College of

A Hidden Marketplace of Ideas

Hidden Marketplace of Ideas
A private tutoring session in Eastern Europe.

Transformation is slow to come by in the former Soviet republics of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, where authoritarian government policies have led to crippling economic stagnation. More than 70 percent of all people live below the poverty threshold, surviving on less than $2.15 a day.

Unfortunately, their Central Asian neighbors don’t fare much better. Twelve million people are poverty stricken in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. And Kazakhstan, the most industrial of the countries, shares a similar problem.

In such a turbulent pocket of the world, cultural stability and economic prosperity have been hard to come by. Underperforming classrooms have a lot to do with that. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, state expenditures for education declined in most Central Asian countries. The teaching profession has lost its prestige, and the quality of the curriculum has gotten worse.

As a result, a burgeoning private tutoring industry has blossomed. Recent estimates show that nearly 60 percent of secondary school students receive educational support outside of the classroom, whether through private tutoring lessons or in preparatory classes. The scope of private tutoring exceeds 80 percent in the Caucasus (Azerbaijan and Georgia) but, conversely, is below 60 percent in the Balkans (Bosnia and Herzegovina) and Central Europe (Slovakia).

Private tutoring has become an essential part of the education experience for the majority of students. Many families choose to invest in private tutoring in order to increase their children’s academic competitiveness and improve their chances of entering university. Still, private tutoring is a luxury the rural poor simply cannot afford.

“For many families, education—including private tutoring—is the only hope to advance their socioeconomic status. The economic prospects for those without education are deteriorating,” says Iveta Silova, associate professor in comparative and international education.

In two recent studies, Private Supplementary Tutoring in Central Asia and Education in the Hidden Marketplace, Silova and her colleagues surveyed over 12,000 first-year university students in 12 countries of the former socialist bloc to examine the implications of private tutoring for socioeconomic equity. She is now launching a new study on private tutoring in Cambodia to further explore the nature of private tutoring and its role in privatization of public education.

“Private tutoring remains a largely understudied phenomenon globally and it requires urgent attention. It reveals the emergence of new educational arrangements that obscure the boundaries between public schooling and private tutoring, which has serious implications for equity,” says Silova.