Private tutoring has always sparked controversy whenever put into question. The Ministry of Education, backed by parliamentarians, seeks shutting private tutoring centers down and prosecuting their owners on the grounds that teaching and learning should only be provided by schools and that these centers run counter to the principle of free education, which impedes the achievement of equality of access to education to all children.
However, a look at the Egyptian families’ spending on private tutoring reveals the increasing demand for this service, with a view to improving the education quality of their children. This problem requires zooming in on private tutoring centers from a different perspective to determine whether they have a positive role in the education of children or should the fight against them persist.
Between Benefiting and Harming Schools
Researchers use the term private tutoring to refer to any form of out- of-school teaching beyond the school hours. Private tutoring can be one-on-one or group-oriented and is usually delivered by either a private tutor, volunteer, parent, or an e-application in a manner proportionate to the students’ abilities and needs in return for a fee. Also known as “shadow education” or “private supplementary learning”, private tutoring aims at developing the students’ ability to pass exams and achieve higher grades or overcome students’ weakness in a particular subject in the form of an out-of-school treatment program that models the traditional education system and evolves in accordance with the changes to the education system.
Private supplementary education significantly improves students’ academic performance, as it responds to students’ needs in a more flexible and faster way compared to the traditional education system in schools. The positive learning conditions and motivation caused by the outcomes of individual study and the study in small or homogeneous groups are what make private tutoring effective.
Another benefit of private tutoring, for teachers, is that it creates job opportunities for graduates of education colleges as well as other graduates willing to work in the teaching profession, amid the limited capacity of government schools to absorb all graduates. When it comes to payment, private tutoring is more rewarding and helps achieve high financial gains compared to teachers’ salaries in government and private schools.
A third benefit of private tutoring accrues to parents who are willing to enhance the academic level of their children but do not have the sufficient time, abilities, or skills to achieve this, which causes them to resort to one-on-one private lessons in their homes or send their children to private tutoring centers.
On the other hand, private tutoring is believed to have counterproductive impacts on students’ desire to go to schools and their motivation for classroom participation and scholastic tasks fulfillment. Students come to believe that if the private tutor can prepare them well to pass the examinations, then there is no need to go to school. Usually if they go, this would be driven by the schools’ enforcement of compulsory attendance not their will to learn. Since private tutoring requires additional time and effort from students, they go to schools unprepared and unready to dedicate more time to school homework.
In addition to this negative aspect, students who receive private tutoring can spoil the learning environment in the classroom, preventing other students from learning and causing teachers to be less motivated to teach and frustrated by the lack of student engagement in the classroom. There is also the financial pressure that private tutoring imposes on low-income families who have to set aside part of their income to private tutoring, causing it to become a significant factor for inequality in education, widening the gap between social classes.
The belief by different ministries of education worldwide that private tutoring is not within the scope of their responsibility has weighed down the assessment of the scale and impact of this phenomenon. Perhaps this direction was motivated by the ministries’ unwillingness to highlight this phenomenon whose existence gives an indication of the problems the education systems face, a situation that requires reassessment of the situation and the provision of different alternatives to avoid its negative impacts on the systematic education process.
Worldwide Prevalence and Ineffective Response
The private tutoring phenomenon is not limited to a specific geographic scope or a particular economic strata, but has become a global phenomenon, prevalent in both the developing and developed countries. The increased demand for private tutoring could be attributed to increased awareness of the importance of education in raising the economic and social level and its importance in enrollment in university education and joining the labor market. Additionally, many students and parents believe that school education is not good enough to enable them pursue their goals. Instead, they see private tutoring as an effective and necessary means for getting a better pre-university education and passing the university entrance exams. Perhaps the appeal to the common belief of “everyone else does this” reinforced this trend.
In Turkey, for instance, the Ministry of National Education (MNE) sees that private tutoring serves only the students from wealthy families and does not achieve equality in education. To crack down on private tutoring centers, the ministry took several legal measures, forcing them to shut down. However, most of these centers still exist under different names, such as course centers, study centers, educational support centers. So, they still operate as they did before, with students largely attending these centers with the aim of preparing for high-stakes exams .
In some East Asian countries such as China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, private tutoring is pervasive due to the problems that public education systems suffer such as high density of classes and the low government spending on education . In these countries, private tutoring turned out to be one of the effective choices for parents and students to improve their academic performance and address the educational deficiency in specific subjects. For example, a recent survey in China indicated that 58.7 percent of students from grades 3-9 received private tutoring in 2016-2017. Similarly, in Taiwan, the 2016-2017 statistics indicated that 46 percent of secondary school students took private lessons in English. In Hong Kong, 53.8 percent of ninth graders and 71.8 percent of 12th graders received private lessons in 2015 .
Notably, the Chinese Ministry of Education issued several documents that introduce several regulations that govern the operation of private tutoring, including requiring that the private tutors holds an educational qualification, banning homework by private tutors, instituting constraints on for-profit tutoring for periods greater than three months, banning tutoring during school hours and after 8.30 p.m., and limiting tutoring to the school curriculum . Therefore, despite the growing phenomenon of private tutoring and its impact on the education process, China’s Ministry of Education has put in place legal controls that would enable it to control it in the face of problems afflicting the public education system.
