Shadow Education Effects on Student Disparities


Topic Background

Despite various advances in its organization, the formal education system retains a number of issues. Some children are unable to keep up with the curriculum and do not receive adequate aid, while in other cases, children or parents feel that the pace of education is too slow or does not cover important material. A prominent alternate approach to education based on private tutoring, formerly prominent in specialized fields, has become more prominent in all subjects as a result.

It has been named “shadow education” to denote its nature as separate from the formal system and challenging to track. Per Lee (2018), this phenomenon is particularly prevalent in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, along with the rest of East Asia, possibly for cultural reasons. While the utility of shadow education for children who are underserved by schools is broadly acknowledged, concerns have also arisen about its relationship with the goal of outcome equity.

Problem Statement

As a private enterprise, tutoring is associated with substantial costs for the family that hires the service. The prices rise along with the tutor’s abilities and reputation, ensuring that people will need to spend large sums to receive the best standard of education. Rowley and Oh (2018) claim that in 2008, the average Seoul household used 16% of its total expenditures on tutoring. As a result, wealthier families can afford better education for their children than those that cannot hire tutors.

Moreover, unlike schools, tutors are interested in achieving the best results for their students rather than broader equity. As a result, disparities in education quality between affluent students and those without the money needed to afford tutoring emerge and intensify. These tendencies perpetuate a scenario where the opportunity provided by education to people from different social classes varies, which is against the purposes of public education.


  • Determine the extent of shadow education usage in the local community;
  • Understand the purposes for which shadow education is used locally and determine their relative importance;
  • Determine the disparities in educational attainment between students who engage in shadow education and those that do not.

Research Questions

  1. What portion of the local school students use shadow education, and for which subjects do they predominantly employ tutoring services?
  2. What are the goals that students seek to achieve by using shadow education?
  3. How significant are the differences in grades and test results between students who engage in shadow education compared to those who do not?


To address the issue of education inequity that is created by shadow education, it is first necessary to understand the impact of the practice. To that end, the knowledge of where and why tutor assistance is used, as well as what effect that it has on academic performance, is essential. Based on this data, a tailored response can be developed that addresses the causes rather than the problem’s effects and has minimal unintended side effects. This research aims to answer these questions on the local level to inform a response and future research.

Significance of the Research

While the issue of shadow education is often raised, the understanding of its effects is often based on theory. Policymakers assume that shadow education is not a concern because it helps children who are behind others in their studies or overreact and impose stringent limitations. This research attempts to address that problem and provide data that has practical applications.


This research will feature a school and analyze the tutoring practices and performance of its students. It will only consider that school and the current performance of its students, separated by subject. Shadow education will be considered the sole factor that can inform differences between different student categories for the purposes of this study.


The study will focus on one school, which imposes a limitation on the sample size. Factors such as the length of time that has passed since the beginning of the student’s tutoring will not be considered. It will also not take various confounding factors, such as potential conflicts of interest for teachers who also work as tutors, into account.

Definition of Terms

Shadow education – education provided by private tutors as opposed to the public school system

Literature Review

Over time, shadow education has developed substantially, encompassing a large range of different educational contexts and growing in scale. As a result, it has attracted the attention of researchers, especially those in East Asia, where the practice is used particularly broadly. The author has searched databases such as Google Books, Google Scholar, and JSTOR for books and articles on the subject.

They have used the primary keywords “shadow education” and “tutoring” as well as a variety of secondary keywords, such as “East Asia,” “academic performance,” and “teacher.” An additional criterion of relevance was set, and the author searched for literature that is ten years old or newer. The author has found 150,000 works and evaluated a part of that sample, eventually separating eight literature pieces. Four of these are books, and the other four are scholarly articles from peer-reviewed journals.

Related Literature

The term “shadow education” as a scholarly concept is relatively new and has not yet settled into an agreed-upon definition in the literature. Jung and Kim (2019) propose a definition of shadow curriculum that is taught in this variety of learning as an “interdisciplinary academic field devoted to understanding curriculum” (p. 151).

As a private, commercial enterprise, shadow education adapts to the needs of the students more quickly than the relatively inflexible standard curriculum. This for-profit motive is an essential aspect of shadow education that leads it to actively fulfill student needs. Kao and Park (2018) claim that, while low-cost and no-cost alternatives are emerging for people who cannot afford the expensive variety, they cannot supplant the commercial tutoring industry for this reason. As such, shadow education inherently creates a disparity between wealthier and less affluent students that cannot be eliminated even if a degree of mitigation is possible.

