Shadow Education in Africa and Beyond
Shadow education is private supplementary tutoring. East Asia is often assumed to be the center of private tutoring. But it’s actually a global phenomenon. Today Mark Bray joins me to talk about Shadow Education in Africa.
Mark Bray is the Director of the Centre for International Research in Supplementary Tutoring (CIRIST) at East China Normal University in Shanghai, and UNESCO Chair in Comparative Education at the University of Hong Kong. His latest book is Shadow Education in Africa: Private Supplementary Tutoring and its Policy Implications.
Citation: Bray, Mark, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 230, podcast audio, March 1, 2021. https://freshedpodcast.com/markbray-2/
Will Brehm 1:42
Mark Bray, welcome back to FreshEd.
Mark Bray 1:45
Thank you, Will. Pleasure to be here.
Will Brehm 1:47
So, you’ve researched shadow education across the globe really and perhaps most notably in East and Southeast Asia, where you reside. When did you realize that you needed to actually turn your attention to the continent of Africa? And what is happening with shadow education there?
Mark Bray 2:06
As you say, Will, I’ve been looking at this for over 20 years. In fact, my first book, the first global study of this phenomenon, was published in 1999. It did have Africa in it. It had examples from Mauritius, from Tanzania, from Egypt, and so on. But it’s true that much of my work has been East Asia, Southeast Asia, and the world tends to think of juku in Japan and hagwon in Korea. The world tends to think of it as more an East Asian phenomenon, which I don’t think it is. I think now it is a global phenomenon. It’s more and more a global phenomenon. Even in Scandinavia, we see it emerging. But this Africa book is a response to an invitation from UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring report, for which the 2021 edition will focus on non-state actors in education. So, this is a study filling a bit of a blank on the map, to put Africa more in focus, and to fit into the GEM reports focus on non-state actors in education.
Will Brehm 3:20
You’ve worked and researched in different countries in Africa for quite some time. When did you actually first notice shadow education?
Mark Bray 3:31
Well, really sometime work in Africa. My early career, as you know, was a schoolteacher in Kenya. Later a schoolteacher in Nigeria. I have a master’s in African Studies. Then I did my PhD on universal primary education in Nigeria. After that, geographically, I got a bit diverted to Papua New Guinea to Asia, etc. But I came back to it when I was director of UNESCO’s IIEP, the International Institute for Educational Planning 2006 to 2010. So, you asked when I noticed that it was a big thing in parts of Africa. Well, as I say, my 1999 book for IIEP highlighted Tanzania, Mauritius, Cairo, Egypt, etc. But the message of the book is also to be saying, clearly, it needs a lot more attention throughout the continent. And we need a bit more geographic balance here. It’s not just an East Asian or South Asian phenomenon. It is Africa. It is also, by the way, North America and Europe and Latin America and so on. It is a global phenomenon. But in this particular book, I’ve chosen to focus, in liaison with the GEM report team, only on Africa but including the Arab states of North Africa, as well as Sub-Saharan Africa.
Will Brehm 4:57
And so, what sort of patterns do you see across these different regions, let’s say of Africa?
Mark Bray 5:04
Well, North Africa has a long history and Egypt in particular. The initial regulations of Egypt, on private tutoring, even coming in 1947, which is really early stuff. And it’s emerging as a big phenomenon in the 50s and the 60s, and still hasn’t gone away in Egypt. I would say globally, we can say that, perhaps, Korea or Japan, they are the world’s champions and perhaps Greece is a European champion, Mauritius is an African champion, but Egypt is the Arab region champion in this. And so, I’ve been aware of this as a phenomenon in Egypt for a long time. And, by extension, other parts of North Africa. Anglophone Africa, different. Certainly, emerging in East Africa in a very visible way with regulations that may or may not work -Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, etc. West Africa, Nigeria, Ghana. Southern Africa, it hasn’t been so visible a phenomenon. But we are seeing sharp increases in the statistics for South Africa, for Namibia, and for Eswatini. So, Anglophone Africa, as a collection, there is diversity within it. Francophone Africa, less obvious, but my hunch is that’s just because people are not alert to the phenomenon, and they’re not collecting the statistics. Rather than that the phenomenon doesn’t exist. Lusophone Africa, we do have data from Mozambique a little bit, Angola a little bit. We need data from all of these places a lot more.
