in supplementary education clearly has an impact on the education system. Whether this impact is primarily in skewing access to education, a distortion in classroom dynamics, or an introduction of quasi-streaming, the impact is very real in many countries that have entered into an era of hypereducation. For policy-makers who are concerned about the impact that supplementary education is having (and concern can obviously range from outrage to encouragement) the fact that supplementary education may or may not “work” is therefore irrelevant.

Further Life of Economist Article

Some of the arguments in the article “Japan’s cramming schools – A controversial institution has some surprising merits” in The Economist are being picked up elsewhere.

Liz Dwyer, education editor for GOOD, in her post asks, “Could ‘Cram Schools’ Be on Their Way to America?” and refers directly back to the article in The Economist.

I posted a reply:

Yes, juku-style “cram schools” are appearing in the U.S. Never mind SAT prep outfits like Kaplan, etc., but NCLB provides funding for tutoring services for students in schools that consistently underperform. It’s too early to tell whether these tutoring services will emerge as large juku corporations (local and state-specific registration seems to prevent this).

Note that supplementary education is not just booming in places where it is long-established (like Japan, but also Brazil, Egypt, Greece, Turkey for non-Asian examples), but in settings like France and Germany where it may be less associated with “cramming”. For now, this boom is focused on remedial tutoring, rather than accelerated instruction.

Note also that reliance on supplementary education is migrating with families.

[Note that I’ve added small parts of my reply that I had to cut to comply with the <1,000 chars req on their website]

I would add that I’ve previously posted about the curious fascination with juku-like institutions in Manhattan and elsewhere in the U.S.

Another place that the article is being commented on is by Roger Soder (apparently) on the “Education and Community” blog. This post takes the original article to task for its – supposedly – too rosy outlook on aspects of juku. While I would generally share the view that The Economist takes too positive a view of for-profit initiatives and the market (no surprise at this assessment and my agreement, I presume), in this case, I believe that this rosiness is due to the brevity of the article not necessarily an editorial stance.

I do always like to stress that juku should not be rejected as mere “cram schools”, but that there are many aspects of teaching in juku that are very attractive (some of the charismatic educators that run some of the smaller juku, for example), while other aspects are much less attractive.

The Economist on Supplementary Education

The week, The Economist’s Kenneth Cukier published an article entitled “Japan’s cramming schools – Testing times: A controversial institution has some surprising merits”. I was thrilled, of course, that he quoted me in the article as a “rare expert on juku”.

Great to see the 塾 character in the accompanying cartoon as well.

As is almost always the case with press and media accounts, the article is relatively short and thus has to gloss over some of the complexities of the phenomenon of supplementary education in Japan and elsewhere. I’ve been struggling with this myself all along in that there are some relatively simple (and thus short) messages I like to offer as conclusions from my research on 塾, but even these are necessarily simplifications (see the categories on the right to explore some of my research on hypereducation in Japan). The Economist’s Japan correspondent also picked up on some of these message, for example by referring to the variety of different juku that exist. While this is not the kind of variety that proponents of the privatization or liberalization often expect (i.e. a flowering of pedagogies and pedagogical innovations), some of the “immobilist politics” in Japanese educational policy (Len Shoppa of the Univ of Virginia used this term in a book on Nakasone educational reforms) is being unsettled by innovations in the supplementary education industry.

The scene Kenn recalls from Seiran Gakuin in his article is one that I have witnessed in many of the almost 50 juku that I’ve visited in Japan. Seiran Gakuin happens to be one of my favourites and is led by  林 政夫 who is one of the great examples of charismatic educators in the juku world.

When Kenn refers to surveys in Japan that attribute juku attendance to shortcomings in education systems (an element of the article that has been picked up by some Twitter reactions to it already), I would offer a qualification – an important qualification, I think – that it is perceptions of shortcomings in Japanese education that seem to be driving parents and students to juku. Whether such shortcomings exist in an empirically demonstrable way is much less clear, and it is always interesting to note that it is not only perceived shortcomings in public education, but in private schools as well. Private school students in Japan also attend juku in large numbers after all.

