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【Beijing Forum 2010】Interview with Mark Bray: Shadow Education on Its Way

Peking University, Nov. 13, 2010: Shadow education is defined as supplementary private tutoring which mimics the curriculum of mainstream schooling. During recent decades, shadow education has become a vast enterprise. It has positive as well as negative dimensions, and requires sophisticated analysis and greater attention from researchers in both East and West, and North and South. This is also what Prof. Mark Bray has been concerned about. As a world-renowned educationist, Prof. Bray has been studying the comparative education and shadow education for many years, and with his fruitful achievements in the field, he has won international fame and established himself as an authority.

On the afternoon of Nov. 5, Prof. Bray, Chair of the plenary session on education, delivered a speech entitled “Shadow Education: Comparative Perspectives on the Expansion and Implications of Private Supplementary Tutoring,” in which he gave a comprehensive description on shadow education. During the tea break, Prof. Bray readily accepted our request for an interview.


Q: Currently it is very common to see students receiving private tutoring. It has been so widely spread, and what major factors do you think lead to a huge demand for private tutoring?

A: There are three things: competition, economic wealth and one-child family. One-child family is special for China, but competition and opportunities are rising to affect more.

Q: You define in your speech the private tutoring as “shadow education,” so what is the significance of shadow education?

A: What I am looking at is particularly what is taught outside the school that copies what is taught inside the school. So when the curriculum of the school changes, and the curriculum of tutoring changes, so it is a shadow like that, and when the mainstream gets bigger, the shadow gets bigger. And shadow education has huge significance. Today there are lots of people who are exerting a lot of pressure on young children, but not all the pressure turns bad, some of it could become really good and beneficial.

Q: But there are still some people who are critical about the shadow education. They argue that it widens social inequalities, and fails to increase student’s academic performance. What’s your comment on this and how to solve this problem?

A: Tutoring is just like schools, there are good schools and bad ones. So is the tutoring. As to this problem, first, we should monitor it, we need better fact and research; we need to know what is happening. Second, what is the role of government? One of the big issues is teachers who tutor their own students and ask them to go on extra classes for money. I’m worried about that. Sometimes it is for a good reason; he is a good teacher and knows his students well, but the danger is that the teacher will choose not to try his best in the school time, so I would like that to be prohibited. But you can have a regulation that only works if the society agrees, and then you have got the society to follow up.

Q: Is there any evidence suggesting that the private tutoring is a welcome development, or one to be discouraged by governments?

A: Some tutoring are really great, some of them really help students to catch up or go further. The question is which one is good and for whom and should it be happening in tutoring or in school, and should we make our school better schools.

Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge shadow education has to face right now?

A: At the moment the shadow is growing very fast. China could look at the Republic of Korea. South Korea has got huge amount of tutoring, and the government has been worried about that for a long time, but now the culture has changed in South Korea. And once it’s in the culture, it’s very hard to change it. So that is why I am saying in China, it is better to shift it before it is too late, or maybe it is already too late.

Q: I am wondering what causes the spreading of shadow education to developed countries like the US or European countries.

A: The government in France gives a reduction of taxation if you pay for tutoring. And that is another misguide, because the rich could pay for it and get the reduction of taxation. So the rich are getting more, but the poor are excluded. The government in the United States is more sensible, but still the market is finding its way to what is happening outside the school as well as inside the school. Some of the countries happen more outside the school, and that is really dangerous stuff.

Q: As we know, some nations such as Japan are pioneers in adopting this type of education, so what can we learn from them?

A: We need to be careful when we look at Japan or South Korea. There will be too much for what is happening: the children don’t have life any more, and they pay too much time and spirit on the tutoring, which of course is overdone.


Extended Reading:

PKU News (Chinese): " Education Panel Session: Responsibility and Future in the Era of Reform"

【Beijing Forum 2010】Educational Challenges and Changes in the Era of Transition



Reported by: Wang Shiqin and Chen Miaojuan
Transcribed by: Wang Shiqin
Edited by: Zhang Chunlan