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Comparative Research on Shadow Education

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As the competition for top schools, university places and jobs began to grow in Asia in the 1980s and ‘90s along with the boom of the four Asian tiger economies, so did the rapid demand for private supplementary tutoring.

With millions of students looking to improve their chances of obtaining a degree and starting a career, these independent tutors became sought after by ambitious parents to help their children pass high-pressure exams.

Over the last two decades what is now known as shadow education has been growing vigorously in Asia. It is now also established in other parts of the world including Europe, Africa and North America.

One of the first academics to grasp the scope and potential impact of shadow education was Professor Mark Bray, the UNESCO Chair Professor in Comparative Education in the Faculty of Education at the University of Hong Kong.

Professor Bray wrote the first global study on the comparative research on shadow education in 1999. It was published by UNESCO, and is entitled The Shadow Education System: Private Tutoring and its Implications for Planners. His 2009 sequel, Confronting the Shadow Education System: What Government Policies for What Private Tutoring? has been translated into 18 languages.

“Shadow education is becoming a worldwide phenomenon,” he said. “In Hong Kong it's already become very large. Our numbers are saying that 54% of grade 9 students are receiving shadow education, and 72% of grade 12 students are receiving shadow education.”

“Life has become much more competitive, and a lot of this competition is what is fuelling the desire by families to get the extra edge and that's why they go to the extra classes,” Professor Bray said.

But the quality of shadow education is sometimes doubtful, and it may not benefit all those who attend such classes. Moreover, Professor Bray believes that the shadow education system is likely to help the high achievers achieve more and leave the low achievers further behind. Thus, it has far-reaching economic, social and educational implications, as reflected by the research he is undertaking with a team of international collaborators.