Shadow Education System: Uncovering its prevalence in Jamaica

Adella
Campbell

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

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In a recent seminar held in Shanghai, China, for education administrators from developing countries, I was exposed to the reform of China's educational system over various dynasties. I also had the opportunity to interact with eminent scholars, advisors and consultants on education from across the globe. Throughout the seminar, facilitators shared their experiences with education systems across the continents of Asia, Africa, Oceania/Australasia, South and North America. While I was very impressed with the array of topics presented, one particular concept 'Shadow Education', in Professor John Bray's presentation, resonated with me.

Is this a familiar concept in the Jamaican education system? The response may be no.

What is 'Shadow Education'?

It is described as, “a set of educational activities that occur outside formal schooling and are designed to enhance the student's formal school career” (Lee & Baker, 1992).

Is this practice prevalent in the Jamaican education system? Yes, it is. While the concept of Shadow Education has not been discussed ad nauseam, it is clear that the concepts 'extra lesson' and 'private tutoring' are synonyms. It is also evident that this metaphor is adopted for its description because the practice imitates mainstream education.

According to one Caribbean study, extra lessons is “all teaching/learning activities outside of the normal school timetable that attempt to cover the formal school curriculum at a cost to the students and parents” (Lochan & Barrow, 2008).

I will use the terms shadow education, extra lessons and private tutoring interchangeably.

Dimensions to Shadow Education

Based on their experience in Hong Kong, Wai-Ho Yung and Bray identified three dimensions to Shadow Education:

(1) “Privateness — This dimension limits tutoring to that provided by individuals or organisations in exchange for a fee. It does not include unpaid tutoring offered by families, friends or volunteers, or extra lessons provided by teachers free of charge.

(2) Supplementation — Shadow Education supplements the provision of schools and is provided outside school hours.

(3) Academic subjects — The principal academic subjects are Chinese, English, mathematics and other subjects that feature in the public examinations. Domains that are learned mainly for leisure and/or personal development such as music, art and sports are excluded from the focus. (Wai-Ho Yung & Bray, 2017).

While we need to operationalise what occurs in our system based on the dimensions mentioned here, we cannot deny the fact that elements of these dimensions are evident in Jamaica's extra lessons/private tutoring structure.

Who are the beneficiaries?

Of note is that resorting to Shadow Education is often considered necessary for students to pass their finalising examinations for better career prospects as well as for placement in top schools and universities. It is also felt that extra lessons teachers are more understanding and patient (Stewart, 2013).

Generally, Shadow Education is beneficial to parents and students who can afford it; families and communities who believe that the regular school system has failed them; and teachers who are thought to generate extra income from their involvement with such practice.

On the contrary, students may not reap the desired effects of these extra lessons due to fatigue from lack of sufficient break time between regular school time and extra lessons classes. Students also are bereft of leisure time, which further exacerbates the level of fatigue.

Where is Shadow Education delivered and by whom?

Private tutoring and extra lessons are delivered in various settings, and in the modern-day Shadow Education system it is considered an enterprise, as such there are more trendy arrangements. Settings ranged from an open space, under a tree, to more sophisticated academies. In some jurisdictions facilities may also include clinics (eg mathematics clinics), centres, and institutes.

Traditionally, delivery would be face-to-face; however, with advancement in technology it may be done via the Internet. Further, lessons may be delivered on a one-to-one basis, at home, in small groups, in classrooms, via telephone, or via mail.

Lessons are often delivered by regular teachers in mainstream education, high school graduates, university students and graduates, and in recent times, by some private enterprises.

How widespread is Shadow Education?

Despite the dearth of information on the practice in Jamaica, it is evident that the practice is prevalent in the Caribbean, more specifically, Jamaica. Extra lessons are almost synonymous with the now abolished Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT). The practice at the secondary and tertiary levels cannot go unnoticed. I am also aware that nursing students across the country engage private tutors, especially when preparing for their qualifying examination, the Regional Examination for Nurses Registration (RENR). You will agree that this phenomenon is not fully examined within the Jamaican context.

John Bray's presentation highlighted that in Brazil 50 per cent of students received private tutoring to avert repeating a subject (Paiva et al, 1997); in Japan, 70 per cent of students receive private tutoring by the time they complete middle school (junior high school). In Korea, it is estimated that 81.1 per cent of elementary school students were receiving private tutoring in 2014. Further, in England and Wales, a 2014 survey showed that in London, 37 per cent of 2,700 young people received private tutoring. Of note is that shadow education is becoming a popular phenomenon across the globe.

