A hidden marketplace: Private tutoring in the former socialist bloc

The collapse of the socialist bloc in 1989 was accompanied by a severe economic decline. This resulted in the decrease of education spending in most countries of Southeast/Central Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Twenty years later, the global financial crisis has dealt another major blow to the educational systems of the former socialist bloc. As public expenditure on education declined, the share of costs borne by individuals and families has exponentially grown in most countries of the region.

The new private costs of education to households include:

(1) Formal fees in private schools, universities, and non-compulsory levels of education

(2) Community and household contributions towards the financing of local schools (such as school maintenance and repairs)

(3) Payments for textbooks, school meals, and extracurricular activities

(4) Payments for complementary items (such as clothing, shoes, and transportation)

(5) Informal payments to public schools. This includes payments for private tutoring, which have generally remained invisible to education policymakers

Revealing statistics

Over 60 per cent of a surveyed student population received some type of private tutoring in the last year of secondary school. And more than 80 per cent of students in Azerbaijan and Georgia attending private tutoring lessons.* That’s according to cross-national studies of private tutoring in 12 countries of Southeast/Central Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Among students, the scope and intensity of private tutoring is generally associated with the perceived deterioration of education quality in public schools. In particular, students believe that they cannot acquire the necessary knowledge and skills in public schools. So they turn to private tutoring to increase their educational advantage. They believe that private tutoring will help them to better prepare for school-leaving and/or university entrance examinations. In Azerbaijan and Georgia, some high school students reportedly stop going to school during the last couple of months before university entrance examinations, and instead attend private tutoring lessons.

Mixed views
The unprecedented rise of private tutoring has mixed reactions.

On the one hand, many parents view private tutoring as an effective way for children and youth to adapt to the new sociopolitical realities and cope with post-socialist system changes. Responding to students’ needs more efficiently and effectively, private tutoring is perceived as an important supplement to the public education system, which has been slow to embrace change.

On the other hand, however, private tutoring has contributed to exacerbating social inequities. Because of high costs, it is generally unaffordable to students from rural areas and lower socioeconomic families. This impacts negatively on their chances of school success and social mobility.

Need to understand impact

Given that private tutoring remains largely invisible to policymakers, it is critical to better understand its relationship to public schooling and its implications for social equity. As long as public education remains underfunded and students believe that public education does not provide quality education, the demand for private tutoring will continue to grow and socioeconomic inequities will further escalate.

* Silova, I., Budiene, V., and Bray, M. (Eds.). (2006). Education in a Hidden Marketplace: Monitoring of Private Tutoring. New York: Open Society Institute, 2006). 

http://www.soros.org/sites/default/files/hidden_20070216.pdf

* Silova, I. (Ed.). (2009). Private Supplementary Tutoring in Central Asia: New Opportunities and Burdens. Paris: UNESCO IIEP, 2009. Combined, the surveys from the two studies targeted almost 12,000 respondents, corresponding to 8,713 respondents from the first study and 3,101 respondents from the second one. 

http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0018/001851/185116e.pdf


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Iveta Silova

Iveta Silova is Professor and Director of the Center for the Advanced Studies in Global Education at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University.  She holds a PhD in comparative education and political sociology from the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, Columbia University. Her research focuses on the study of globalization and post-socialist education transformations, including intersections between post-colonialism and post-socialism after the Cold War. Since 2008, Iveta has served as a co-editor of European Education: Issues and Studies.

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