Regulating Private Tutoring For Public Good

  • Policy Options for Supplementary Education in Asia

by Dr. W. Ariyadasa de Silva

The term ‘private tutoring’ used in this book denotes ‘private tuition’ in local parlance, and signifies extra lessons in academic subjects that are taught in regular schools in exchange for a fee. These lessons may be provided on a one-to one basis, in small groups or in large classes, by specialist tutoring companies, teachers working on a part time basis to earn an extra income, university students undertaking informal tutoring and others. This phenomenon is known by a number of English-language names including ‘private tuition’, ‘private supplementary tutoring’, and ‘coaching’. Analysts who have studied this type of education have termed it ‘shadow education’ because the curriculum mimics that in regular schooling. The book also focuses on ‘public good’. Education is a major instrument for personal development, and governments have a responsibility for the quality and impact of education not only in government institutions but also in the private sector including tutoring centres. The government has a duty to ensure that education promotes sound economic and social development, while ensuring protection for consumers and other stakeholders. The responsibility of governments to adopt an overview position on all forms of education was affirmed by UNESCO in the EFA Global Monitoring Report 2014 in a section entitled ‘Private tutoring versus classroom teaching: protecting the poorest’, as follows:

Private tuition, if unchecked or uncontrolled, can be a detriment to learning outcomes, especially for the poorest students who are unable to afford it. Whatever perspective policy-makers may have on private tuition, management policies are required to ensure that teachers teach the assigned number of hours and cover the whole curriculum so that private tuition does not displace classroom teaching. (p.63)

This action will help governments attain the public good in the tutoring sector.

The senior author of this publication, Professor Mark Bray, has written several books on private tutoring. The first cross-national study ever on private tutoring was written by him in 1999, and each subsequent book has added new insights. Scholars hold Professor Bray in the highest esteem as the world’s foremost authority on the subject. Ora Kwo is also an experienced researcher.

The authors commence with an introduction, and then describe the private supplementary tutoring sector in Asia with statistics from 32 countries. This section provides information on the scale and spread of private supplementary tutoring, subjects tutored, modes of tutoring, and diversity of providers. The context leads to a discussion on why private tutoring should be regulated. The authors have built a strong case based on:

•   Social inequalities: Private supplementa-                             ry            tutoring may perpetuate and deepen                               socio-economic, gender, racial/ethnic,                      and rural/urban inequalities. Government                      reg          ulation may help to limit these inequa-                                                                  lities.

•   Backwash on regular schooling: Pri                       vate tutoring can have an unwhole                  some backwash on schooling. Teach         ers may put less effort into their regu-                    lar           lessons in the belief that most stu                    dents receive private tutoring. Stu-                                               dents                may come to respect their tutors                       more than their teachers at school; and                    excessive time spent by students on                      private tutoring leaves little time for                               sports, relaxation and social contacts,                                                                damaging their physical, mental and                              emotional health.

•   Corruption: In some settings, teachers re                              sort to corrupt practices in order to in                             crease the demand for private tutoring.                                                   Corruption is especially corrosive in edu                       cation because it shapes the values of chil  dren and youth in their formative years.

•   Protection of consumers: Parents may re                               quire protection from unprofessional                              sales       techniques, deceptive advertise                                             ments and disadvantageous contracts ad                        opted by tutors or tutoring companies.          One-to-one tutoring when other adults                  are           not present provides opportunities for                            sexual abuse.

•   Taxation: In the Republic of Korea, the                                tutoring industry contributed 3% of the                         GDP in 2010 (p.33). The scale is smaller                                             in other countries, but governments may                       consider making tutors pay taxes like                        workers in other sectors.

Having built the case for regulation, the authors examine the types of regulation in Asian countries. They identify several types of tutoring providers in order to present the regulations operating in each case. These include companies providing tutoring, teachers in regular schools who also provide tutoring; and students and other individuals who operate informally.

1.       Companies providing tutoring

Tutoring companies must meet requirements for registration and monitoring. Registration requirements vary, but commonly include focus on:

-         minimum qualifications for tutors;

-         qualifications and experience of                      managers;

-         fees;

-         buildings and facilities; and

-         curriculum


Monitoring requirements, once a tutoring business is registered, may include:

-         information on revenue and expen                  diture, for taxation purposes;

-         operational aspects such as the ap                   pointment of new managers and                       tutors;

-         advertising procedures, and

-         hours of operation.


2.       Teachers providing tutoring

The book summarizes policies (or lack of policies) in 21 countries, grouping them into four categories:

(a)      Laissez Faire: Schools and educa                    tion authorities have no policies on                                this matter.

(b)      Conditional approval: Teachers                       may provide tutoring subject to a                    number of conditions.

(c)      Discouragement: Teachers are dis                    couraged from practices that                             would infringe codes of ethics.

(d)      Prohibition: Teachers may be to                      tally prohibited from providing                       any private tutoring, or from tutor                   ing their existing students in                            school.

3.       Students and self-employed persons providing tutoring

Few governments have tried to regulate informally-provided tutoring. Although governments may be concerned about the quality of tutoring, the safety of students and the possible loss of revenue from taxation, informal tutoring is difficult to regulate.

Even the most carefully drafted regulations will not serve their purpose if they are not properly implemented. The authors have indicated four requirements for efficient and successful implementation.

•   Deploying the necessary personnel.                       Appropriately qualified and experi-                                enced officers are needed not only in                                                                   the Ministry/Department of Education                           but also in related Ministries/Depart                                                      ments.

•   Educating consumers to make in                            formed choices. Governments acting                              alone cannot regulate all sections of                                                             the tutoring industry. Many govern                                ments raise consumer awareness                through websites, flyers, and TV an                       nouncements.

•   Encouraging self-regulation. Realising                                 that self-regulation offers benefits like                           preserving their autonomy and enhanc                                        ing consumer confidence, some pro                                viders strongly advocate self-regula                                                          tion. Professional associations formed                  for the tutoring industry can assist.

•   Building partnerships. Ministries of                      Education may form partnerships for                              implementation of regulations. These                                                                     parties include schools, teachers’                     unions, other branches of government,                    community bodies and the media.

The authors conclude that the private tutoring sector, particularly in comparison with schools and other social institutions, is under-regulated and needs greater attention. They suggest that Asian policy-makers can learn from successes and failures around the region.

An appendix contains the code of conduct of the Australian Tutoring Association (ATA) which could be of great help to policy makers and others. The code is a good example of how organizers of tutoring providers could come together to strengthen the tutoring sector by offering a clean and efficient service while being proactive in self-regulation.

The earlier books by Professor Mark Bray have concentrated on the scale and nature of private supplementary tutoring, while the present volume has embarked on a discussion on the desirability and possibility of regulating this phenomenon. The authors deserve congratulations for undertaking a major scholarly undertaking. This eminently readable book will interest educationists and policy makers in Sri Lanka, among other countries. It is a comprehensive resource on an under-discussed but far-reaching phenomenon, and shows how comparative analysis of education can assist national, local and even school-level personnel.

(Paper authored by Mark Bray and Ora Kwo and published in 2014 by UNESCO and the Comparative Education Research Centre of the University of Hong Kong. Free download from


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