Findings from one study done among high school students in Jamaica showed that students attended private tutoring/extra lessons between 16 to 20 hours per week, and they performed better academically than their counterparts. It also found that families contributed between $4,000 to $60,000 per term across the various regions (Stewart, 2013). These charges may create financial hardship for a number of families. Of note is that in this study, some students alluded to receiving free lessons. This, however, may not constitute Shadow Education based on the dimensions mentioned above.

What are the drivers for Shadow Education?

No one will question the acceptability of Shadow Education in the Jamaican culture. Parents, and society in general, have bought into the practice which has now become an established, creative, entrepreneurial endeavour despite being unregulated.

Why do people buy into this practice? Parents, families and communities generally are of the opinion that lessons provided during hours allocated for mainstream education are inadequate. Students and parents also feel that extra lesson teachers are more understanding and patient. Students feel that concepts not understood in regular class time are made easier in extra lesson classes.

Additionally, it is felt that some classrooms are not conducive to learning; that some regular teachers underperform and are uninterested; and there were issues with large class sizes, lack of resources, indiscipline, and not enough time to complete curriculum in regular class time. More alarming is that students and parents felt that extra lessons offered a richer learning experience because students are sometimes taught at a more advanced level (Stewart, 2013). These data present us with a scenario which is not only a concern, but one that requires further investigation.

Rural-urban shift may also be a contributing factor, in that migrant parents attempt to have their children on par with students in urban schools. There may also be similar experiences in which students living in inner-city communities seek extra lessons in more stable communities.

Unanswered questions

Based on the aforementioned arguments, one will agree that several gaps exist in the debate on Shadow Education. Questions that are still unanswered are:

(1) How prevalent is Shadow Education at all levels in the Jamaican education system?

(2) What regulatory mechanisms are there for those who currently engage in Shadow Education?

(3) What mechanisms are used to determine fees charged for extra lessons?

(4) Why is Shadow Education curriculum, in some instances, more advanced than that of regular school, for students at the same level?

(5) Are the contents of mainstream education curriculum covered in Shadow Education curriculum?

(6) Should subject matter not covered during regular school hours be delivered during extra lessons?

(7) Is it possible that some teachers deliberately create demand for extra lessons?

(8) Are some students disenfranchised because of their inability to pay for extra lessons?

(9) How will extra lessons operate at the primary education level under the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) assessment system?

In attempting to understand the Shadow Education system within the Jamaican context, I seek answers from the relevant stakeholders to the questions posed above. It is clear that factors contributing to the rise of Shadow Education are multifactorial.

Evidently, there is no structure or system to operationalise shadow education/private tutoring/extra lessons in the Jamaican education system. Additionally, there appears to be no mechanisms to measure or evaluate its effectiveness or determine the segment of society which utilises these services most. The information above also suggests that there may be social inequities.

I do not believe the Shadow Education phenomenon has escaped the attention of education planners, policymakers, technocrats, and society in general. I believe, however, that very little has been done to determine the extent to which it is present, its effectiveness, the social and economic implications as well as the implication, for the mainstream education system.

One may also be concerned with transparency or the lack thereof. Does regular teachers' participation in Shadow Education constitute conflict of interest? It is therefore prudent for the relevant regulatory mechanisms or codes of conduct to be established to mitigate conflict of interest and ensures greater good for all?

Additionally, some teachers may resign themselves to the fact that students will receive extra lessons and, as such, do not exert extra effort to assist students to grasp subject matters. It is absolutely essential that the necessary framework be mobilised to establish how widespread Shadow Education is at all levels of the Jamaican education system. This will no doubt ensure quality assurance.

It is important that at this juncture, careful consideration be given to determining the impact of Shadow Education on mainstream education, education planning and decision-making as well as its economic and social implications.

I believe that more research is critical in this area to determine emerging trends in order to prescribe evidence-based solutions. The ongoing dialogue among stakeholders including the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, the Jamaica Teachers' Association, and Parent-Teachers Associations cannot be overemphasised.

Adella Campbell, JP, PhD, is an associate professor and head of the Caribbean School of Nursing at the University of Technology, Jamaica. Send comments to the Observer or adcampbell@utech.edu.jm .

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