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How after-school tutoring in Nepal hurts the students that can’t afford it

Students as Shreeshitalacom Lower Secondary School. Kaski, Nepal.
Students as Shreeshitalacom Lower Secondary School. Kaski, Nepal.
Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank

While conducting research in 2005 and 2006, Seema Jayachandran heard parents in Vietnam complain that teachers who offered paid tutoring were not teaching well during the school days. The parents accused the teachers of worrying more about the extra money they would make at the end of the day, rather than the students in the classroom.

The Northwestern University economics professor eventually had the opportunity to see whether there was any truth to the claim. He research in Nepal, recently published in the Journal of Development Economics, found that teachers who provided after school paid tutoring spent less time teaching in the classroom.

The students who are able to afford the tutoring performed better on secondary-school exams, those who don’t participate suffer. The problem is not unique to Nepal.

“It seems to be a pretty common phenomenon in mainly poorer countries in Asia,” said Jayachandran to Humanosphere. “In Africa it does not seem to be as common. Tutoring is not as common, but you do not hear this complaint in places where it occurs.”

Survey questions were provided to roughly 10,000 students in both private and public schools in Nepal. They were asked a series of questions, including whether teachers used the full time allotted for a class. She found that offering tutoring made government-school teachers 30% more likely to not teach the full period. Though the teachers who offered the tutoring scored well on other measures showing their capability of teaching.

She suspects that teachers try to maximize tutoring opportunities by cutting classes short. Poor teaching would not likely lead a student or family to seek paid services with the teacher. On the other hand, teaching too well would negate the need for tutoring. Therefore, teachers will do their best, but stop classes early.

That left intentionally cutting classes short as the only plausible explanation. Doing so likely drives wealthier students to seek tutoring, but it comes a the expense of others.

Student performance on the national secondary exam appears to fall when the school offers tutoring, concentrated among the students from poorer families who are less likely to take up tutoring.

Would better pay for the teachers reduce the desire to do after school tutoring? Jaychandran does not necessarily think so. She says even if it does, the overall learning benefits that are the result of the current structure could be lost. The problem may not be simply about whether tutoring pays better.

“It doesn’t seem like when a teacher is offering tutoring, he is doing worse on other outside of school things, like grading,” she said. “I think that is the best evidence I have that the teacher isn’t thinking I am going to put in the time for the thing that I make the most.”

One possible solution to the problem is eliminating paid tutoring altogether. However, it may deprive a useful service for the students that are getting tutored. Another answer is to prevent teachers from tutoring their own students, but that does not eliminate the potential for collusion. There are similarities to the problems faced by health providers, but not enough.

“Teachers can’t price discriminate during the day, they teach to the a whole classroom, so they cannot teach to the poor students during the day and reach the wealthier ones in tutoring,” said Jayachandran.

She proposes something along the lines of a scholarship or subsidy for poorer students. Evidence shows that the tutoring itself can be a benefit to the students, eliminating the problem of payment faced by poor students would mean everyone does better.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]