Privatizing Public Schools and Publicizing Private Schools

I was amazed to learn that a girl studying business at Lehigh named Susan is from the same city in China as I am. Yesterday she invited me to lunch, so we had a good chat about our life experiences. I am seven years older than her. It turned out that we attended the same primary school. Later on, while I attended a middle school nearby, she attended a private school. She was the first person whom I know to attend a private school in my hometown. Our conversation helped me reflect on private education in China.


Let’s start with the private schools in the city I was born and raised up. I grew up in a medium sized city in eastern China. I attended public schools I was assigned to. By the time I graduated from primary school, there was only one private school, called New Era, in the city. It was a newly established private middle school. In the following years, more private schools were established at various levels. According to Susan, when she graduated from primary school, she had a couple of choices. She could either attend a public middle school, just as I did, or attend one of the private schools. She finally chose a newly established middle school named Bridge near her home. What is interesting about both the New Era and Bridge schools is their connections to by public middle schools. Most of the teachers worked in the mother public schools prior to the establishment of the private schools. New Era and Bridge charged more fees than public schools and generated great profit each year; in return, the mother schools assigned their best teachers, administrators, resources, and facilities to the private schools. These public funded and public run private schools became the first choice for many parents and, at the same time, the target of public criticism.


Theoretically, each primary school graduate is assigned to a certain middle school based on geographical proximity. The student’s parents can waive attendance by demonstrating their child will attend another private or public middle school. If parents want to choose another public school than the one their child is assigned to, they have to pay an extra amount of money and bride school officials. Parents also have the choice of private schools. Let’s take New Era, for example. Its mother school Brooks used to be one of the best middle schools before any private schools appeared in the city. Later, it established the affiliated private school, New Era, which was still run by the mother school. New Ear has two ways to attract students. The first way is by publicizing and advertizing the desirable educational quality of New Era among all of the students assigned to Brooks. Because Brooks assigns most of its high quality teachers to private schools, parents who can afford the high tuition usually choose to send their children to New Era instead of Brooks. If the parents cannot afford the high tuition or prefer public education, their children stay in Brooks. Many parents who cannot afford to send their children to New Era complain about the poor teacher quality in the mother school. The second way that New Era recruits its students is by advertizing to the broader community. Anyone who is interested is eligible to apply. Nowadays, New Era became one of the best middle schools in the city, while its mother school’s reputation dropped because its students’ performance in high school entrance exams has been on decrease.


China is not immune to the process of globalization. Chinese government rides on two competing forces of socialism and global capitalism. With socialism at its foundation, the government guarantees that public schools are predominant in number. As a result of global capitalism, private schools have gained momentum (Mok, 2005). The private sector is encouraged by policy because private schools are considered a driving force of enhancing educational quality in the country overall. Meanwhile, public schools have been privatized to make profit. Currently, there is inequality within public schools due to the embedded private sector. To my mind, public schools should offer equal resources to all enrolled students. In the wave of neoliberal market economy, how can the Chinese school system, especially in the public sector, maintain a place where all students benefit?


Mok, K. H. (2005). Riding over socialism and global capitalism: Changing education governance and social policy paradigms in post-Mao China. Comparative Education, 41, 217-242.


Blossoming Demand of International Schools in Hong Kong


internationalization in education


The blossoming of international schools in Hong Kong is an interesting topic to discuss within the context of privatization of education. Although parents need to pay a fortune to secure a seat, they are still very much willing to do so. There is a long list of international schools ranging from preschools all the way to upper secondary level where they adopt the British, American, Canadian, and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs accordingly.[1] Recently, Harrow International School, an elite boarding school that originated in Britain, has opened in Hong Kong.  While fees are high, long waiting lists still exist for international schools.[2] Why is there such a huge demand in this city? I have some insights about it after working in an international school for some time.

First of all, parents who send their children to international schools are highly educated and better off financially. They have realized the uncertainty about the future of Hong Kong’s local education system, which has undergone a series of reforms since the handover in 1997. The major ones included changing the medium of instruction from English to our mother-tongue language, introducing community colleges, transiting from the British to American model, and introducing civic education. So, what will be the next one? Parents may be afraid that their kids are only the experiments of the HKSAR government. Many parents believe that studying at international schools will ensure more stable growth and development of their children without interruptions by constant policy changes. Paradoxically, senior education officials often praise the excellence of Hong Kong local public education. In reality, only a few of them let their own children matriculate locally while most of them would like to send their children to study abroad or in international schools.

