Shadow education, also called private tutoring or tuition, is a massive industry in many Asian countries and has become an integral part of the education system. Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and China lead other nations in spending for private tuition. Parents have spent billions of dollars every year to give their children a push in the education race. Tutoring used to be only for the slow learners but global competition has placed the industry in the mainstream.
Market research firm Global Industry Analysts, Inc. predicts that the demand for global private tutoring will reach US$196.3 billion by 2020, with a large percentage of it concentrated in Asia. In Japan, where jukus (cram schools) have been operating since the 1970s, parents send their 2- and 3-year old kids to start learning before they enter formal education. The trendsetter in private education when it was not as widespread, Japan spent $10.9 billion on tutoring in 1991.
The latest House Expenditure Survey in Singapore showed that a staggering $1.1 billion was spent for tuition for the period October 2012 to September 2013, up from the $820 million in a survey done five years earlier. In China, with its 162 million students in primary and secondary levels, private tutoring is a $60 billion business for K-12, the largest piece of the pie in the shadow education industry. And in education-crazed South Korea today, tutoring is a $20 billion a year industry.
Asian parents have their reasons for enrolling their kids early in independent schooling. Competition is stiff, whether it’s entering university for high school and college or in the workforce. They want to arm their children with the best education possible and feel that the formal schooling system isn’t enough. Although there is yet no evidence that grades of these students have improved, parents are not leaving anything to chance and are willing to dish out a sizable amount of the household budget for tuition. There’s also peer pressure and the “kiasu” attitude – the fear of losing out and being left behind because all the other moms and dads are sending their primary and secondary kids to private tutors.
Another reason for tuition is lack of time on the part of parents. With most households having both parents working, it makes sense to give the children the tutoring they should be getting from mom and dad. Subjects, too, are not what they used to be. Mathematics taught a few decades ago have changed in their approach and most parents have difficulty handling these subjects. If tuition is affordable, why deny the children the extra learning?
The tutoring business has spawned a lot of other enterprises. Online search centers that list tutoring schools for parents and students to choose from are very helpful. A tuition center in Singapore is favored by many for its updated listings, grouped by location and with reviews. Web courses for specialized teaching skills train potential tutors so they can be more qualified and get more clients. Teachers are turning to private tutoring because of the high incomes, especially if the tutor ascends to stellar status.
But not all agree that private tuition will make a significant improvement in the students’ grades, or that it will help in ratings when they take the high stakes tests. In the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) test, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ranked Singapore first but did not find a marked improvement in students who had private tuition than those who did not have any. There’s also the fear that good public school teachers will leave the Ministry of Education to go into private tuition.
Dr. Baek Sun Geun of the Korean Educational Development Institute says parents do not trust the public education system enough and resort to tutoring. But teachers say it’s the after-class teaching that is negatively affecting students’ learning. The lack of sleep makes them too tired to pay attention and students have become too dependent on tuition to be able to study independently. Professor Ikuo Amano of the University of Tokyo says children should have more free time and not be conditioned into competing at a very young age.
But critics will have to wait because the trend towards private tuition shows no sign of slowing down. The increase in the number of one-on-one tutors and tuition centers is in fact only just the beginning.