Will Brehm 6:54
Yeah, I mean, so obviously, we’re limited to what we can talk about based on the data. But I mean, so in a place like Egypt, I was shocked to read in your book that it’s something like 1.8% of GDP is spent on shadow education? That’s shocking to me.
Mark Bray 7:13
It is a shocking number; I think it was 1.6%. But that’s still almost the same thing.
Will Brehm 7:18
Mark Bray 7:20
It’s an estimate of 20 years ago, and it’s looking at how much the households were spending, how much the Ministry of Education was spending. Households were spending estimated between 12 and 15 billion Egyptian pounds compared to the ministry 10 billion Egyptian pounds. So, households were spending more than the ministry. And whopping numbers there and continuing whopping numbers, because the Egyptian government is hard-pressed, they’ve expanded education, they’ve expanded other sectors, budgets are constrained. So, teachers in particular are the ones who are earning extra money in order to feed their families. We have to be sympathetic to the Egyptian teachers. They are not paid well, and shadow education is a way to earn extra money to feed the family.
Will Brehm 8:13
So, you’re saying in Egypt, it’s the public-school teachers who are also doing the tutoring after school hours?
Mark Bray 8:21
Especially the public-school teachers. There are tutorial centers, and there is a private institutional set of establishments as well, but especially the teachers, and I think that’s what we’re also seeing in places like Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, and so on. It’s become a normal phenomenon in many parts of the continent.
Will Brehm 8:46
And why do you think that is?
Mark Bray 8:48
We can link it to the unanticipated consequences of universalization of primary education, the EFA movement, etc. We can link it to expansion of education, government budgets being constrained, therefore, teacher salaries being constrained. Civil service teacher tracks are no longer so strong. Many of these countries have got contract teachers. They don’t earn good salaries; they need extra money for it. But it’s also part of the global trend of marketization of education, it’s internal privatization of education. It’s become an acceptable thing to do. It is a normal life for Egyptian families, several generations now. Other parts of the continent, it’s only the first generation, but for Egyptians, the parents had to go to shadow education, so they accepted as normal for their children. So, it’s a normalization of an internal privatization of the public systems.
Will Brehm 9:54
And do you see any potential problems with such a normalization?
Mark Bray 10:00
Well, there are huge problems when we pretend that education is free and equitable and fair. And the hidden costs are whopping. And particularly, there are equity issues, the well-endowed families can pay more for better shadow education, and the low-income families are excluded from it. So, it’s under the radar, and government may pretend that education is free, but it’s not free. So, there are huge equity implications in all of this.
Will Brehm 10:35
What’s interesting to me is that in, say Egypt -but of course, in other countries that you mentioned where this phenomenon of teachers who are also tutors exist- is that the households are spending such large amounts of money on schooling. And I just wonder if there were tax systems in place. So, to what extent are there tax systems in, say, Egypt, or some of these other countries, and what would you make of that sort of policy prescription?
