Private Tutors Do Not Help Pass the USE
Shadow education for high school students, such as private tutors or
preparatory courses, is often treated by families as a mega-project requiring
substantial investments of money and effort. Such investments, however, rarely
pay off for underachieving students who are often unaware of the quality of
shadow education and thus may choose the wrong providers. A study by Andrey
Zakharov, Deputy Head of the HSE Institute of Education’s International
Laboratory for Education Policy Analysis, and Prashant Loyalka, leading
research fellow of the same Institute, has debunked some of the more popular
myths concerning the effect of shadow education.
The Unified State Examination (USE) is a high-stakes
exam for senior school students as its results determine the student's chances
of being admitted to a good college and going on to a successful career. Thus,
many parents are prepared to invest in shadow education, such as private tutors
or preparatory courses offered by colleges or private providers, to help
students prepare for the exam.
Such shadow education is widely perceived in Russia as
a guarantee of success in the USE. Similar stereotypes exist in many countries,
in particular those where college education is increasingly common. In this
context, it is not surprising that experts estimate that, by 2018, the world
will spend over 100 billion US Dollars each year on shadow education, including
private tutors and preparatory courses. In Russia, the strong demand for shadow
education has led to many opportunities from various tutors and course
providers, yet whether or not they are helpful is a big question.
Zakharov and Loyalka found that, contrary to popular opinion,
participating in shadow education does not always lead to better USE scores. In
fact, the impact of such out-of-school studies is low even for high-achieving
students, adding a few meagre points at best to their USE score, while for
low-achievers, the benefit is often zero.
One possible reason why shadow education may not bring
its perceived benefits is that high school students, particularly low
achievers, may not know when the quality of such education is poor and continue
to take it instead of changing the provider – only to find out after the exam
that their time and money has been wasted.
The study's authors used a dataset covering 2,936
school seniors across 127 schools in three Russian regions, different in terms
of their socioeconomic development, including the better-developed Krasnoyarsk
Krai, followed by Yaroslavl and Pskov regions. The analyses used the students’
scores in two mandatory USE subjects, Russian language and mathematics, both of
which are required by the vast majority of colleges. The researchers
interviewed the students, their teachers in these subjects, and the school
The study method controlled for those characteristics
of the students, families and schools which did not change depending on the
subject – such as student gender, parental education, or school type. In
addition to this, the study's authors also controlled those characteristics
which varied depending on the subject – such as basic vs. advanced level of
instruction and the average grade 10 marks in the respective subject.
Zakharov and Loyalka presented their findings in the
paper 'Does shadow education help students
prepare for college?’
Richer Families More Likely to Use Shadow Education
Almost 48% of grade 11 students participated in shadow
education in Russian language (30% used private tutoring and 28% attended
courses offered by colleges), and almost 55% participated in shadow education
in mathematics (39% used private tutoring and 28% attended courses). Students
who participated in shadow education differed from those who did not in terms
of socioeconomic status (Graph 1, Table 1).
tutors and courses were more likely to come from more affluent families, live
in urban areas and attend elite schools, to
have more books in the home, and to be slightly younger than their peers who did
not participate in out-of-school education.
Table 1. Sociodemographic Characteristics of
Students Participating in Shadow Education
Shadow Education Contributes to Social Inequality
According to Zakharov and Loyalka, shadow courses and
private tutors tend to have little or no effect on an average student's exam
score. The question is then who is helped by shadow education.
Comparing the impact of shadow education on high and
low achievers (Table 2), we can see that the former improve their performance
by 0.13 SD (p<0.05, column 1 table 2). In contrast, for low achievers the
impact of shadow education is not statistically different from zero (column 2
It follows from the above that since tutors and
preparatory courses at colleges only help high-achievers, shadow education may
contribute to social inequality, particularly given the socioeconomic
differences between the two groups of students.
Table 2. Impacts of Shadow Education on High and
Low Academic Achievers.
Quality Awareness Needed
The study's authors examined two possible reasons why
shadow education has little or no impact on student performance.
First, students may lack the skills to assess the
quality of the shadow education services offered to them.
Second, students may substitute time spent in shadow
education for other key learning activities.
The latter assumption, however, did not stand up to
closer scrutiny, as the researchers found no impact of participation in shadow
education on the time students were likely to spend on homework or self-study
to prepare for exams.
assumption, however, appears plausible. Indeed, low academic achievers may not
know which shadow education services are of poor quality and thus choose the
wrong providers. If so, the impact of shadow education on social inequality can
be mitigated by regulating this type of educational service and finding ways to
inform students and their families about the quality or suitability of certain shadow
January 18, 2016