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International Trends

Private tutoring in academic subjects is defined as tutoring provided on a supplementary basis at the end of the school day, at weekends, or during vacations. In some countries, especially in East Asia, out-of-school supplementary tutoring has long been a major and accepted part of social and educational life. Elsewhere, especially in North America and western Europe, such tutoring has been less significant. It seems, however, to be growing worldwide, including in some countries where it was previously nonexistent. Some observers welcome the phenomenon, but others view it with disquiet.


Countries in which tutoring is a major enterprise include the following.

  • Egypt. A 1994 survey of 4,729 households found that 64.0 percent of urban primary children and 52.0 percent of rural ones had received supplementary tutoring.
  • India. A 1997 survey of 7,879 primary school pupils in Delhi found that 39.2 percent received tutoring.
  • Japan. A 1993 survey found that 23.6 percent of elementary pupils and 59.5 percent of lower secondary pupils attended tutorial schools known as juku.
  • Malta. A 1997–1998 survey of 1,482 pupils in upper primary and lower secondary schools found that 50.5 percent had received private tutoring at some time.
  • Tanzania. A 1995 survey of 2,286 grade-six-pupils found 44.5 percent received tutoring.

The scale of tutoring appears to have increased during the last few decades. In Japan, for example, attendance at elementary-level juku is reported to have doubled from 12.0 percent of pupils receiving tutoring in 1976 to 23.6 percent in 1993; in Singapore surveys in 1982 and 1992 suggested that the proportion of primary pupils receiving tutoring had increased from 27.0 to 49.0 percent. During the 1990s the shift toward a market economy in China and Vietnam permitted and encouraged the emergence of supplementary tutoring in settings where previously it did not exist. Eastern Europe has also undergone economic transition. The partial collapse of public education during the period that accompanied that transition has required families to invest in tutoring on a scale not previously evident. Supplementary tutoring has also become more evident in parts of Australia, Canada, and the United States.


Tutoring may take diverse forms. They include individual tutorials held in the homes of either tutors or tutees, and large cramming institutions that utilize not only lecture theatres but also overflow rooms in which students watch on a screen what is happening in the main room.

Zeng's 1999 study compared patterns in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan and focused on "cram schools" in which students gain intensive preparation for examinations. He noted that some tutorial schools are old-fashioned but others are ultramodern. In Japan and South Korea, many tutoring companies have multistory buildings and branch campuses. In Taiwan, by contrast, large operators are much less prominent. This may partly reflect government regulations but also reflects broader economic patterns which emphasize small enterprises more than multibranch chains.

Not all tutees, even within particular locations, receive tutoring for the same duration each day or deek. One Malaysian study of 4,340 primary and secondary students indicated that 69.5 percent of students who received tutoring did so throughout the year, while the others only received tutoring prior to important examinations. Over half the students received tutoring in only one or two subjects, but nearly 20 percent received tutoring in five or more subjects.


Among the determinants of the scale and nature of tutoring, and thus its geographic spread, are cultural, educational, and economic factors. Many Asian cultures, particularly those influenced by Confucian traditions, stress effort as a factor that explains and determines success. In contrast, European and North American cultures are more likely to emphasize ability. Supplementary tutoring is especially widespread in cultures which stress effort.

The nature of education systems is also important. Private tutoring is more evident where success in examinations can easily be promoted by supplementary tutoring; tutoring becomes more necessary in systems that are teacher-centered rather than child-centered, and/or which are intolerant of slow learners.

A further crucial factor concerns economic rewards. If supplementary tutoring helps people to stay in education systems longer, then for those people it may be a very good investment. Further, some societies have particularly wide differentials in living standards between individuals with different amounts of education. Differentials have long been great in such societies as Singapore and Hong Kong, but less marked in the United Kingdom and Australia. This implies that the rewards from extra levels of schooling, and from supplementary tutoring, are greater in these Asian societies than in western Europe or Australasia.

Private tutoring is more common in urban than in rural areas. This may be partly because incomes are commonly higher in cities than in rural areas. Also, cities may be more competitive and students may be able to find tutors more easily in densely populated locations.

Impact on Mainstream Schooling

Supplementary tutoring may affect the dynamics of mainstream classes. For example, where all students receive tutoring, mainstream teachers may have a decreased workload. Where some students receive supplementary tutoring but others do not, mainstream teachers may be confronted by disparities within their classrooms. Some teachers respond to these disparities by assisting the slower learners, but others take the students who receive tutoring as the norm and permit the gaps between students to grow. In the latter case, parents are placed under greater pressure to invest in private tutoring for their children.

