Monthly Archives: May 2011

Report on Shadow Education in Europe Released

A new report on participation in supplementary education in Europe has just been released.

More than 50% of school pupils receive private tuition in some EU countries, according to a new report published by the European Commission. The report, which is the first to look at the issue across the EU, shows that parents are spending several billion euros a year to supplement their children’s education. Tutoring is widespread in southern European countries such as Greece (spending estimated at more than €950 million per year, which is equivalent to 20% of government expenditure on primary and secondary education), Spain (€450 million), Italy (€420 million) and Cyprus (€111 million), but much less popular in northern Member States such as Sweden and Finland, where schools appear to largely satisfy expectations. The scale of tutoring has increased in France (€2.2 billion per year and growing at an estimated 10% a year), Germany (up to €1.5 billion), and Austria (€126 million). There are also indications of significant increases in the UK and Belgium. The decline in the purchasing power of teachers’ salaries has been a major factor in driving the expansion of private tutoring in Eastern European countries. Spending in Romania, for example, is estimated at €300 million per annum.Demand for private tutoring principally comes from high-achievers and is fuelled by pressure on youngsters to do well in exams and by ‘social competition’. The report points out that private tutoring reflects – and exacerbates – social inequalities. Private tutoring is much less about pupils who are in real need of support and much more about maintaining the competitive advantages of the already successful and privileged, it says. Financial cutbacks have also reduced the extent to which educational institutions can provide individual learning support within school. The report suggests that private tuition can restrict children’s leisure time in a way that is psychologically and educationally undesirable. The report, which was prepared for the Commission by the Network of Experts in Social Sciences of Education and Training, is available as a PDF

My comments and observations will come once I’ve had a chance to look at the report.

Complementary, not Supplementary Education?

This post is another result of conversations with Victor Kobayashi at the CIES meetings.

I continue to wrestle with terminology (no good at all other than for very quick communication: ‘cram school‘; better, but perhaps no longer true: ‘shadow education‘; even better, but not evocative for general public or many colleagues and what do I call the actual schools: ‘supplementary education’).

Kobayashi raised the possibility of referring to juku as “complementary education”. He based this partly on the history of juku and its premodern focus on erudition rather than education. The argument then is to say that juku complement conventional schools rather than supplementing them. In my mind, this captures the “shadowing” part of ‘shadow education’ better as it hints at the extent to which juku follow the official school curriculum with very few exceptions.

My hesitancy about ‘shadow education’ stems in part from the fact that much of these activities are no longer in the shadow and that also applies to complementarity. When students across different contexts are reporting that the ‘real learning’ (whatever that is, exam success seems to be hinted at) occurs at juku not in conventional schools, then neither ‘complementary’, ‘shadow’, nor ‘supplementary’ education works any longer.

Just as research on supplementary (or shadow) education may be establishing itself with this label, the brand may be becoming obsolete through the intervention of pesky empirical reality.

No Smoking, Please

It’s struck me throughout my research on juku that the juku industry is largely a no-smoking world.

One of the reasons this has surprised me is that many of the juku-cho I interview are of a generation with a very high share of smokers (now in their 1960s). A subgroup of them also has some counter-cultural roots which would further predispose them toward smoking, I imagine.

Conventional schools obviously have fairly strong prohibitions against students smoking and these prohibitions fall under the “guidance” I discussed in earlier posts. Since my research has concentrated on juku for some time now, I have not spent much time in schools, but my sense from school-based TV dramas at least in the 1990s was that smoking was not uncommon among (male) teachers then, though this may have changed significantly now.

I find it even more surprising how little smoking there is around juku given the large number of university students who teach part-time at juku. While the proportion of smokers among university students is declining (I imagine), it is still not uncommon to see students smoking, but I don’t think I’ve seen any teachers dug out of the juku for a smoke in breaks more than once or twice.

NYT Article on Kumon

A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times ran an article by Kate Zernike on Kumon students in New York. [Thanks to Kenn Cukier for pointing me in the direction of the article.]

The main thrust of the argument in the article is that perceived competition for educational achievement is being pushed to lower-and-lower grades. For some reasons, three-year-olds memorizing numbers is always a favourite topic for journalists as this is meant to be shocking. Without endorsing Kumon worksheets as the path to enlightenment, I do think that some children get a lot of joy and some benefits out of such tutoring and the puzzle-aspects of these kinds of worksheets.

The broader point in the article is, however, that it is imagined/perceived competition and peer pressure that is driving the push of tutoring companies (Kumon and Sylvan are explicitly mentioned) into offer pre-school classes.

The article quotes a prominent Cal psychologist, Alison Gopnik, with a great analogy to the “escalation of supplemental education”: “Irish elk competing to see which had the biggest antlers. ‘The result is that they go around tottering, unable to walk, under the enormous weight of these antlers they’ve developed,'” (Kate Zernike, New York Times, May 15, 2011, ST1, “Fast-Tracking to Kindergarten?”).