In Japan, a country with one of the most efficient education systems in the world, there are private schools called Juku. These schools offer supplementary education that helps students pass exams at different education levels. They usually operate for five hours after the end of the school day. In 2010, the number of Juku schools had reached more than 50,000 schools . While the Japanese government has held a rejectionist stance on these schools until the turn of the millennium, it started, since 2006, establishing partnerships with them given the poor students’ results in international tests. These partnerships has expanded further since 2013, by bringing in Juku teachers to provide additional lessons on Saturdays for a low fee .
Reviewing the above experiences, it becomes clear that controlling the phenomenon of private tutoring caused by problems in the education systems and the increased desire of parents to provide a better education for their children wouldn’t have been possible by fighting against it and closing private tutoring centers without providing suitable alternatives. Combating it successfully was achieved in some countries by providing legislation and reasonable regulatory procedures and establishing partnerships that ensure integration between the roles of the school and private tutoring centers that can then be seen more as education support centers.
In Egypt: Legalization Required
In Egypt, despite efforts of the Ministry of Education to curb private tutoring, being one of the main triggers for students’ dropping out of school and lack of discipline in classes, it has become a dominant culture across all segments of Egyptian society. Recent data from the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), indicates that the average household expenditure on education amounted to EGP 8,850 a year, i.e. 12.5 percent of the total expenditure, of which private tutoring accounted for 28.3 percent. Spending by rural households on private tutoring was higher than urban ones, amounting to 36 percent of the total expenditure on education, relative to 24 percent in urban areas.
Calculating the average of spending of the Egyptian households on private tutoring based on CAPMAS’ income and expenditure survey of 26,000 families, we find that the average annual expenditure for each household on private tutoring exceeds EGP 2,500, meaning the total spending on private tutoring can exceed EGP 60 billion whereas government expenditure on education amounts to EGP 95.25 billion. As such, the private tutoring market amounts to two-thirds of government spending on pre-university education.
While the Ministry of Education is trying to tackle the private tutoring phenomenon by introducing a bill that provides for imposing fine of not less than EGP 5,000 and not exceeding EGP 50,000 on any person who gives private tutoring and imprisonment for a term of not less than a year and not more than three years in the event of resumption of work, the Tax Authority called on private tutors to open a tax file for their activity, announcing imposing a tax of 0.05 percent of total revenues, which is indicative of the government’s indecisiveness over private tutoring or supplementary education and leaves open the question about whether the government is willing to entirely ban private tutoring to bring students back to schools in the absence of capabilities and the existence of entrenched problems or collect tax revenues from private tutoring centers.
Be that as it may, it is clear that the Ministry of Education is burdened with a host of problems, including high classroom density at all educational levels, teacher shortage, poor teacher education programs, and low teacher salaries which made parents (and students) persuaded that the education in schools doesn’t live up to their aspirations and goals, prompting them to send their children to supplementary education centers or bring private teachers for them. The rewarding financial return of private tutoring increased its appeal for teachers. Now benefiting teachers, students, and parents, it makes no sense to insist on banning private tutoring in a way similar to that which Turkey pursued and ended in failure.
While the Ministry of Local Development announced it closed 100,000 private tutoring centers across the country in 2021, for the engagement of their owners in an authorized activity, teachers and students managed to overcome this and found alternatives, ranging from e-classes to smaller groups in other places in exchange for higher fee. Therefore, such statements can’t be in any way construed as indicative of the decrease of private tutoring, particularly given parents’ keenness to provide private tutoring for their children and the high demand for it over the past two years due to the significant impact of the pandemic.
In all events, reality dictates re-examining the way to deal with private tutoring and considering it a form of education that supplements and integrates with the school’s role and does not contradict it. And as long as the education system continues to experience problems relating to classroom density and the limited capacity of teachers to achieve the education targets and as long as there is a demand for private tutoring, the government should find a mechanism to legalize private tutoring, regulate it, and achieve returns from it, towards improving the quality of education in public schools instead of seeking banning it without offering acceptable alternatives.
And if the high school is the most adversely affected by private tutoring, with students skipping school and attending private lessons during school time, there is an urgent need to open a community dialogue to re-engineer it. Perhaps schools could be counted on for providing activities and administering tests, leaving it for supplementary education centers to prepare students academically.
Overall, legalizing the status of private tutoring centers, to operate under the designation of “complementary education centers” could mean having more than 100,000 additional classes that operate at the will of society alongside the crowded government classes, which would create jobs for five or 10 times that number of graduates from colleges of education and arts who do not have an opportunity for employment in public schools. Banning private tutoring without a permanent fix to education problems will always prove futile.
) Mustafa Özdere: The Demand for Private Tutoring in Turkey: An Analysis of Private Tutoring Participation and Spending, Journal of Education and Learning; Vol. 10, No. 3; 2021, p. 98.
) Yuhwe Guo et al.: Does Private Tutoring Improve Student Learning in China? Evidence from the China Education Panel Survey, ASIA & THE PACIFIC POLICY STUDIES, Volume 7 I Issue 3 I September 2020, p. 324.
) Qin Xiang: The Reasons, Determinants, and Effect of Private Tutoring in the Greater Chinese Regions, Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research, volume 637, Atlantis Press , 2021, p. 403.
) Wei Zhang: Regulating private tutoring in China: Uniform policies, diverse responses. ECNU Review of Education, 2(1), 2019, p. 33.
) David Allen: Japanese cram schools and entrance exam washback, The Asian Journal of Applied Linguistics
Vol. 3 No. 1, 2016, p. 55.
) Yoko Yamato & Wei Zhang: Changing schooling, changing shadow: shapes and functions of juku in Japan, Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 37:3, 2017, p. 335.