In The News

News | events | Al Qasimi Foundation | Ras Al Khaimah skyline | media

News Search

Majlis Event | shadow education | private education | Al Qasimi Foundation | Mark Bray | Education policy

Majlis Event Sheds Light on Impact of Shadow Education in Ras Al Khaimah and the UAE

Al Qasimi Foundation
March 17, 2014

After October’s inaugral event, this February saw the latest installment of the Al Qasimi Foundation’s Majlis series, which builds on the majlis tradition and seeks to improve communication channels between researchers and policymakers and to increase the potential impact of relevant research findings. 

Entitled “Shadow Education: International Perspectives on the Scale, Nature, and Policy Implications of Private Supplementary Tutoring,” the most recent Majlis  focused on education, one of the Foundation’s priority areas. Shadow education, which is the comprehensive term for private, for-profit tutoring, is an issue that affects many educational systems, including the UAE’s. 

( and English (

“Shadow education is a significant part of the daily lives of students and their families, but it rarely gets focused attention,” says Dr. Mark Bray, of the University of Hong Kong, as he gives context to the issue. While private tutoring has been an educational staple in countries like China for some time, the phenomenon is gaining momentum in various contexts around the globe. 

Along with his colleague Dr. Ora Kwo, Dr. Bray led the exploration of private tutoring and its impact. With decades of international educational experience and extensive work with UNESCO, these professors are experts on the nuances and implications of the growing shadow education sector, which was not lost on Majlis participants, who traveled from different emirates and countries to discuss the issue. 

“Drs. Bray and Kwo shared their wealth of experience in a very insightful and at times humorous way that kept the audience engaged and stimulated a tsunami of comments from parents and practitioners,” recalls Dr. Georgia Daleure, a professor at the Higher Colleges of Technology in Sharjah, who adds, “I felt that the audience really connected with the presenters and the topic.”
Says Dr. Bray, “We are glad to bring a comparative lens to help people in the UAE to make sense of their own circumstances; and personally, I find the internal diversity within the UAE to be most interesting—different patterns within and across different emirates.”

For educators in and around this region, the relevance of the shadow education discussion remains clear. 65% of Emirati students in year 12 receive tutoring in addition to regular school instruction. Neither of the UAE’s government and private schooling segments operates independently of the supplemental education market, while nearby Egypt spends 1.6% of its GDP on shadow education alone. 

Perhaps one of the most startling characteristics of shadow education, according to Dr. Bray, is who benefits least from it: private tutoring is actually more common among strong students than weak ones. Moreover, students in low-performing schools are actually less likely to receive private instruction than are students in high-performing schools. 

Ms. Adeleya Bennett, an administrator in a Dubai private school who participated in the Majlis, has observed this trend first hand, saying, “Even parents who are paying large amounts of money for private school tuition find themselves needing to reinforce their children’s education with private tutoring.”

Ms. Bennett’s statement captures one of the aspects of shadow education that concerns Drs. Bray and Kwo: its potential to aggravate existing social inequalities by being most accessible to students who already have access to better schools and greater resources than their less fortunate counterparts. 

Another aspect of private tutoring highlighted in the presentation involves its impacts at the personal and relational levels. Not only does supplemental education often present a financial burden to families, but it also distorts students’ and teachers’ vision of a holistic educational experience.

Drs. Bray and Kwo believe that education should produce “lifelong learning, critical thinking, problem-solving” individuals who are equipped with “creativity and innovation for adapting to the rapid changes and demands of society.” Yet they are concerned that the growing influence of shadow education means that students are sacrificing interpersonal relationships and physical activity in return for academic pressure and anxiety. 

For these reasons, Majlis participants seemed to agree that, as supplemental education becomes more popular worldwide, the question of its regulation cannot be ignored. Teachers and administrators considered the role of commercial and educational law in regulating private tutoring, but also became engaged over the question of the ethics of private tutoring in the absence of clear regulations. 

While many of the aspects of the shadow education discussion are sobering, the overall tone of the event was positive. Educators were grateful to take part in the Majlis forum and to become more equipped to strengthen the UAE’s educational sector. 

“The concern for public [corporate] good is growing in parallel to the intensification of private supplementary tutoring,” observes Dr. Kwo, and Dr. Natasha Ridge, the Al Qasimi Foundation’s Executive Director, reflects such concern for the community.

“While the shadow education sector is probably smaller in Ras Al Khaimah than in other emirates,” says Dr. Ridge, “it is important for policy makers to consider the best ways to approach the issue of private tutoring as our emirate’s formal education sector expands.”

The issue of shadow education highlights the opportunities that Ras Al Khaimah has as a growing region. Currently, the emirate is ideally situated to be able to make strategic policy decisions related to issues like education, public health, and urban planning, and the Al Qasimi Foundation’s new Majlis series will continue to help the community maximize its opportunities for thoughtful growth and development.

For more information on the phenomenon of shadow education, readers may consult Dr. Bray’s book Confronting the Shadow Education System, which is available in Arabic.