Europeans spend billions on 'shadow education'

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Private tuition is a booming business in Europe, with parents in France and Germany spending more than €3 billion a year on additional schooling for their children, according to a new report.

Across much of Europe the trend is the same - even if the sums are not as large in all countries - as parents set aside more and more income to give their children an extra leg-up on state-provided education, the European Union report shows.

As well as highlighting the vast sums being spent on "shadow education," the paper underlines how the trend is deepening inequalities in Europe, with the children of wealthier parents tending to receive more extra tuition, creating divisions that could have long-term social implications.

"Shadow education has reached such a scale, and has such strong implications for social equity, the knowledge economy, the work of schools, and the lives of children and families, that it must be addressed," wrote Mark Bray, author of 'The Challenge of Shadow Education', released last week.

The report, which pulls together research conducted in separate countries over the past four years, shows that France's shadow education sector was worth €2.2 billion in 2007 and was estimated to be growing at about 10% a year.

In Germany, an estimated €900 million to €1.5 billion is spent on tutoring each year, with most of that on secondary-level education assistance. In France and Belgium, tuition fees can be more than €30 an hour.

In southern Europe, where state education systems tend to trail behind those in the north, there is a strong trend of extra schooling, with parents in Cyprus, Greece, Spain and Portugal all spending large quantities on their children, although the benefits tend to accrue to those from wealthier families.

Even in Scandinavia, which frequently tops global league tables for state education, extra tuition is on the increase.

"Private tutoring is much less about pupils who are in real need of help that they cannot find at school and much more about maintaining the competitive advantages of the already successful and privileged," said Jan Truszczynski, head of the European Commission's department of education and culture, which commissioned the report.

Multi-billion euro industry

The study found most private tuition was pursued by wealthy and usually urban families instead of the working class. In some countries private tutoring is common among families who already pay for private schooling, deepening socio-economic divides.

"If left to market forces, tutoring maintains and exacerbates inequalities," Bray said the report. "Families with higher income can afford both greater quantities and better qualities of tutoring."

As well as the socio-economic impacts, the report highlights how much of a growing business shadow education has become.

In France, Belgium, Britain, Ireland and elsewhere, companies have grown up to provide extra home-based schooling.

"The tutoring industry is an expanding source of employment as well as a way for many mainstream teachers to earn supplementary incomes," Truszczynski said. "This appears to be one reason why both governments and trade unions tend to avoid the subject."

Despite the billions paid out for private tutors, many nations leave it unregulated, so tutoring frequently occurs outside the realm of government taxation, the study said.

Tutoring is considered so important that Cypriot and Greek parents' private tuition spending matches 20% of their governments' public education spending, the report said.

EurActiv with Reuters

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