UBC Prof. Julian Dierkes says the massive growth of private tutoring raises questions for parents, students and policy makers.
What are the pros and cons of private tutoring?
First, there is no proof that it works. It seems intuitive that spending extra hours with a tutor should help people learn, but not enough research has been done to confirm whether these improvements justify the cost and time. Second, this is “shadow education,” so society has little control over the quality of teaching or whether tutors have any credentials. Finally, there’s the impact on families. If kids spend the day at school and evenings with tutors too often, they aren’t getting a chance to rest, play and develop in other ways.
How prevalent is private tutoring?
There has been massive growth worldwide. Globally, we are talking about millions of students and huge corporations valued in the billions. Organizations range from freelance tutors to huge chains, with classes resembling first-year lecture halls. Canada’s sector is less established than supplementary education systems in Europe or Asia – the biggest outfit in Japan has 30,000 students, for example. But with national players like Sylvan Learning or Oxford Learning, Canada’s industry is growing.
If we visited any Grade 5 classroom in Japan – or Vancouver or Richmond, for that matter – between half and one-third of the class are likely taking some form of supplementary education. It is hard to walk 10 blocks in Vancouver without running into one of these businesses. Fees vary dramatically, but an average cost is probably around $100 per student a week.
What is driving the industry’s massive growth?
Tutoring flourishes when people believe that social mobility is tied to academic achievement and there is an educational hierarchy, with popular consensus on the ranking “good schools”. This is true throughout most of the world, especially in Asia. Education is the way your kids move up in the world, so families invest in supplementary education to get into the best schools.
Tutoring also grows when there’s a perception that the public education system is not good enough, whether there is any evidence for a decline in learning outcomes or not. The school system could be fine, but if parents lose confidence, they are more likely to seek out supplementary education. For families who can’t afford it, it becomes a two-tier education system.
Prof. Julian Dierkes is Director of UBC’s Centre for Japanese Research, and Keidanren Chair in Japanese Resarch in UBC’s Institute of Asian Research. Follow him on Twitter at @jdierkes. Read more on his research in The Economist and Calgary Herald