Second, the curriculum of international schools can provide a lot more than that of local schools. For example, the core of an International Baccalaureate Diploma Program comprises of “The Extended Essay”, “Theory of Knowledge”, and “Creativity, Action, and Service (CAS)”. The first one gives students a chance to examine topics of global significance through their independent research and in-depth study. The second one allows students to develop their critical thinking and coherent approach to unify and articulate various academic disciplines. The third one encourages students to engage in art for creativity, physical activity for healthy lifestyle, and service to community for having universal values. [3] The main focus of IB Program is to cultivate the global mindedness and international competence of the next generation to become all-rounded individuals who are prepared to tackle emerging unknown worldwide problems in the 21st century. These elements are what the local education system lacks.

IB learner profile

Third, with the considerable amount of money that parents invest in their children, international schools are able to offer more resources than local public schools. Most importantly, there are at least full-time university guidance counselors for mentoring senior high school students to make the right decision about choosing the most suitable university according to their ability, character, and interest. In addition, international school students have more exposure to universities worldwide as many of them would visit their schools to set up booths for giving out brochures and answering queries. It could have an overarching effect on their career paths as well. In addition, there are numerous enrichment programs for students to select, like intensive English programs in America or England, short-term overseas trips to different continents, or musical performances, which also enhance their capacity of multicultural communication with classmates from various backgrounds.

Fourth, the growing numbers of expatriate communities increase the demand for international schools to accommodate their children.  The laissez faire economic market of Hong Kong attracts many foreign investors to come for business in this free-port metropolis with low taxation. Some of them move there as senior management executives in multi-national corporations or scholars in well-known tertiary education intuitions. According to the survey conducted by Employment Conditions Abroad Limited, expatriates in Hong Kong obtain the fourth highest compensation packages in Asia. [4] In order to attract more of them to move to Hong Kong, the companies usually pay the expatriates rewarding salaries, housing allowances, plus tuition fees for international schools for their kids.

internationalization in edu

After taking the course of “International Education Policy” this semester, I see the different sides of privatization of education clearly by having more profound knowledge about its advantages and disadvantages. What’s your opinion about the international schools then? Do they distort the original meaning of education? At the very least, international schools have given the “consumers” more choice in the education “market”. At the end of the day, however, who can afford it? Obviously, international schools will keep marginalizing students from lower socio-economic status. The gap between rich and poor will just be more visualized in the field of education. People generally have a stereotype that those who can receive “quality education” are from rich backgrounds. If this kind of “privileged education” can be enjoyed by all of the children, what will our future society be like? This leaves us a lot of room to rethink the above questions and strike a balance in the global context.


[1] Yan, C. (2014). Guide to Hong Kong Schools and Education. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved on       April 19, 2014, from

[2] Hunt, K. (2012, September 3). Elite Schools head east as Asia’s education market booms. Cable News Network. Retrieved on April 19, 2014, from

[3] International Baccalaureate Organization (2014). The IB Diploma Program. Retrieved on April 19, 2014, from

[4] Employment Conditions Abroad Limited (2012). Expatriates in Hong Kong enjoy Asia’s fourth-highest pay packages. Retrieved on April 19, 2014, from 


Widespread Culture of Private Tutoring in Hong Kong

The course “International Education Policy” under the Master’s Program of Comparative and International Education at Lehigh University has broadened my view in various ways. One of them is the area of private tutoring, which has also been referred to as “Shadow Education” by Dr. Mark Bray.[1] Dr. Bray is the UNESCO Chair Professor of Comparative Education in the Comparative Education Research Centre at the University of Hong Kong whose research focuses on private supplementary tutoring.[2]Before taking this course, I had an impression that private tutoring primarily existed in Southeast Asian countries. However, I have learned that it has been very common in many parts of the world, including Europe and the United States, but just in different forms. It reminds me of many interesting scenarios about private tutoring in Hong Kong, which I will examine in this blog.

