Growing Prevalence of Shadow Education Worldwide

//vol.15-2 Youth Watch

Oriana Hon

Prodigious growth for private supplementary tutoring has become a widespread phenomenon worldwide in recent years. While its focus suggests shadowing the institutional logic of formal education, recent developments, and changes also focus greatly on personalised learning and achievement.


Pillars for Education

In earlier decades, shadow education was primarily associated with parts of East Asia1, South Asia2, and then worldwide as a global phenomenon3 since 2010. According to a UNESCO report, four “pillars” for education were outlined in this table on the right. They have proven to be relevant for sectors in data warehousing, data interchange and interoperability, emergency response systems, laboratory and diagnostics information systems, pharmacy information systems, public health, and disease surveillance systems, and tele-medicine.

  • Learning to know
  • Learning to do
  • Learning to live together
  • Learning to be


Mapping the Landscape

Within Asia and the Pacific, four main sub-regional groups may be identified:



  • East Asian countries that include Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan, which have long traditions of shadow education and are the most visible globally.
  • Patterns can be linked to deep Confucian traditions that value educational achievement, but as in other parts of the world, they also reflect social competition.
  • Mainland China started later than other parts of the region because until the 1980s, its government strictly prohibited private enterprise, Shadow education expanded rapidly from the 1990s until a 2021 government crackdown.
  • South Asian countries such as Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, also have long traditions of private tutoring.
  • Tutoring is driven by social competition and teachers desiring to increase their incomes.
  • Similar patterns are evident in Southeast Asia, including Cambodia, Myanmar, and Vietnam.
  • Northern, Central and Western Asia, including Mongolia, shadow education has similarly expanded to become a major activity.
  • The Pacific such as Australia is culturally very different but has also seen the emergence of the phenomenon. Trends have to some extent, been led by Asian immigrants who have then increased the competitive pressures on others.



  • Southern Europe also known as Mediterranean Europe, comprises fifteen countries, and has a total population of more than 150 million people. Some of the major countries in the region include Spain, Italy, and Greece. It has particularly high rates of tutoring, led by Greece and including Cyprus. Tutoring is also strongly evident in Malta, though it has not reached the scale of Greece and Cyprus.
  • Eastern Europe as defined by the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), includes the countries of Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Russian Federation, and Slovakia, as well as the republics of Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine. It has traditions of tutoring that predate the political transitions of the late 1980s and early 1990s, but since those transitions, the scale of tutoring greatly increased. One major force was the collapse in purchasing power of teachers’ salaries after the demise of the Soviet Union. Teachers remaining in the teaching profession had to find supplementary earnings to support their families, and tutoring was an obvious route.
  • Western Europe is made up of nine sovereign nations. These nine countries are Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, and Switzerland. It also has long traditions of private tutoring on a small scale. However, during the last decade, the volume of tutoring has greatly increased. It reflects the increasing competitiveness of societies in the context of greater mobility of labour and skills. It is part of the marketisation of education, which has become more socially acceptable in these countries.
  • Northern Europe can be divided into three parts: Scandinavia, the British Isles, and the Baltics, comprising of 10 sovereign nations. It seems to date least affected by the rise of private tutoring. Scandinavian countries seem to maintain stronger traditions of schools adequately meeting their students’ needs. Within Scandinavia, shadow education is becoming evident in Sweden and with patterns in Denmark and Finland not far behind.


Modes of Delivery

  • Much tutoring is provided on a one-to-one basis, in pairs, or in very small groups; but other forms of tutoring are classroom-based.
  • European countries have few “star tutors” of the sort found in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) in which teenagers are encouraged to view their tutors like film stars or popular musicians and in which pupils pack large lecture theatres with overflow rooms to which lessons are transmitted by video (Eng, 2019; Yung & Bray, 2017).
  • In general, the costs for the students are much lower in the large classes than in the small ones.
  • Most obvious among new modes of tutoring with new technologies is online tutoring, which can be achieved face-to-face in real-time using web cameras. This mode crosses spatial boundaries.
  • The Internet can also identify tutors who will make home visits in person. Every major European city seems now to have one or more websites that provide matching services through which households can identify tutors in their neighbourhoods. These tutors are commonly self-employed, and the managers of the websites cover their administrative costs through commissions from the tutors and/or the clients.


Socio-Economic Groups

Families in higher socio-economic groups have more opportunities to invest in tutoring and commonly use this opportunity.

Parents’/guardians’ educational levels Number of pupils Percentage of pupils receiving tutoring Percentage of pupils not receiving tutoring
Primary education or less 195 35.5 64.5
Junior secondary 182 44.5 55.5
Upper secondary 125 52.8 47.2
Matriculation 58 67.2 32.8
University or above 70 72.9 27.1
Total 630 48.6 51.2

Note: Where two parents/guardians had different levels of education, the higher of the two was used for the purposes of this table.



The global tendency to measure the quality of education through examination scores, PISA rankings, and other assessment tools has implications for conceptions of learning and the roles of the tutoring industry. Much of the international literature on education and development stresses academic achievement. The first pillar of education from the UNESCO report, as cited earlier – learning to know – maintains its central helm in mainstream education, since knowledge is easier to measure than the other three pillars: learning to do, living together, and learning to be. Shadow education follows the same path and reinforces the tendency.

Increasingly, a third function is emerging in which private tutoring becomes a substitute for regular schooling rather than a shadow. This is evident In Azerbaijan, Turkey, Thailand, and South Korea. Entrepreneurs in the tutoring industry wish to provide an officially recognised alternative track. If this is permitted, the industry will move further out of the shadows into a new type of relationship not only with the regular school system and the wider society.