Shadow education tends to emerge as a result of the inadequacies of the public school system. As Entrich (2018) explains, in Japan, harsh school policies eventually led to the creation of learning environments where children would be psychologically traumatized, leading parents to seek private alternatives instead. With a more personal and individualized approach, the children would be able to learn safely while also achieving improved results.

In South Korea, on the other hand, private tutoring is highly public and concentrated in special schools known as hagwons. Per Kim (2016), these facilities serve parent desires to see their children develop academic and artistic skills, but they also work as social gathering locations where students meet friends. These two examples demonstrate the different needs that shadow education can satisfy and which need to be considered when implementing measures that address it.

Related Research

Children who engage in shadow education typically continue studying in schools, spending extra time in their free hours to learn with the help of the tutor. Bray (2013) claims that the reason is that shadow education aims to supplement public education instead of displacing it. Without public education, it would be challenging to determine the standards of knowledge that has to be taught to students.

As such, the system does not make arrangements for long-term survival, especially in nations where it is not as developed as in countries that rely heavily on shadow education, such as South Korea. Trent (2015) claims that in such situations, tutors tend to treat their job as temporary, viewing it as a source of income while they prepare to enter a different profession. With some exceptions, such as teachers who also work as tutors, this leads to tutors having weaker professional qualifications than their counterparts.

This difference leads to some concerns over shadow education’s suitability for children and its ability to improve outcomes. Zhang and Bray (2020) state that in some cases, the tutor may choose to teach the student solving methods that address the specific problem efficiently but do not lead to a broader understanding. With that said, this expectation has not been borne out in reality in a large number of cases, possibly because of the evolving nature of shadow education.

Over time, it would grow to address such concerns and promote a holistic approach that helps the student understand the topic. Marshall and Fukao (2018) find that in Cambodia, the students who can afford private tutoring outperform their peers significantly. From the success of shadow education in nations such as South Korea (and the overall worldwide acclaim of the results of the Korean mixed education system), it may be assumed that the same finding applies elsewhere.

Conceptual Framework

For the purposes of this study, the assumption will be made that students employ shadow education because they are underserved by the public system in some way. They seek to improve particular skill sets that may vary depending on age and find that they cannot do so at school. All students can benefit from shadow education, but only some can afford it because of the costs.

As this socioeconomic capability is the only characteristic that separates students who use shadow education from those who do not, the assumption can be made that the two groups would have the same average academic achievements without shadow education. However, in its presence, the students that receive tutoring are expected to produce better outcomes than their counterparts in the subjects that they study. This disparity will be expressed in test results, and the study will use these numbers to compare student success.


To obtain the answers to the research questions, the study will consider the viewpoints of teachers and students. Teachers, especially those who work as private tutors, can contribute to the understanding of the reasons why people resort to shadow education. They may do so to a higher degree than students, whose parents typically make tutoring decisions with minimal involvement on their part. Still, children will be a critical source of information, particularly where information gathering regarding the topics they study and their grades are concerned.

Research Design

The study will employ a cross-sectional mixed qualitative and quantitative design, using the two for different respondent categories. Teachers will be interviewed regarding the practice of shadow education qualitatively, and students will fill out quantitative questionnaires about their usage of the practice and performance.

Population and Sampling

The study will take place at a local secondary school to eliminate the potential effect that different teaching approaches at various schools can create. The entire student and teacher population will be sampled, as the limitations placed on the research permit this action.

Data Collection Methods

For the qualitative aspect of the study, the data will be collected using structured interviews with questions that cover the relevant topics. Students will fill surveys distributed by the researcher or by teachers on the researcher’s behalf. All potential participants will be informed about the purposes of the study and the relevant ethical considerations before they are asked to decide whether to participate.


For each part of the study, instruments that were designed by the researcher will be used. The questions asked in the structured interview will be presented in Appendix A, and the survey for students will be provided in Appendix B.

Research Procedure

After the data is collected, it will be processed and analyzed, with the two datasets undergoing separate procedures. Hypotheses will be tested, and the outcomes will be formulated and compared with the findings presented in the literature.

