23 SES 08 C, Markets and Commodification in Schools
Private supplementary tutoring is a phenomenon that has undergone a ‘massive worldwide increase’ (Park et al, 2016: 232) in recent years. It has been noted for its potential to exacerbate inequalities in educational opportunities, contributing to a residualisation of public education and at the same time creating financial burdens for many families (Aurini et al, 2013). Despite this, governments globally tend substantially towards lacking explicit policies for the regulation of fast-growing tutoring industries.
Looking at regions in the world such as East Asia where private tutoring is already vast and comparing with regions such as Western Europe where tutoring remains modest but is on the rise, Bray (2011) has argued that countries must do more – and fast – to discourage negative societal implications which arise when ‘shadow education’ grows:
“Policy makers in countries where the shadow education system is modest in scale still have opportunities to avert some of the major problems experienced by countries in which it has become engrained in cultures and daily lives” (p.15).
Statements such as this suggest almost that addressing the growth of private tutoring is a time-critical issue – one which must be tackled before it becomes ‘too late’. Are private tutoring markets perhaps in some ways ‘irreversible’? Can they become ‘out of control’ once past a certain point? Here, insights from political science on the nature of continuity and change in societies may prove useful. In discussing the concept of path dependence, authors such as Pierson (2000) have argued that societies often become ‘locked in’ to particular macro-level institutional configurations even where these are far from being ideal for most citizens (see also Mahoney, 2000; Fleckenstein and Lee, 2018).
In this paper I explore the specific notion that countries can become ‘locked in’ to institutional patterns of long-term dependence on private tutoring. I report on the case of South Korea, a country with some of the highest spending on ‘shadow education’ in the world and where a highly powerful private tutoring industry has become ‘the enemy of the public school system’ (Chung, 2002).
Semi-structured interviews were carried out with 29 policy experts and key stakeholders in the Korean education system. Interviewees included one former Saenuri (conservative) government education minister and one former vice minister, advisers within the Korean Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST), government researchers, National Assembly politicians from the centre-left Minjoo political party, education scholars and representatives from the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education (SMOE), Korea’s teacher unions, education NGOs and the tutoring industry itself. Some interviews were carried out in English by the author alone, though others were carried out with the aid of two Korean interpreters who were familiar with the aims of the research project. In one instance due to a last-minute cancellation it was necessary to collect a respondent’s insights via email. In five instances, interviewees were interviewed in groups of two or more. Thematic analysis of interviews data was carried out using NVivo 11. In order to boost accuracy, interview data were triangulated against government policy documents, literature published by Korean think tanks and against a large body of secondary academic literature on Korean shadow education.
Findings in the paper reveal that, in Korean society, there are three central components underpinning substantial private tutoring ‘lock in’: • Parents have over time developed perceptions that, in a society where inequality and labour market dualism have grown rapidly since the 1990s, paying for private tutoring is essential for children to fare well in their futures. Such messages are reinforced to parents through aggressive advertising campaigns deployed by most tutoring companies – a technique referred to as ‘anxiety marketing’. • The teaching profession in Korea has reached a point where large proportions of even public school teachers have at times worked (and will again work) as private tutors, particularly as private sector pay is higher. Such context means that teaching unions and also university schools of education can do little to challenge the tutoring industry. • Governments depend on the Korean tutoring industry not only because it creates large numbers of jobs and contributes to GDP but also because it contributes to national success in international education league tables such as PISA. The lobbying power of the private tutoring industry is in turn very strong and so regulations remain weak.
Aurini, J., S. Davies and J. Dierkes. 2013. Out of the Shadows: The Global Intensification of Supplementary Education. Bingley: Emerald. Bray, M. 2011. The Challenge of Shadow Education: Private Tutoring and its implications for policy makers in the European Union. Brussels: European Commission. Bray, M. 2017. “Schooling and its supplements: changing global patterns and implications for comparative education,” Comparative Education Review, 61 (3): 469-491. Chung, B. 2002. Korea’s War on Private Tutoring. Paper presented at Second International Forum on Education Reform, Bangkok, 2-5 September. Mahoney, J. 2000. “Path dependence in historical sociology,” Theory and Society, 29 (4): 507-548. Park, H., C. Buchmann, J. Choi and J.J. Merry. 2016. “Learning beyond the school walls: trends and implications.” Annual Review of Sociology 42: 231-252. Pierson, P. 2000. “Increasing Returns, Path Dependence, and the Study of Politics.” American Political Science Review, 94 (2): 251-267. Fleckenstein, T., Lee, S. 2018. “The political economy of education and skills in South Korea: democratisation, liberalisation and education reform in comparative perspective,” Pacific Review.
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