The study by the Asian Development Bank and the University of Hong Kong's Comparative Education Research Centre says shadow education is fast becoming a permanent but expensive fixture in Asia - with countries like Japan spending a whopping $12 billion on private tutoring a year.
But the paper says while shadow education is meant to provide remedial help for students, it's becoming much more about competition and creating greater social disparities between the kids.
Presenter: Liam Cochrane
Speaker: Mark Bray, Comparative Education Research Centre, University of Hong Kong
BRAY: We are calling it shadow education because it's out of school supplementary tutoring that shadows, mimics the education system. So we're talking about more languages, more English, more mathematics, more science, whatever is in the school system, then going in to private classes outside school hours. That's why it's called the shadow education system. How prevalent? Very widespread in Asia, it's long been a feature of Korea, of Japan, of Taiwan, of Hong Kong and we are seeing it spreading in Asia, and indeed becoming a global issue.
COCHRANE: And it is one of the reasons that Asian kids do so well at school, they're just putting all of those extra hours in and getting the extra tuition. I mean isn't it a good thing?
BRAY: To some extent it can be a good thing. To some extent it is a way that slow learners can keep up with their peers, that fast learners can be stretched a bit further, that societies as a whole can get more education, more human capital. In that sense yes it's good. But there's a downside.
COCHRANE: And what is the downside?
BRAY: The downside is pressure on young students, that they go to school all day, go to tutoring in the evenings, sleep, wake up, go to school, have a snack, go to tutoring, that it's an intensive academic regime which can threaten the rounded development of young people. And the costs of it, household costs are very high and it produces social inequalities. It's fairly obvious that well-endowed households can spend more money, acquire better tutoring and the disadvantaged households are getting squeezed.
COCHRANE: And what about the effects on the formal school systems themselves?
BRAY: Well it again can be good, it can be helping the school system. It can be helping the classroom teacher that the student has got out of school class time to learn better mathematics or languages or whatever it is. But it can also create a lot of tiredness in the school system. The students are working all evening. Actually to some extent in Korea there's a problem of students going to sleep in the school classroom because they're working so hard in the tutoring. So in that sense school systems can become inefficient.
COCHRANE: So what does the study recommend?
BRAY: First recommendation is that educators and governments should recognise the problem, that they should see that there is a huge amount of tutoring going on, that there is more than just the school system, that there is a shadow. Beyond that recognising it, then there are questions about well what should governments do about it, how should governments encourage the positive sides of shadow education, the positive sides where it can help young people to improve their learning. But how should governments discourage the negative sides, and that means having discussion forums, talking to families, talking to educators, and to some extent possibly thinking about regulations for the tutoring sector. At the moment a lot of it is informal, untaxed, unmonitored, some pretty shaky things are happening in the shadow sector. We're used to having a well-regulated school sector, but attention has not been focused on what's going on in the shadow.