Mark Bray 11:05
I completely agree that taxation can be an educational issue. And we don’t hear enough about that we hear people saying, X percent of the government budget should be spent on education. Okay, but how big is the government budget? And where is the taxation money coming from? So, I completely agree with you that we should be looking at taxation as a real issue. We should also be looking overall at GDP per capita. So, within the book, I have got a map of GDP per capita. Now, we don’t completely see shadow education corresponding to the rich countries. But to some extent, we do because we are also talking -on the one hand, we’re talking about teachers who give extra tutoring to earn enough money to feed their families, etc. On the other hand, we’re also talking about entrepreneurs who opened tutorial centers. That’s happening, especially in places like South Africa, more and more, where businesspeople see opportunities here to marketize and to supplement the school system to the extent to which schooling ceases to be enough. And teachers, even if they’re not themselves, providing shadow education, assume that their students are receiving it. And then, since the teachers in their own teaching assume that their students are receiving all the supplementary help that they needed, then the students are forced to acquire it. So, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Will Brehm 12:49
Hmm. It’s quite a dilemma for, say, a policymaker or a parent. I mean, as a parent, it almost makes sense. If you had the additional money to spend on tutoring, why wouldn’t you do it, right? I mean, everyone else is doing it, you’re going to potentially do better on exams that might help your child get further along in the education system.
Mark Bray 13:16
I agree with you. And that’s also why many of these policies don’t work. Because the ministry may have a top-down prohibition of teachers doing this -thou shalt not provide private tutoring. But the parents want it, particularly the parents who can afford it. And in a society where there is social stratification, insofar as education is seen as a vehicle still to move upwards, then parents who can afford it will go for this stuff. And they go for it more actively than they used to. Now, this is itself linked to successes of EFA. The EFA agenda has had spin-off unanticipated consequences. In the old days, when children may not have completed primary, may not have completed secondary, certainly didn’t think of going to tertiary, then there were push outs and dropouts along the way. The successes of EFA mean that people do complete primary, do complete secondary, they have the opportunity to go to tertiary in a way that they didn’t before. So, suddenly, they’re in the running for a competition with their neighbors, and then the question is, well, how do I compete with my neighbors? And the answer is through shadow education, to keep ahead and do well on those exams.
Will Brehm 14:43
It’s a really nice insight, the critique of EFA, or Education for All, and some of the unintended consequences of, in a sense, massification of education at so many levels. And I guess the rise of shadow education, in a way, really begins to challenge the very notion that education is some sort of great equalizer. Because shadow education now, in a sense, is acting as that sorting machine and helping different groups of people -and obviously, it matches on to socioeconomic status in different classes of students, sort of being reproduced and given more and better education based on what they can afford. And so, in a sense, it’s a bit shocking to think that education might not be as great of an equalizer as we had anticipated.
Mark Bray 15:38
That’s certainly a major reason why the shadow needs to be looked at much more carefully. And though it is a hidden stratifier, in the worst types of cases, teachers who are tutoring their own students actively shortchange in their regular classes so that students will have to come to their private classes. Now, that is, again, where the haves and the have-nots are being divided even more. So, when you have got, in effect, a form of corruption where the teachers are deliberately under teaching in class to say, “Well come to my house at five o’clock, and I’m running the tutoring there. And by the way, perhaps I will give you some tips to the exam, which I as the teacher am setting,” you’ve got a huge set of hidden inequalities within regular classrooms because of the shadow education.
Will Brehm 16:40
So, returning back to Africa specifically- of course, Africa also has a very long history of colonialism of different sorts in different countries. How has the legacies of colonialism -where do you see them in the types of shadow education that you observed today across Africa?
Mark Bray 17:02
I think we can see a clear difference between Francophone and Anglophone Africa in that sense. So, still, 60 years later, we are talking about different attitudes to education and the role of the state. So, in Anglophone Africa, the missions were much more active. One did have not-for-profit, usually not-for-profit private actors. Kenya, in the early years of independence, then launched its Harambee movement in a big way and the self-help initiatives. One has seen community schools across Africa, including in Francophone Africa. But I think the question about the role of the state continues to be viewed differently in Francophone Africa and Anglophone Africa. That the Anglophone Africa, there are people who’ve looked at patterns of contract teachers and community-employed teachers, and so on. They are more likely to be found in Anglophone Africa than Francophone Africa. And I think one can also find then parallels in Lusophone Africa. There are still legacies, which go with the language group and the language group itself comes from the colonial history.