Indicators of the “escalation of supplemental education” mentioned in the article include Kumon’s 250,000 students in the U.S. and describes Kumon in New York as “colonizing storefronts like so many Starbucks”.

Costs mentioned here at US$200-300 for preschoolers which is higher than what most Kumon parents would be paying in Japan, I think.

The article refers several times to the tension between ‘progressive’ preschools and the kind of tutoring that is offered by Kumon and the like. Parents seem to be caught in the middle between idealized progressive education and the perceived reality of competition in education that seems so powerful in NY city in particular.

Interesting that the article also describes economic/managerial pressures on Kumon that seem quite similar to the Japanese metropolitan context:

Most Kumon centers are franchises. But recognizing the prohibitive costs of rent in New York City, the parent company began opening centers itself in New York City a little over three years ago. It now has 36 in the five boroughs — 13 in Manhattan — with 14 more expected to open this year.

The article does reinforce the sense that supplementary education is limited to the island of Manhattan in the United States. This is, of course, far from the truth. Instead, extreme situations (preschools prepping for tests) always seem to be of greater interest to journalists, whether that is in the U.S. or in Japan.

There are two versions of supplementary education that are subject to current and past research: a) SAT prep, and b) the tutoring services authorized under the “No Child Left Behind” Act.

For the former, see a recent article by Claudia Buchmann and her collaborators, for example:

Claudia Buchmann, Dennis Condron, and Vincent Roscigno. 2010. “Shadow Education, American Style: Test Preparation, the SAT and College Enrollment“. Social Forces, 89 (2): 435-461.

Vancouver Juku Flyer Vancouver I

I have not been making good use of any of the multimedia capabilities of a blog, so I thought I’d start scanning in some of the flyers for supplementary education from around the world that I’m collecting. If you have similar flyers, I would be delighted to add them to this series with some brief comments.

For now, I will blur out brand names/contact details, though I’m not entirely sure whether I will be able to keep that up in the long run. Note that I’m not including flyers for any of the juku where I’ve conducted research, in part to safeguard their anonymity.

Vancouver Supplementary Education Flyer

A Vancouver Tutoring Service Flyer

So, what do I notice when I look st this flyer?

[Apologies for the black-and-white, will have to fiddle with the copy machine settings to make this colour for the future].

For the front side of the flyer (on the left), the quote by a satisfied parent is very common on this kind of advertising. Here it speaks to one of the two main claims by tutoring companies: better grades and better attitude. The quote acts at once as advertising the service’s main claims, but also providing evidence of their success, though obviously not in any replicable way.

Unusually for Vancouver, none of the students pictured are Asian-looking. This is contrary to what I found together with an intern some years ago when we surveyed Vancouver tutoring services.

Vancouver Juku Flyer

Reverse Side of a Vancouver Tutoring Service Flyer

I should note, BTW, that this flyer showed up on our doorstep in Kitsilano.

For the back side of the flyer, the paragraph here hits on all the main points that almost all supplementary education emphasizes: “unique methodology”, “custom-tailored”, “unique needs”. Presumably that is one of the main selling points, i.e. the ability (in contrast to conventional schools) to be able to tailor tutoring to a student’s learning goals. Whether this tailoring involves anything other than a different pace of progress is unclear, of course.

As is the case for many tutoring services in North America, the one advertised here is offering at-home tutoring, i.e. the equivalent of 家庭教師in Japan.

Something that his quite rare in juku promotional materials in Japan, but much more common for supplementary education in North America, is the claim of some kind of accreditation, in this case through membership in the “National Tutor Association“.

While this association does offer certification, all that’s advertised on the flyer is membership, and that is open to anyone, so it is essentially a useless piece of information that is most likely meant to hint at some kind of professional status.

Note that this particular tutoring service is a “home-based” franchise.

Special Issue of “Administrative Sciences” on Innovations in Education Policy and Private Sector Initiatives in Pacific Rim Countries

Kathryn Ibata-Arens (with whom I have collaborated in the past, special issue on “embedded enterprise” of Enterprise & Society) will be editing a special issue of Administrative Sciences focused on “Innovations in Education Policy and Private Sector Initiatives in Pacific Rim Countries”.

Here’s the information on the special issue which serves as a call for papers as well:

Dear Colleagues,

How are national governments in Pacific Rim countries including East Asia, Brazil and the United States meeting 21st century challenges to improve the skill base of their citizens in seeking employment that contributes to rising standards of living and sustainable economic development, while strengthening national economies?