Mainly, there are two types of private tutoring in Hong Kong. One is held at home and the other one is held in the education centers, which operate as businesses. For the former one, numerous online websites serve as a bridge between students and private tutors to match the requirements or criteria of both parties.[3]  For the latter one, there are significant numbers of education centers with a wide variety of choices for the public, including classes in musical instruments, dancing, artwork, languages, sports, martial arts, or even actuarial science. Some people may refer to these classes as enrichment programs. Evidently, many learning centers also offer classes in academic areas, like English, Mathematics, Chinese, while some of them purposely assist students tackle local or overseas public examinations, including SAT and TOEFL.  

Many factors contribute to the flourishing industry of private tutoring in Hong Kong. First, Hong Kong’s examination-oriented education system has put too much emphasis on the students’ academic results, which can alter their future academic and professional trajectories. The recent shift from two to one public examination due to education reform from the British to American model further accelerated the explosion of private tutoring as students have much more pressure to only have one chance at succeeding on the exam.[4] However, being a good student does not mean that you can be successful in these examinations. What students need are the techniques and strategies to predict accurately the topics or questions in the upcoming exams according to the pattern from the past papers, as it is almost impossible for students to study all of the materials that teachers provide in the curriculum. By paying tuition for private tutoring, students hope to perfect the specific skills that they cannot learn in public schools because regular schoolteachers are deprived of comparable resources or the time to do that.[5]

Second, Hong Kong parents have the mentality of pushing their children to achieve excellently in academics due to the great influence of Confucianism.[6] Because the birth rate of this city is one of the lowest in the world,[7] “tiger parents” often place all their hopes in one child to become a “Dragon” – an almighty creature in Chinese culture.[8] Before the babies are born, mothers already think about which kindergartens, primary, and secondary schools their children would need to get in, so that they could attend the top universities and have good jobs at the end. Parents also believe that private tutoring could assist their children in learning extra information, so that they could succeed on public examinations. In addition, parents expect their children to become competent in all areas, including languages, art, music, sports, and martial arts. They do not want them to lose at the starting point. As a result, they force their children to enter this vicious cycle of competitions and occupy their free time with many private classes – no matter whether they like it or not, often as early as only one or two years old. Sometimes, kids are tired and cannot enjoy their childhoods due to excessive external study. We can imagine how much academic stress Hong Kong’s next generation needs to bear, especially those who fail in this system. This pressure has been blamed for a growing suicide rate among students with poor academic record.[9]

Third, being a private tutor in Hong Kong can be a lucrative career. I used to be a part-time private tutor for primary school students when I was an undergraduate student to help cover living expenses. Some tutors can even make a living from tutoring services. Recently, Hong Kong has experienced a new phenomenon of some private tutors from education centers becoming famous celebrities like kings or queens. The most successful one is Richard Eng who has become a multi-millionaire! He founded Beacon College and he is considered to be the firstcelebrity tutor in Hong Kong. He wears lipstick for photo shoots and all classes are broadcast live through closed-circuit television.[10] With this career, he is able to drive a half-a-million-dollar Lamborghini car as well as dress himself up with brand-name clothing and manicured hair. [11]

5. private tutor billboard

6. private tutor billboard

Fourth, there is a lack of governmental regulations of private tutoring and many tutors operate no differently than entrepreneurs. The most fascinating phenomenon is the emergence of giant billboards in the most popular places where teenagers go. This creates the image of private tutors as pop stars. Besides, millions and millions of advertisements go online. Glossy brochures and impressive promotional videos are seen everywhere. Some tutoring schools will have full-page newspaper advertisements and television screens in railway stations and on buses to catch youngsters’ attention, claiming to transform failing students into A-grade pupils.[12]  Some tutors even have their own teams of stylists, fashion designers and photographers to make them look perfect and attract students.[13] Lately, with the advancement of technology, students can have additional purchases such as personalized interaction with the star tutor or the tutor’s assistant via Facebook or email.[14]

3. private tutor billboard

1. private tutoring ad. on the bus

Research in other countries suggests that private tutoring is a manifestation of privatization in education. According to a recent study conducted by the Asian Development Bank and the Comparative Education Research Centre at the University of Hong Kong, private tutoring will aggravate social inequalities, divert needed household income into an unregulated industry, and generate inefficiencies in education systems. [15] Sadly, the private tutoring phenomenon also demonstrates how little confidence parents and students in Hong Kong have in public education to lead the achievement of our next generation.  