Will Brehm 18:20
Right. And it’s interesting that you say these different colonial legacies can impact the way in which different countries might understand the state, and so would that then connect to the way in which those countries understand non-state actors, right? Because shadow education sort of operates in that netherworld between non-state and state. It’s sort of semi-state if you’re a public-school teacher also providing tutoring, for instance.
Mark Bray 18:49
Yes. Semi-state, but that’s why I’m glad that the UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report, in its discussion of non-state actors, is looking at public school teachers behaving as private school teachers. In this case, yes, they have got their core salary and their job as a public-school teacher, but their actions in the shadow are absolutely private. And I think that that’s where we also need to review things like the Abidjan Principles are very much about private schools and that public-private schooling dichotomy, but the shadow stuff is privatization within the public schools. And it doesn’t get enough attention, in my view, in the Abidjan principles, and needs a lot more direct discussion about what’s going on here.
Will Brehm 19:42
Yeah. So, in a sense, what you’re saying is that it’s not this sort of black or white, I mean, private or public, but it’s sort of both at the same time, or maybe at different times, because a tutor potentially isn’t also being a public-school teacher at the exact same moment, but they might be doing it in the same exact classroom just simply at a different time.
Mark Bray 20:05
They could even be doing it in the same exact classroom. The school bell rings at the end of the day, and nobody moves. Or only a few people move. That the teacher then says, “Okay. End of public schooling. Those of you who are paying the fees, now we’re going to go to the private tutoring classes.”
Will Brehm 20:25
I’m just trying to imagine myself being a teacher when that bell rings, and what happens psychologically, or sort of socially, when that bell rings, and you have to change the sort of role that you play in the school. I mean, it must be a very strange reality to have to live through every day.
Mark Bray 20:45
Well, I don’t know if I’m allowed in this podcast to tell people to read your book, your book about Cambodia and privatization and your own insights from watching a teacher in the public-school lessons, and then moving to the private lessons and how the dynamics are different and similar. Now, that’s Cambodia, it’s not Africa. But absolutely, some of these dynamics are the same in parts of Africa. And from that comes another lesson about the role of schooling. Schooling is a universal phenomenon, the structure of schools, teachers, students, term time, vacation, blackboards, desks, timetables, all the rest of it, that is universalized. But then one sees different soils in which the plant has been located. So, to some extent, even your valuable work on Cambodia has got links to some of these African countries that we’re talking about.
Will Brehm 21:52
Well, thank you very much for plugging that. And I think that’s what is so -looking so in-depth in one particular context, and in my case, one particular school and just finding the connections, not only across Cambodia but then across the region, across the globe. It raises interesting questions as to why this is happening now, right? These are obviously interconnected phenomena in some way, even if they look different contextually. And so EFA, colonialism -because obviously, Cambodia had French colonialism- are there other reasons why shadow education might exist today that you’ve come across?
Mark Bray 22:39
We are increasingly in a globalized world where information and money can be transferred at the click of a mouse. So, we are increasingly seeing that we are no longer in competition with our immediate neighbors, we’re in competition with people across the country, across the continent, across the planet. So, I think that globalization has an impact on some of the stuff. And so, what we do know is that shadow education peaks at the time of the examination, so watershed examinations, especially at the end of secondary schooling. Now, it’s then a question of who’s going to go to university, to which university, to which course in which university, and so on. And at that level, one is also seeing the impact of globalization. What jobs are available to whom? And that’s among the reasons why we are seeing much more of this than we used to. I mean, again, globally, beyond Africa, we are now seeing -it used to be the case that Scandinavia was the ideal place to be a child and possibly a parent. That people would trust schools and schooling was enough. But now we’re seeing the encroachment of the private sector, or the shadow education sector, even in Scandinavia, in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland. And so that’s again underlining this is a global phenomenon, for different reasons but also, for some extent, the same reasons. That families want the best for their children. And it’s a question about how do my children get ahead and what’s necessary to advance, and in some cases, it’s not so extreme. In Scandinavia, there is still a welfare state, but in other parts of the world, you’re failing even at the starting line. If everybody else is getting shadow education, except you, then forget about these empty promises of education is free, and education is the vehicle for advancement. It’s not. You’re screened out even at the beginning.