This special issue contributes to the cross-national and interdisciplinary dialog concerning innovative approaches in education policy and practice. Asian countries in particular are placing an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in the hopes of stimulating high technology entrepreneurship and the emergence of new high growth industries. “Cram” schools, which focus on rote memorization (e.g. math) are an integral part of the education system in a number of Asian countries, while inroads are also being made in gifted, enrichment (hands-on activities supplementing learning for high ability students) and online learning. How is success in these practices in Asia balanced against what can be seen as a neglect of traditional sectors? What are the societal implications of a decline in national funding for cultural and liberal arts education? Are these countries developing a national education system which supports a healthy national innovation system, and can (and should) these practices be modeled elsewhere?

The special issue shall be prefaced by a brief thematic and theoretical introduction by Gerald Hane, CEO of Battelle Japan and Kathryn Ibata-Arens, political economist and associate professor at De Paul University. The introduction situates innovations in education within human capital development as part of innovation policy (competitive national innovation systems), as well as within ideas of social policy (outreach to disadvantaged socio-economic groups) and immigration policy (how certain countries are attracting the best and brightest from elsewhere to fast-track domestic human capital development).

The special issue will conclude with a reflective commentary by E. Anthony Kelly, professor at George Mason University and expert in education policy. Of particular emphasis in the essay shall be policy lessons learned for the United States and other Pacific Rim countries including, but not limited to, Brazil, China, India, Japan, South Korea and Singapore.

Contributions welcomed from social scientists and others with expertise in the aforementioned issues. Research based on surveys and/or original fieldwork is particularly welcome. Single-country and/or comparative works in East Asia, Southeast and South Asia as well as Latin America and South America are encouraged.

Dr. Kathryn Ibata-Arens
Guest Editor

More information

Canadian Overseas Schools

Here’s a diversion that’s somewhat related to my focus on shadow education: Canadian overseas schools.

Lia Cosco, post-graduate research fellow at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, visited a number of Canadian schools in Asia and reports on her observations in the Foundation’s “Canada-Asia Agenda”, edited by UBC colleague, Brian Job.

Canadian Overseas Schools: A Unique Approach to the Export of Canadian Education


The demand for Canadian education is rising, most visibly in Asia. An important and growing, yet relatively unexplored, dimension of Canada’s overseas education engagement is its offshore and international schools. Canada’s provincial accreditation of overseas schools is one of the most innovative international initiatives in education. However, a lack of sufficient oversight and support for the accreditation and operation of Canadian overseas schools puts Canada’s international education standards at risk.

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.


Previous Exchange on the Absence of Single-Sex Juku

In 2008, I had posted a version of my “why are there no girls’ juku” puzzle to SSJ-Forum and received some replies.

For example, Ron Stewart (Prefectural University of Hiroshima) wrote:

I think you will find there are no single-sex hagwon(juku) in Korea either. […]

Evidence that choice of university in Japan is not purely driven by university rankings, can be seen in the in the rise and falls in enrollments in various university departments. It can also be seen in the seemingly endless reshuffling of old departments and creation of new courses, majors and faculties at Japanese universities in order to attract students.

“Humanities (which have for a long time been the focus of womens universities’ curriculums (the idea of refinement through arts) are losing appeal in favour of vocational training (once the realm of senmon gakko and tandai) and some more ‘unrefined’ and ‘masculine’ areas such as rikei. I think this change is across most of tertiary education here in Japan.


Another example is the rush in recent years by many Japanese universities to create, nursing, welfare, health and pharmacology courses and departments, geared towards giving students qualifications for an ever expanding health and old age care sector. So I think the attraction to traditional womens universities curriculums (literature, art, music, culture, and language) is being erroded these days. Some public womens universities are being phased out through a need to expand through mergers, to offer more options and services to students and put them on more sound financial footing, as they are being forced to become public foundations these days (koritsu hojin). […]

As many womens universities here are Christian (there are examples in Tokyo, Okayama, Nagoya, Hiroshima and other places), they may well stick to ideas of women being able to study more effectively away from the ‘immoral temptations’ or ‘moral corruption’ of having males in close proximity, and stick to ideas of being a primary socializer and producer of ‘refined’ ‘feminine’ women. Maybe reading these universities’ rationales on there homepages and comparing them to those of juku may offer some clues as to with both exist and how they differ in worldview/ideology.

Merry White (Boston University) responded:

Some time ago when I looked at juku I found that there were, effectively, boys’ juku – by economic selection.
That is parents were more willing then to spend extra money for a son’s educational enhancements than for a daughter’s; the investment in her future wouldn’t have the same payback, or wouldn’t be needed through juku.

And for top, high-standard juku the effect seemed even greater. I think, though I am not sure, that the gender-based investment strategy no longer holds as couples have fewer children and invest in their educational futures in a gender-neutral way. Juku by the way used to refer to all kinds of classes – including music lessons. We are talking here about academic advancement juku, yes?

No Niches in Education Markets? Really?