[1] Bray, M.(2009). Confronting the shadow education system: What government policies for private tutoring? Paris, France: UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning.

[2] The University of Hong Kong (2014). Faculty of Education – About the Faculty – Professor BRAY, Mark. Retrieved on April 12, 2014 from

[3] Hon, H.N. (2010). Hong Kong’s Shadow Education: Private Tutoring in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Anthropologist,  4 (10).

[4] Sharma, Y (2012, November 27). Meet the “tutor kings and queens”. The BBC. Retrieved on April 12, 2014, from

[5] Lui, M. (2007, January 28). Hot for teacher in Hong Kong. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on April 12, 2014, from

[6] Ho, E.S.C., LAM, C.C., and WONG, N.Y. (2002). Parents’ Beliefs and Practices in Education in Confucian Heritage Cultures: The Hong Kong Case. Journal of Southeast Asian Education, 3(1), 99-114.

[7] The World Bank Group (2014). Fertility Rate, Total (Births per women). Retrieved on April 12, 2014, from

[8] Ministry of Culture, P.R. China (2003). The Almighty Dragon. Retrieved on April 12, 2014, from

[9] Takoaka, N. (2013, December 12). Asian students still ace world rankings. Nikkei Asian Review. Retrieved on April  13, 2014, from

[10] Ng, Y.H. (2009, June 1).  In Hong Kong, Cram School Teachers’ Image Rivals Pop Stars’. New York Times. Retrieved on April 13, 2014,from

[11] Corren, A. (2009, November 10). Hong Kong’s ‘celebrity tutors’ turn millionaires. Cable News Netowrk. Retrieved on April 13, 2014 from

[12] The Independent (2011, June 5). Exam-obsessed Hong Kong makes celebrity tutors rich. Retrieved on April 12, 2014, from

[13] Lui, M. (2007, January 28). Hot for teacher in Hong Kong. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on April 12, 2014, from

[14] Sharma, Y (2012, November 27). Meet the “tutor kings and queens”. The BBC. Retrieved on April 12, 2014, from

[15] Asian Development Bank (2012). ADB Study Highlights Dark Side of ‘Shadow Education’. Retrieved on April 12, 2014, from

Turkey’s Private Tutoring Sector Shutdown: Blessing or Chaos?


On September 9th, 2012 Turkish Prime Minister R.T. Erdogan announced his proposal to shut down all after-school private tutoring institutions within a year, and possibly turn them into publicly funded private schools. There are over 4,000 institutions that offer private prep courses, known as the dershane sector, which serve over 1.2 million students every year. The dershanes employ over 100,000 people, over half of them being teachers, and bring in an estimated revenue of $2 billion annually. (Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges, 2011).

This announcement, of course, generated a heated debate amongst the educators and broader public across Turkey. Interior Minister Nihat Ergun commented on the issue saying, “the dershane system has become unsustainable, and has almost replaced the regular school system” (Hurriyet, 2012). During the last year of high school especially, in order to prepare for the Access to Higher Education Exams (YGS-LYS), students will often only worry about their dershane studies, and neglect their regular school work. In fact, it is quite common for students to stop going to school a few months before the exam just to make more time to cram and memorize as much as they can. Students usually begin going to these private tutoring centers as early as middle school, to begin preparing for high school entrance exams for prestigious high schools. 

In response to this, the Ministry of Education had announced in 2004 that high school GPA’s would have a larger significance in the amount of points added to the final exam score. This was done in hopes to increase the significance of formal schooling in a setting where private tutoring takes priority. Unfortunately, this move didn’t do much in terms of lessening the pressures of the YGS exam, nor did it really affect student’s attendance levels during the second half of the school year.

So how exactly did Turkey’s educational policies come to be this way in regards to exam-driven learning and this push toward private tutoring facilities? There are many facets to this issue, but one way to look at it is by questioning the quality of the public education system in place.

