Privatisation in public education has become the focus of much-needed analysis, highlighting the ethical dangers associated with education reforms promoting competition, choice, performance management, private-public partnerships, and commercialization in education* However, one of the most widespread (yet mostly invisible) forms of privatisation in public education – private tutoring – has generally remained outside of policy review.
According to 2012 estimates, private tutoring constituted a US$11 billion industry in the United States alone. It has become a worldwide phenomenon that has affected communities across North and South America, Western and Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Private tutoring was traditionally used to help individual students meet specific educational interests and needs (such as providing extra assistance or enrichment). Today, families increasingly rely on private tutoring to supplement public and private schooling, whether to prepare for high-stakes examinations or pursue extra-curricular activities.
Two issues deserve special attention.
First, the tightening of budgets in many educational systems across the world has negatively affected public school curricula. Arts, music, drama, and physical education have been systematically eliminated from public school curricula. The responsibility for nurturing the “whole person” has shifted into the private sphere, where private tutoring provides the type of holistic and comprehensive education that is no longer available in public schools. However, such education is only accessible to families who can afford to pay for it, leaving many children without an opportunity to fully develop their interests and talents.
Second, private tutoring is eating into what has been left of the impoverished public school curriculum itself. In some countries (for example, Azerbaijan and Cambodia among many others), it is practically impossible to complete the state-mandated curricula without enlisting private tutoring services. In these countries, only part of the state curriculum is available during the official school hours - the rest of the state curriculum is being unofficially “sold” through private tutoring lessons. Often, teachers offer private tutoring lessons to their own students after school hours on school grounds. While the reasons for such an irregular “merging” of public schooling and private tutoring vary – ranging from insufficient school hours in Cambodia to an overloaded curriculum in Azerbaijan to low teacher salaries in many countries – the outcomes are the same. The complete public school curriculum is available only in combination with private tutoring, leaving behind many students who are unable to pay the full price for education.
Private tutoring is generally unaffordable to families from lower socioeconomic groups and rural areas. This has serious implications for educational equity. It reproduces inequality and privilege. This clearly undermines education’s main purpose – to equalise society.
Private tutoring is a type of “hidden” and practically invisible privatisation of public education. It needs to be urgently confronted and critically examined by scholars, policymakers, and communities.
*See Ball, S. & Youdell, D. (2007). Hidden privatisation in public education. Brussels: Education International.