This is continuing an exchange with “HeritageOfJapan” and now “japanexplorer” on the Education in Japan Community Blog that refers in part back to my previous posts (1 | 2 | 3) on the puzzle of the absence of single-sex options in the Japanese supplementary education industry.

In a further comment, “japanexplorer” writes,

The news trend in recent years on juku stability and profitability suggests that it is getting more competitive and that many juku branches face closure, hence the huge number of mergers seen in recent years.

Yes, I agree entirely. This is a trend that I will certainly be commenting about in the future on this blog. Briefly, kojinjuku are being squeezed geographically by the outward expansion of chains in metropolitan areas, and by the lack of children and the lack of competition for entry into higher education institutions in rural areas. They also face a very serious successor problem as many of the original founders of the first juku boom are retiring. Finally, they are facing a competitive squeeze from chains based on ICTs innovations and investments. At the same time, the supplementary education market is clearly also consolidating at the corporate end.

Yes, in a few cosmopolitan centres, juku attendance remain strong, but all round the figures suggest with falling numbers of student population, any strategic moves must be cost-effective for the entire chain.

But note that juku of all kinds are pushing hard into smaller and smaller groups of instruction suggesting significantly higher per-student revenue than even five years ago.

I am still convinced that juku operators will not divide the classes on the basis of sex. That is not to say if parents overwhelmingly demand for it and UNLESS some juku’s president someday decides single-sex edu will be a great competitive marketing strategy(this is not unconceivable).

Okay, so why hasn’t some jukucho decided to adopt this as a competitive marketing strategy? That is precisely my argument in trying to understand my original puzzle better.

Theoretically, it makes no sense in my mind to argue that operators shouldn’t divide their potential customers and exclude some. Businesses do this all the time, whether they are geographically rooted or not. And if anything, Japanese managers are well-known for pursuing niche strategies in a number of consumer markets. Anyone remember the Nissan Figaro, for example? Take another example: hair stylists seem to include single-sex as well men’s and women’s salons. Someone who is setting up a women’s salon is also given up on 50% of the customer population, but that seems obvious, even though there are no physiological differences between male and female hair (I assume).

Given the nature of the juku industry as really approximating an unfettered consumer market (at least in the big cities), there is no reason to think (at least none that comes to my mind) that nice strategies shouldn’t work.

Empirically as well, this argument doesn’t convince me. Juku operators are pursuing lots of niche strategies that are excluding a much greater proportion of the potential market than the 50% that a single-sex strategy would suggest.

Many juku thus specialize (sometimes even exclusively) on specific grades. If the argument about the lack of a viable niche strategy were true, this niche shouldn’t exist. Likewise, I’ve interviewed the operator of a fax-based juku. Not only did this strike me as somewhat quaint (even recognizing the greater penetration of the fax machine in Japan), but it is clearly a relatively small niche of parents/students who would be willing to communicate by fax.

I’ve also visited a juku that deliberately capped the number of its students at 24. In this case, this was obviously a very high-end strategy, but it also is a viable niche.

In fact, many kojinjuku cap the number of students, generally at about half of their historical maximum enrollment which typically came in the early 1990s.

Even the chain juku stratify students within grades on a fairly minute achievement/test result basis.

So, a niche strategy is not viable? I am not convinced.

As “japanexplorer” him/herself acknowledges, “Whatever the large juku operators that you are talking about may say, the nature of the juku market is niche-marketing.” Precisely, so why no single-sex juku?

What each juku chain sells is the reputation of its methodology or material/curriculum package that has a proven track record or that has worked with parents themselves.

Note that it is reputation not “proven track record”, as the only evidence of a track record offered is usually the number of “graduates” who succeeded in entrance examinations. There’s no attempt, nor do parents seem to demand, any kind of value-added evidence that would actually isolate the impact that a juku and/or its teaching methodology had on entrance examination success. Likewise with grade improvement for juku that are focused more on remedial instruction (another way in which the market is stratified, BTW).

Secondly, many of the jukus cater largely to parents who cannot afford the private schooling route, and who therefore have already in fact decided to forego the ‘luxury’ factor of the better schooling environment/atmosphere (both physical and social), to make-do with the barebones goal of academic achievement.

While this is certainly true for some segments of the juku market, I would doubt the “many” characterization. There are no statistics to my knowledge that would allow us to quantify such a portion of the market. Many students at private schools attend juku as well and there are plenty of relatively low-cost juku options, especially when you take into account that juku attendance is also a form of child care.

Re your other comments: earlier in my survey of private schools and in putting together the pte school directory, I came across news articles in which schools like Kaiyo Academy and other new ones, suggestions that the singe-sex environment was a key consideration.

That is very interesting as it contradicts the sense I had gained so far of the absence of pedagogical motivations. Any pointers for where to look for this information?

In my mind the debate continues and I welcome all further contributions.