Will Brehm 25:06
And of course, there’s different types of shadow education, some of higher quality than others.
Mark Bray 25:10
Correct. And that’s, again, back to the social inequalities of it.
Will Brehm 25:14
Yeah. So, the other thing that it reminded me of was the book by Michael Sandel, his new one on ‘The Tyranny of Meritocracy,’ which I think you are reading right now, and I’ve read as well. And I’m just wondering, what are the connections between the sort of rise of shadow education globally, but also this notion of meritocracy where we sort of expect to be rewarded for the effort we put into something. And so, if you put the effort into education, then you will be rewarded with better degrees, maybe better jobs, higher salaries, whatever it is. Is there an interconnection, do you see between meritocracy and some of what Michael Sandel was talking about where meritocracy can actually become quite problematic because it becomes so individualistic and shadow education?
Mark Bray 26:12
Glad you raised that. Sandel himself would say yes and does talk about shadow education in the United States. So, that’s again, saying this is a global phenomenon to some extent, even in the United States. Okay, here we’re discussing a book about Africa but look, the nature of the phenomenon is all over the place. And you can get private tutoring in the United States to help you with your SATs and everything else. And it’s grown there and will continue to grow. So, it does come back to this question of merit and perceived merit. And yes, I deserve the job I’ve got, I deserve the income I’ve got because I’ve worked hard for it but also because my parents paid the tutoring fees. And it’s increasingly saying that society is stratified. And perhaps you actually don’t deserve it as much as other people who’ve got brains and diligence but didn’t have the money to pay the shadow education fees.
Will Brehm 27:17
So, I mean, given this wide-ranging phenomenon that seems to have become quite every day in many societies -and particularly in Egypt, it sounds like in this case- what can governments and policymakers even begin to do? I mean, if banning shadow education, as you said previously, doesn’t necessarily work, what is it that they can do?
Mark Bray 27:43
The first thing they can do is put it on the table and recognize it. I just want to have better data. The Africa book, to some extent, is assembling a jigsaw puzzle from the pieces we’ve got, but there are a lot of pieces missing. And I would want to have much better data. And we have data from SACMEQ, the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Education Quality, we do not have comparable data from Francophone Africa from PASEC. Governments are not good at collecting data on this. So, I would want to have better data. I would want to have it in public discussion. I would want it to be discussed at all levels, ministry level, district level, school level. So, school principals can do things on this thing. The great thing about being a school principal is that the actors are known people, they’re not just anonymous statistics. So, if there are corruption elements and so on, that can be put on the table. Let it be taken out of the shadows and at least discussed, talked about, then there are some other things that can be done legislatively. In the book I suggested, a place to start would be to say that teachers cannot/should not tutor their existing students. So, that notion that I talked about with teachers deliberately shortchanging their regular classes in order to promote the private class. There will still be trading operations, “I will tutor your students if you tutor mine.” Okay, that will still happen. But at least let’s start with prohibition of teachers tutoring their own students. There are other things that can be done for regulating tutorial companies so that they don’t engage in false advertising, that the fee structures are looked at, the quality is looked at. There are parts of the world -actually, China has turned out to be a good model for this. The Chinese authorities, after ignoring the phenomenon for a long time, have now started to take it very seriously in terms of regulations and follow through on those regulations so that they’re more than pieces of paper. So, there are things that governments can do, but the starting point is to take it out of the shadows and to actively discuss it with all the stakeholders. With the teachers’ unions, with parents bodies, with different departments of government, with the taxation people, as you’ve just mentioned, and so on.
Will Brehm 30:19
Well, Mark Bray, thank you so much for joining FreshEd, and it’s always a pleasure to talk.
Mark Bray 30:23
Thank you, Will. It is a pleasure to talk with you, too.
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