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How Shadow Education can Undermine the EFA Goals: The Expansion and Implications of Private Tutoring

By Mark Bray, University of Hong Kong.

Private supplementary tutoring is commonly called shadow education, because it mimics the mainstream. As the mainstream grows, so does the shadow; and as the curriculum changes in the mainstream, so it changes in the shadow.

Shadow education did not feature in either the 1990 Jomtien or 2000 Dakar discussions about Education for All (EFA) hosted by UNESCO and partners, chiefly because it was poorly researched and little visible. However, shadow education has greatly expanded (see e.g. Bray 2009; Bray & Lykins 2012). For example, a 2009 survey in India’s West Bengal found that 57% of primary school students received private tutoring (Kumar 2009); and a 2008 Ghanaian survey showed that 48% of households with primary school children paid for tutoring (Antonowicz et al. 2010). These figures reflect families’ feelings that school systems were not delivering enough. Among the causes may have been a drop in quality following the push for quantity.

Shadow education can contribute valuably to learning, and can compensate for qualitative shortcomings. Yet because rich households can invest more easily than poor ones, it exacerbates social inequalities. In addition, shadow education can undermine regular school systems. Teachers who are also tutors may neglect their regular classes; and teachers who tutor their existing students may deliberately cut the curriculum in order to promote demand for private lessons. Where regular teachers are not permitted to engage in tutoring, shadow education still undermines school systems by recruiting dynamic personnel for the supplementary sector rather than the schools.

Social inequalities are at the core of the UN’s vision for the reshaped MDGs. Shadow education has major implications for social inequalities. It also has far-reaching implications for quality education for all. In line with UNESCO’s global mandate, shadow education needs attention in rich countries as well as poor ones. This has begun to be recognised, e.g. in meetings convened by UNESCO’s office in Bangkok in May 2012 and at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris in October 2012. However, the message needs underlining and given much wider recognition.

Mark Bray is a UNESCO Chair Professor in Comparative Education, and Director of the Comparative Education Research Centre at the University of Hong Kong. Email:

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2 Responses

  1. Mike Douse

    …and educational decision-makers are often amongst those comfortable ones who happily pay for that extra tuition… and thus, in some cases, don’t want the practice highlighted in plans and programmes… and teachers in several countries known to me sleepwalk through their day jobs and come alive after school with their paying pupils – and so many teachers earn three or four times more from the extra part than from their jobs as such – and where teachers earn <US$ 60 monthly, who can blame them?

  2. sbekanayake Ph.D

    I like the first para of Dr. King very effectively put across. ‘Shadow teaching’ (ST) is kind of a ‘Sleep walking’ which I have seen even in the remotest unbelievable parts of Sri Lanka and similarly of all the places in Afghanistan ! Yes Afghan children mostly seek tuition in English and Science subjects and their ambitions are as high as any child in Sri Lanka to be a doctor, pilot, engineer , teacher. We can understand why Afghan children seek tuition but Sri Lankans ! It is here I see the relevance of Mike Douse’s argument to make ends meet at home! There is no way to circumvent following the current structures that prevail in our education systems. So long examinations based on testing content ST will also dominate the educational scenarios.. The poor will be left out and the majority will miss advantages of schooling and going to school for them is only a ritual. Hence the need for radical changes in FE needed where advantages of ST would be minimized to almost zero level . These will demand synergism between FE and NFE, practical approaches to realistic issues in both teaching and assessing, field work learning with reality etc. Such approaches would lead to bringing greater benefits / advantages to the poor and powerless.

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