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Blog post

The ‘shadow education’ phenomenon

Achala Gupta, Lecturer at University of Southampton

In research, educational services such as private tutoring, coaching and academic enrichment classes that operate outside formal educational institutions (such as schools) are commonly referred to as ‘shadow education’ (Bray, 2017). In this blog post I will draw on my published work to unpack the ‘shadow education’ phenomenon.[1]

Below, I will focus on three core elements: the process of shadowing itself (Gupta, 2020, 2021a); private tutoring centres’ strategies for gaining public trust (Gupta, 2021b); and the implications of ‘shadow education’ for educational practices (Gupta, 2021c). Although this research is empirically grounded in India, the following discussion will resonate with other accounts of private tutoring globally (see Bray, 2017; Dawson, 2010).

The shadowing process

Private tutoring centres usually respond to the needs of concerned parents, who typically want their children to excel in the school appraisal system but know that schools cannot offer adequate support for this (Gupta, 2020). As such, tutoring centres put together resources and services to match what schools provide. How this is realised, however, may vary within and across national settings.

‘Private tutoring centres reproduce the social class inequality that is created by the formal schooling system in society.’

In India, the ‘shadowing process’ entails tutoring services mimicking the prescribed curricula for specific subjects across educational levels, as defined by education boards (Gupta, 2021a). The classification of tuition services in this way is significant in India, as specific boards are associated with different kinds of schools (for instance, high-fee schools are typically affiliated with boards that are different to the state-board that sets the curricula for government schools). Through targeting their services towards the more highly regarded boards (appealing to the middle classes), tutorial centres are typically designed to support privileged groups – as also noted in other Asian countries (Dawson, 2010). As a result, these centres reproduce the social class inequality that is created by the formal schooling system in society (Gupta, 2021a, 2021b).

Strategies for gaining public trust

Though private tuition’s organisational arrangements vary across contexts, tutorial support in India is usually offered by informal educational organisations or tutorial centres – these centres do not have the legal authority to issue certificates as schools do (Sujatha & Rani, 2011). Yet many subscribe to their services because tutors claim to offer better educational support and assistance than schools, with the implicit suggestion that they can help students with their academic performance (Gupta, 2021b). For example, all the tutors in my study talked about their success in producing excellent results to substantiate their teaching credentials. Furthermore, many students articulated their trust in tutoring services with respect to their relationship with educators – most students I spoke with considered tutors to be more friendly and approachable than schoolteachers (Gupta, 2021b). Moreover, in contrast to schoolteachers – who believed completing the syllabus and conducting assessments were their primary responsibilities – tutors adopted student-oriented, individual-focused pedagogical interventions to secure students’ faith in their services (Gupta, 2021c). Hence, instead of contemplating whether or not tutoring centres can deliver what they claim, focusing on how they approach education and its delivery itself is critical to understanding how tutoring centres gain social legitimacy.

Implications for educational practices

‘Shadow education’ has implications not only for social class inequality in accessing quality education and securing school advantage but also for schooling practices more broadly. For example, schoolteachers operating in a system where they have low autonomy or freedom are also likely to offer paid tutoring support (Gupta, 2021c). Also, in school settings, when teachers know that their students rely more on their tutors, they feel discouraged to use creative pedagogies in the classroom (Gupta, 2021b). This has consequences for the depleting quality of formal education (also see Bray, 2017; Dawson, 2010).

Hence, ‘shadow education’ is integral to the overall educational landscape – although in some cultures it is evident, in others it remains hidden, as discussed in Bray (2017). It is, nonetheless, imperative to treat it as such, in order to fully comprehend its relationship to educational actors (individuals) and institutions (schools) and to expose its implications for broader issues of educational inequality and inclusion.


[1] Based on a 2014–15 study I carried out with parents in 53 middle-class families, 22 tutors, 38 schoolteachers and students themselves in Dehradun, India.


Bray, M. (2017). Schooling and its supplements: Changing global patterns and implications for comparative education. Comparative Education Review, 61(3), 469–491.

Dawson, W. (2010). Private tutoring and mass schooling in East Asia: Reflections of inequality in Japan, South Korea, and Cambodia. Asia Pacific Education Review, 11(1), 14–24.

Gupta, A. (2020). Heterogeneous middle-class and disparate educational advantage: Parental investment in their children’s schooling in Dehradun, India. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 41(1), 48–63.

Gupta, A. (2021a). Exposing the ‘shadow’: An empirical scrutiny of the ‘shadowing process’ of private tutoring in India. Educational Review. Advance online publication.

Gupta, A. (2021b). Social legitimacy of private tutoring: An investigation of institutional and affective educational practices in India. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education. Advance online publication.

Gupta, A. (2021c). Teacher-entrepreneurialism: A case of teacher identity formation in neoliberalizing education space in contemporary India. Critical Studies in Education, 62(4), 422–438.

Sujatha, K., & Rani, P. G. (2011). Management of secondary education in India. Shipra and National University of Educational Planning and Administration.