The Economist on hagwon

Note that The Economist ran an article about supplementary education in Korea in its Christmas special. I have previously written about South Korea as the paragon of hypereducation.

Much of what this article writes about Korea is also true of Japan, of course.

Japan is also a “one-shot” society in that there are few alternative educational or career transition tracks other than graduate from high school, sit entrance examinations, repeat with intensive preparatory study if necessary, graduate from university, apply for jobs during recruitment season, live happily ever after.

While the school-to-work transition is not as smooth as it was in high-flying economic times (I’m currently reading Mary Brinton’s “Lost in Transition” on just this topic), there still are very few re-entry students or alternative routes to higher education in Japan.

The discussion about the costs of the university entrance exam focus in Korea are mirrored more or less in Japan, though the concern with equity via for-profit supplementary education (hagwon) has historically been much greater in South Korea. Unlike the article on Japan (which ends with a note about broken government systems), the article on Korea ends on a more hopeful note focusing on young Koreans as a generation that might bring about/force change. There is little of such a dynamic visible in Japan…

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.

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.

Links:

BMBF: http://www.bmbf.de/press/2289.php

FiBS: http://www.fibs.eu/en/index.htm

Bildungsbericht: http://www.bildungsbericht.de/zeigen.html?seite=8400

Competition = Excellence?

In an editorial for the Globe & Mail on Oct 11, 2011 (“Alberta’s Education System Offers Lesson in Competition“), Tom Flanagan, a professor at the Univ of Calgary and presumed confidant of Prime Minister Harper, extolled Alberta schools for their status as higher ranking than “those of any other English-speaking jurisdiction in international tests of education competence”.

The editorial asks the question why exactly Alberta has been doing so well. This is a very worth while question to ask, even after considering whether standardized scores have much to say that’s meaningful. While many countries (who have done poorly, e.g. Germany, but also some who have done very well, i.e. Japan) are somewhat obsessed with PISA scores, these scores are largely ignored in Canada.

However, Dr. Flanagan hardly provides an answer to this question. He merely lists the many alternatives that are open to students and parents in Alberta. From the number of alternatives, Dr. Flanagan concludes that there is vibrant competition among these alternatives. By some unspecified leap of faith, he then concludes further that this competition must produce the excellence that is observable in Alberta.

It is this logic that underpins many of the arguments for supplementary education as well. Choice leads to competition among schools (or supplementary education institutions) which leads to excellence as only excellent options “survive” competition.

Yet, there is little more than apparent logic that speaks in favour of these links. Empirical evidence is scant at best.

For example, on charter schools, research in the United States has questioned whether such schools actually open up competition because geographic mobility inhibits further-away choices. Dr. Flanagan counters with bussing strategies in Albertan cities that bring options closer to interested students. Fair enough, yet ultimately the number of options that students and parents look upon as reasonable to consider is still very small.

Next, does choice actually produce competition and if yes, competition on what? The choices that Dr. Flanagan points to (from charter schools to various language immersion options) sound great and many of them would certainly be options that I would consider with my children (disclosure: my children are all enrolled in public French immersion schools in Vancouver), but few of these alternatives explicitly aim at pedagogical or outcome excellence, they seem to emphasize content options instead. By which logic does the presence of French or Mandarin immersion programs raise math achievement scores?

Some pedagogical alternatives do exist, of course. How do students and parents evaluate these options? Presumably on the basis of some kind of standardized testing and word-of-mouth. The latter is probably somewhat unreliable, even in smaller cities, but somewhat meaningful, while the former may be fairly reliable, but only meaningful for broad comparisons, much less so for the individual fate of a student within a given school.

It is precisely questions that emanate from a discussion about the role of choice and excellence that have driven me to research about supplementary education in Japan. Here’s an entire sub-education system that’s built around for-profit competition with no shortage of options and parents in metropolitan regions who are not inhibited at all about sending children 90 minutes on public transport to a specific juku. Yet, a diversity of options? Excellence?