“In the developing countries, deficiencies in the educational system such as inadequate number of universities, large class sizes and low public educational expenditures are often cited as the reasons for the high demand for private tutoring. As such private tutoring can be regarded as a market response to the mediocrity in the public school system” (Kim and Lee, 2001). Because the public school curriculum does not provide adequate tools to prepare students for the selection exam, students who wish to attend college are forced into private courses, assuming they can afford it. While nearly 2 million students take the YGS every year, less than 300,000 are awarded spots in schools. Of the students who take the exam, over 50,000 receive a zero. We can deduce the intensity of competition when taking these figures into consideration. When looking at PISA levels, it was found that in Turkey there is a “high level of correlation between the student’s socioeconomic background and her/his achievement in the test. This is the highest value among OECD countries after Hungary and Belgium.” (Blanchy & Sasmaz, 2009) If there is a persistent lack in the system in supporting students who come from underprivileged backgrounds, those students will continue to remain at the bottom of the spectrum, lacking the skills and competencies necessary to succeed. 

If the government chooses to close down the dershanes, won’t students who come from higher socio-economic backgrounds still find ways to obtain private lessons, turning these prep courses into some sort of underground ordeal? Perhaps they wouldn’t be to the full extent of 15-20 hours/week lessons that the dershane provides, but either way shouldn’t it be up to the family to decide whether or not to send their child to prep classes? While I agree that dershanes do create inequality in opportunities, it should be taken into consideration that perhaps they aren’t the cause of the problem, rather the result of the bigger underlying problem that is the quality of education in public schools. Students who live in less economically advanced regions and have limited access to educational resources will have even less of an opportunity to attend college if dershanes are shut down without an effective system in place to narrow the educational gap.

It is obvious that the issue is much deeper than the inequalities that may arise from the dershane system; rather, the issue is with the failure of the public education system across Turkey in and of itself. Without fixing the foundations upon which the public school system stands, the need for after school prep classes will not subside. Taking away the choice or freedom to educate your children, however you see fit, certainly isn’t the solution, not in the short term, at least. If public schools cover the topics necessary to pass the college entrance exams, over time students will rely less and less on after school private courses. Eliminating them altogether without a serious plan to reform public school curricula would only bring about chaos.

The Reform of the Century in Russian Secondary Education: Monetization of Public Education


On May 8, 2010 Dmitriy Medvedev signed Federal Law N-83 FZ, which aims to introduce a major reform in the secondary education system in Russia.

Unofficially this law is known as “a reform of monetization of public education.” The law includes provisions for granting autonomy to schools to raise their own funds. As the official version of the law states, schools have the right to introduce new subjects to school curriculum on the commercial basis and provide private tutoring for students wishing to improve their knowledge in a particular subject.  The law, according to the government officials, aims to improve the quality of education and encourage schools to become more competitive and innovative. The law has been in power since January 2012, and it is now in its implementation period.

While commercialization and privatization of public education are common in the so called “Western world,” these policies are becoming increasingly widespread globally (Rizvi & Lingard, 2010; Ball, 2012). Russia is no longer an exception. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, privatization has become one of the central features of post-Soviet transformation in Russia and the N-83 FZ Law has extended privatization reforms to the public education sector.

Given the fact that schools were entirely state-funded throughout the Soviet history, the new reform is quite unprecedented. In fact, it has evoked huge resonance in the Russian society. First, the majority of the public does not completely understand what the law implies. Some critics call the reform “the end of free education,” while others blame the law as a “means to justify the decrease in public spending on education.” Parents are also hesitant since they believe they will have to pay for the reform out of their own pockets. In response, government is trying to convince people that education will continue to be free. However, the key message here is that only the standard (basic) curriculum will be available for free. And the critics question whether or not this standard will be enough for students to pass the national examinations in order to be admitted to the university. Also, it is likely that only children from wealthy families would benefit from the commercial services in schools, which in turn would further contribute to growing social inequality.

By and large, there is a great deal of controversy surrounding the reform.  The text of the law itself is overly complicated and difficult to comprehend, which further contributes to fears among the broader public. Thus, it seems unclear what this reform will bring for the Russian society. Are schools prepared for self-governance? Will the reform in the end raise the quality of education? Or will it lead to shutting down of rural schools, which without doubt will be struggling to raise funds? What will this push for privatization of public education finally bring?