Private Tutoring: Symbiotic and Parasitic Function

The classroom of a public primary school on mount Kulen, Siem Reap province. Photo: Ky Chamna

Private tutoring is known as “shadow education” as its contents and additional instructions on academic subjects follow or change in accordance with those of the public school.

It may persist as long as schooling exists. Heyneman and Bray viewed supplying private tutoring to their own students and the ways teachers abuse their authority to create private tutoring demand among their students as professional misconduct or corruption in education.

Over decades, studies and media in Cambodia have reported the association between private tutoring and teachers due to overloaded syllabuses, low salaries, insufficient instructional time, class size, and high-stakes examinations.

Although some positive impacts were found in the previous empirical studies, the negative effects are the focus of researchers and educators.

Symbiotic function

Due to the insufficient salaries and feeling insecure about education quality at public school, a dependency system is created between the supply side and the demand side.

Private tutoring (PT) survives due to the existence of a public school system. It provides the host with benefits.

Studies reveal that quality education is not likely to be achieved without support from private tutoring. Teachers during public school hours employ hurried teaching although they know that their students cannot catch up.

Therefore, students will not be able to master skills unless they go to PT to absorb those again. PT can help teachers with supplementary incomes, plus additional instructional time to teachers to cover the uncovered parts of the curriculum during official hours.

Parasitic function

Tutored students beat non-tutored peers in both formative and summative assessment as well as in all types of examination.

They learned the contents ahead and practiced more exercises. Some studies also revealed that test items were the same as what they had learned during the tutoring classes.

Students viewed public school hours as theory-based learning while practice-based learning happens at private tutoring hours. These techniques are known as ‘pedagogies of private tutoring’ and ‘the trick of teachers’ as well as a ‘uncaring pedagogy’ to promote tutoring demand.

Where we are in the private tutoring scenario

Private tutoring is not a new phenomenon in Cambodia as well as in other developed and developing countries. Insufficient payment from public schools seems to be a common issue persuading teachers to tutor privately.

However, Cambodia’s government increased the rates of expenditure on education and teachers’ salaries sequentially.

Teachers’ salaries have also substantially increased about threefold as the Ministry of Education Youth and Sport’s budget increased from $343 million in 2014 to $848 million in 2019.

About 80 percent of this increase was attributed to the growth of the public wage. For example, the starting salaries for lower secondary schoolteachers increased from a range of $1,259 to $3,876 up to $1,814 to $4,222 per year within the same period.

Yet, empirical studies and media reports revealed the continuation of unprofessional behavior among schoolteachers for supplementary income through PT engagement.

The 2008 ethics code of conduct for the teaching profession (see: Articles 13, 17, and 27) is exercised to alert public school teachers not to engage in personal gain and supplying private tutoring.

Although there  does not seem to be any specific law about teachers’ private tutoring, violating Article 13 seems to be considered illegal, and those concerned can be charged if the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) reveals that they have done so.

Using this form to regulate private tutoring is known as discouragement, one of the four regulations or scenarios in the shadow education literature unlike other countries such as Japan, Korea, and Bhutan that use “"official prohibition”.

However, it is worth acknowledging that the Ministry of Education Youth and Sport prohibits New Generation School teachers from supplying private tutoring to their students.

This may be a good signal that Cambodia is committing to discouraging the practice even if they may not be able to eliminate it.

Sopha Soeung and Vutheavy Chim are teacher trainers at the National Institute of Education. Their research interests are shadow education and teacher education.  

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