When supplementary tutoring helps students to understand and enjoy their mainstream lessons, it may be considered beneficial. Supplementary tutoring can enable remedial teaching to be undertaken according to individual needs and it may help relatively strong students to receive more out of their mainstream classes. However, students may be bored by their classes if they have already covered the content outside school.

The curriculum emphasized by cram schools may be contrasted with that in mainstream schools. Especially in public education systems, schools are expected to develop rounded individuals who have sporting and musical as well as academic interests, and to promote courtesy, civic awareness, and national pride. Mainstream schools may also keep all students of one grade together, in order to reduce labeling of low achievers. Cram schools, by contrast, cut what they perceive to be irrelevant content in order to focus on examinations, and may have much less hesitation about grouping students by ability. Many analysts view this phenomenon negatively, arguing that the tutorial institutes distort the curriculum, which has been designed with care by specialists. However, the phenomenon may also be seen as an expression of public demand, and perhaps even as a check on curriculum developers who might otherwise be too idealistic.

Social Implications

On the positive side, the pressure created by supplementary tutoring may bring out the best in students and maximize their potential. To some extent, the degree of pressure that is considered appropriate is determined by social and cultural norms. East Asian societies influenced by Confucian traditions tend to place great value on discipline and dedication, and to see the pressure applied by supplementary tutoring as generally beneficial. Also, Russell's 1997 study noted that most children in Japan found the Kumon approach to teaching mathematics (involving considerable repetition and gradual increase in difficulty of exercises) an unthreatening experience. Many parents enroll their children in Kumon classes because the children like the activity.

However, many analysts concerned with other contexts consider the negative aspects of tutoring to outweigh the positive ones. One factor concerns social inequalities. Like other forms of private education, supplementary tutoring is more easily available to the rich than to the poor. Research in Mauritius has shown that in primary grade one the proportion of children receiving private tutoring in the highest income group was 7.5 times greater than the proportion of children in the lowest income group.

A further consideration concerns the types of tutoring. Mass tutoring in Japan and Hong Kong may be inexpensive, but it may also be limited in the extent to which it promotes learning. Richer families can more easily afford one-to-one and small-group tutoring tailored to individual needs, while poorer families must tolerate mass-produced tutoring.

Economic Implications

Advocates of human capital theory may consider supplementary tutoring to be highly desirable. The scale of tutoring may be one reason why Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan became prosperous societies during the second half of the twentieth century.

However, an alternative approach is less positive. Critics argue that most tutorial schools are parasitic, that they waste financial and human resources that could be better allocated to other uses, and that in systems which are dominated by traditional examinations, cramming stifles creativity and can damage the bases of economic production.

These views cannot easily be reconciled. They reflect broader debates on the nature and impact of mainstream education that rest as much on ideological principles as on empirical research. The broad literature on the links between education and development contains many ambiguous findings. No clear formulae can link certain types and amounts of education to certain types and amounts of economic development.


Private supplementary tutoring is widespread in some societies, and in others it is growing. Such tutoring has major social and economic implications, and it can have a far-reaching impact on mainstream education systems. Because the nature of supplementary tutoring varies, different policies are needed for different societies. Some planners may prefer to let the market regulate itself, but others may wish to intervene to alleviate what they perceive to be negative dimensions. The growth of private tutoring may be seen in the context of a worldwide shift toward the marketization of education and reduced government control. In many settings, this shift is viewed with ambivalence. Governments may have positive reasons for withdrawing the dominant role that they have played in many countries; but in some societies the rise of private tutoring appears to be a social response to inadequacies in government quantitative and qualitative inputs.


BRAY, MARK. 1999. The Shadow Education System: Private Tutoring and its Implications for Planners. Fundamentals of Educational Planning No. 61. Paris: UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning.

RUSSELL, NANCY UKAI. 1997. Lessons from Japanese Cram Schools. In The Challenge of Eastern Asian Education: Lessons for America, ed. William K. Cummings and Philip G. Altbach. Albany: State University of New York Press.

STEVENSON, DAVID L., and BAKER, DAVID P. 1992. "Shadow Education and Allocation in Formal Schooling: Transition to University in Japan." American Journal of Sociology 97 (6):1639–1657.

ZENG, KANGMIN. 1999. Dragon Gate: Competitive Examinations and their Consequences. London: Cassell.


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