Somehow the tuition phenomenon has gained traction
Recently I saw two surveys, done by other researchers, from rural and urban areas of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), showing that the incidence of ‘tuition’ – getting paid coaching for schoolwork, after school – is quite significant in these areas. Since, it is true across the rural-urban, income, type of school and gender divides, this raises interesting questions for the schooling sector in Pakistan.
The surveys showed that some 15 percent of enrolled children get private tutoring. This is clearly significant and large. The rural rates are around 10-12 percent and, understandably, the urban ones are much higher. So, almost 15 percent of the parents are spending another Rs 300 per month, on average, in addition to any school fees and other education related expenses, on each child. The question is why. Data shows that this coaching is to help students perform better in their regular classes and schools, and to prepare for tests and examinations, so it is not a substitute for regular schooling but is a complement.
Why are parents finding it necessary to supplement the learning of children already going to schools? Are schools not doing a good enough job? Or have school environments become so competitive that parents feel they have to provide their children an edge, or have to get them remedial help to stay at par with the rest of the class? In either case, why are schools not being able to do these things in regular class/school timings?
Some parents had complained that teachers of their children had asked them to come for tuition as it results in extra income for teachers. Teachers have also been accused of not teaching seriously in regular classes so that children are forced to come to them after school hours. In some cases parents also say that teachers only share examination ‘Guess’ (likely questions) with students who come for tuition. Although all of these might be true at the individual level, the number of students who say they go to their own teacher from regular school, for tuition, is not very significant in these surveys. A lot of children go to coaching centres or teachers who might have a reputation for coaching. But, conceptually speaking, teaching does have the same problem as that of doctors going into private practice in the evening: they can, potentially, divert clients.
It is important to understand the tuition issue as children spend some 6-7 hours in schools already. Additional time for learning, in addition to any homework that they are set, means that children are spending some 10-12 hours a day studying or working on their studies. This seems way too much. A normal workday for even an adult is 8 hours. Last week I had written on the over-testing of students in schools. This seems like a nice corollary to it.
There are interesting patterns in the data. We find that as the grade level goes up, the resort to tuitions goes up as well. One would expect that the pressure to perform and the need to perform increases with grades. The richer the parents, the higher the incidence of tuition. Again, this is to be expected. But what is more surprising is that even in the lowest income quintile we find a significant proportion of parents who send their children for tuitions: this must be a considerable part of their monthly income.
Private tutoring raises serious equity issues as well. Richer children are already at an advantage as they can go to better schools and have more access to books and other sources of knowledge and information. Being able to afford tuition, and better tuition, they increase their advantage over children from poorer backgrounds even more. Pakistan is already a very unequal, fragmented and almost bitterly divided society. The differential access to tuition is only exacerbating the situation.
Though the preliminary data does show that more educated parents get more tuition for their children, but I have not seen crosstabs with wealth here so it is not clear to me yet if the result will hold if we controlled for wealth. But, apriori, one would expect education of parents to have a positive correlation with tuition for children. Educated parents are likely to have a higher preference for educating their children. But educated parents, if they have time, can also teach their own children. So, the net result could be, in statistics, a bit weaker than it might actually be.
Boys do go for tuition more often than girls, but at least in the surveys I saw, the gap is not large and is partially reflective of more boys going to schools in general as well. Given the expense of tuition, for a family, especially as money gets tighter, it would not be surprising to find that parents make tradeoffs and decide on which child to get tuition for, as they do make tradeoffs when choosing which school to enrol a child in.
The most interesting result, from both surveys, was that the children enrolled in private schools get private tuition more often than children from government schools. And the difference was significant. Partly this might be a reflection of parental income levels and ambitions, but partly it might have something to do with private schools or teachers in these schools encouraging students to seek coaching. It would be interesting to see the effect of this differential on the general impression that we have of private schools giving ‘better’ education than public schools as well. But these things will have to await further work.
Education sector in Pakistan has major issues that the lack of governmental and societal attention is complicating by the day. We have umpteenth number of curricula and systems working, the schooling system is fragmented along lines of medium of instruction, syllabi, books that are taught, examination styles, and there are different systems for the rich and the poor, for urban and rural dwellers, and for the religious and the secular.
As if all that was not enough the high incidence of tuition has and is going to further complicate the issues. The growth of the tuition industry has gone on in the private sector, and largely unnoticed by the government, it has now reached a level where it has created a substantial interest group that is beginning to have an impact on the overall education system too: the recent examination result imbroglio was quite indicative. But that is just the tip. There are, quite clearly, large equity as well as quality of education issues involved here too that need to be thought through. We will come back to these over the next few weeks.
The writer is an Associate Professor of Economics at LUMS (currently on leave) and a Senior Advisor at Open Society Foundation (OSF). He can be reached at [email protected]