The diversity of options is entirely restricted to a diversity of delivery methods (individual, small group, less and less large group, on-line, worksheets, etc.). There is virtually no curricular diversity in a supplementary education system that shadows conventional schools quite closely. The same holds for other countries where hypereducation has taken root, i.e. Korean or Taiwan in E Asia, or Brazil, Egypt, Turkey elsewhere around the world.

So in the end, I would certainly agree with Dr. Flanagan that choices, especially substantive and curricular choices for students are a good thing. However, I’m not sure what part, if any, of the observed excellence in standardized testing is due to the presence of choices.

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. 

Where to Meet Nice Supplementary Education Researchers

For the most part, supplementary education research is relatively underdeveloped as an academic specialty.

Supplementary Education on academia.edu

A quick example: on academia.edu, six researchers have joined me in stating their interest as “supplementary education“. I don’t know any of them and six of them list their status as “independent researcher” which doesn’t bode well for someone setting out in an academic career. Is it on-going squabbles about terminology? No, it doesn’t seem to be as neither “shadow education”, “hypereducation” nor “supplemental education” have an entry. There are a ton of entries with “tutoring” as a word, but they are relatively unfocused.

Why No Subdiscipline of Supplementary Education Research

So why has research on supplementary education not established itself? Another way of asking that question is, why are there not more researchers interested in this topic?

For the years that my previous SSHRC grant ran, I was able to recruit a single MA student as an RA. I sent feelers out towards sociology as we as Ed Studies, but found no interest.

One reason for the sparsity of research is the relatively recent recognition of supplementary education as a phenomenon worth of academic study. In places like Japan, pundits and commentators have written about juku since the 1970s, but this has not led to a research literature. In most OECD countries, the current tutoring/supplementary education boom is a relatively new phenomenon and thus hasn’t attracted a lot of attention yet.

Also, supplementary education sort of sits between all disciplinary chairs. The good thing is that this means it is establishing itself as a genuinely interdisciplinary enterprise which is terrific. This interdisciplinarity not only means a variety of perspectives on the phenomenon (most prominently, perhaps, sociological, but a significant presence of ed studies and pedagogy, coupled with a smaller presence of anthropologists, geographers, economists, etc.), but also means a relatively greater proximity to policy.

Take the example of most education schools: If you look at traditional divisions within the study of education, you will find divisions such as primary, secondary, higher education, or life-long learning, but these examples already suggest that supplementary education doesn’t “fit”. For people focused on schools, juku seem to informal, for life-long learning types 塾生 are too young. That may be why research in this area seems to be coming from neigbouring disciplines rather than education itself in many cases.

CEIS as a Place to Meet

For some time then, the emerging community of supplementary education researchers has been struggling with setting up a centre to its activities or a regular place to meet. Following some discussions last year at the CIES meetings in Montreal, CIES seems to be emerging as a strong contender. Why? It is interdisciplinary, and highlights cross-regional and cross-national comparisons. While CIES is U.S.-based, it has regional and national equivalents throughout the world and a regular global meeting. It meets annually. It is of a nice size, i.e. big enough that participation always seems to yield new insights, but small enough that some lasting links can be built. And finally, it is a pretty friendly conference.

I am aware of several efforts to propose panels that will be focused on supplementary education in Puerto Rico next Spring. One proposal is anchored by Mark Bray of the Univ of HK who generally functions as the godfather to the emerging network of researchers, partly based on his long-standing work in this field, but also partly on his past role as past director of UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning which has given him a wonderful network of researchers around the world.

Hopefully I will be joining with Janice Aurini and Scott Davies – with whom I have collaborated in the past – on a panel proposal as well.

Further Institutionalization

Hopefully, regular meetings of some of the people in this emerging field at CIES will lead to further institutionalization in the form of a community of scholars to whom one can circulate work in progress and with whom one can collaborate on grant proposals and publications.

There is – as of yet – no journal or newsletter that focusses on supplementary education. Yet, there is a growing – albeit informal – network of researchers who focus at least some of their energy on research in this area.

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