Data Analysis Methods

For the qualitative aspect of the research, content analysis will be used. The interviews will be coded and processed to evaluate the overall opinions of the teacher body. Quantitative analysis will be employed for the surveys, with the formulation and testing of a number of hypotheses that correspond to each specific subject. Student’s t-test will be used, as it can be assumed that the distribution of student results is normal.

Ethical Considerations

The research will comply with ethical standards as defined by the pertinent review board fully. The privacy of the participants will be protected to the utmost degree, participants may choose to opt-out of the study at any point, and the researcher will disclose any potential bias as well as sources of funding and conflicts of interest.

Validity and Reliability

To improve the validity of the study, the author will attempt to avoid sources of bias, such as leading questions, in the design of the instruments. They will acknowledge any potential biasing factors that emerge and attempt to account for their existence.


The initial phase, consisting of interviews and data collection via surveys, is expected to take two months. Following it, data processing and analysis will likely take another month, and the review of the results and comparisons to the literature will occupy another two weeks. At that time, a draft of the complete paper will have been written, which will then require refinement before publication over the course of another two weeks.


The purpose of this research is to evaluate the effects of shadow education on the emergence of disparities among school students. Per the literature, while it is a practice with positive intentions, it also contributes to the exacerbation of outcome differences between students who can and cannot afford tutoring. It aims to determine the degree of the practice’s usage, the subjects for which it is applied most often, and the difference in educational attainment between students who are or are not tutored.

For that purpose, it will use a mixed research design, interviewing teachers and collecting quantitative information from the students. The results will be processed and compared with the literature and the hypotheses that were formed from it. The research is expected to have substantial implications for policymakers aiming to address the problem and inform future studies.


Bray, M. (2013). Shadow education: Comparative perspectives on the expansion and implications of private supplementary tutoring. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 77, 412–420. Web.

Entrich, S. R. (2018). Shadow education and social inequalities in Japan. Springer International Publishing.

Jung, J., & Kim, Y. C. (2019). Shadow education as worldwide curriculum studies. Springer International Publishing.

Kao, G., & Park, H. (Eds.). (2018). Research in the sociology of education. Emerald Publishing Limited.

Kim, Y. C. (2016). Shadow education and the curriculum and culture of schooling in South Korea. Palgrave Macmillan US.

Lee, J. C. (Ed.). (2018). Routledge international handbook of schools and schooling in Asia. Taylor & Francis.

Marshall, J. H., & Fukao, T. (2018). Shadow education and inequality in lower secondary schooling in Cambodia: Understanding the dynamics of private tutoring participation and provision. Comparative Education Review, 63(1), 1–23. Web.

Rowley, C., & Oh, I. (Eds.). (2018). Business ethics in East Asia: Examples in historical context. Taylor & Francis.

Trent, J. (2015). Constructing professional identities in shadow education: Perspectives of private supplementary educators in Hong Kong. Educational Research for Policy and Practice, 15(2), 115–130. Web.

Zhang, W., & Bray, M. (2020). Comparative research on shadow education: Achievements, challenges, and the agenda ahead. European Journal of Education, 55(3), 322–341. Web.

Appendix A: Structured Interview Questions

  1. How long have you been working as a teacher?
  2. Do you work as a tutor in addition to your primary occupation?
  3. In your opinion, does your school serve student education needs adequately?
  4. What do you think may be the reasons why parents and children would seek tutoring?
  5. How does shadow education affect the public education system?
  6. Do you consider shadow education helpful or problematic?

Appendix B: Student Questionnaire

  • What is your gender?
  • Which grade are you in?
  • Have you received tutoring outside of school last semester?
  • If you have answered “yes” to question 3, mark the subjects in which you receive tutoring from the list below or write them after the “Other” response. Otherwise, skip this question.
    • Mathematics
    • Art
    • History
    • Science
    • Information Technology
    • English
    • Biology
    • Music
    • Geography
    • Other: _______________________________________________
  • Please write down the final grade that you have received last semester in each of the subjects listed below (if applicable):
    • Mathematics
    • Art
    • History
    • Science
    • Information Technology
    • English
    • Biology
    • Music
    • Geography
    • Other: _______________________________________________

Thank you for your participation!

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ChalkyPapers. (2023) 'Shadow Education Effects on Student Disparities'. 10 October.


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ChalkyPapers. "Shadow Education Effects on Student Disparities." October 10, 2023.