Will closing private tutoring centers improve equality?

Will closing private tutoring centers improve equality?

The Ministry of National Education’s recent announcement that all private tutoring centers (PTCs) will be closed in 2014 has set off a fierce political debate. One reason for this policy change is to reduce inequality in entrance exams for selective high schools and universities, but unfortunately little evidence has been presented in this debate about the effects of private tutoring on equity in education.

A policy note from Education Reform Initiative aims to investigate this by examining a handful of studies. It finds that attending private tutoring improves a student’s chances of being accepted to university by between 7 percent-9 percent. However, attendance to private tutoring is highly correlated with socioeconomic status and children whose parents are well-educated and wealthy, or live in more advantaged regions, are more likely to attend private tutoring and to score higher on the university entrance exam.

But PTCs are just a symptom of the real problems regarding quality schooling and competitive exams. The extremely competitive selection process for high quality high schools and universities puts enormous pressure on the entrance exams, and families who can afford to give their children an upper hand will of course take advantage of the opportunity. Plus, surveys show that quality is lacking, and overwhelmingly students and teachers believe school alone is not sufficient to get into university.

Thus, eliminating private tutoring will do little to address the inequality problem in Turkey’s education system. In the current system, students’ futures are determined by these competitive transition exams, and strongly connected to their family’s resources. Unless every child in the country has access to high quality education, there will be dire competition for the few seats at high quality schools, along with stress and wasted resources.

The practice of streaming students into secondary schools of different quality is a large part of the achievement gap, as a World Bank report on Turkey shows that it essentially segregates them by social class. The students in Anatolian high schools largely (65 percent) come from the wealthiest 20 percent of families and 99.8 percent of them scored high enough to compete for a 4-year university seat in 2012. Compared to vocational high schools, half of whose students come from the poorest 40 percent of families and only 33.2 percent scored high enough to compete for a 4-year university seat.
Additionally, in Turkey the poorest 15-year-olds scored a full two years behind their wealthy peers on the international PISA exam. This means the likelihood of attending university, earning higher wages and having a better socioeconomic status is largely restricted to privileged students in selective public high schools, clearly perpetuating current inequalities in Turkish society. 

Stratification by social class is much more prominent by school types than tutoring attendance. Father’s education, a metric of socioeconomic status, shows stark segregation between selective and vocational school types. The distribution of private tutoring, however, is much more even across socioeconomic levels. 

Sorting students by ability level into schools of different quality has a much bigger impact on inequality than private tutoring. As long as there are limited seats in high quality education like Anatolian high schools and elite public universities, the families with the most resources will ensure their children get those opportunities. The families without resources will be left behind. 

So closing PTCs will likely not reduce inequality because it does not address the issue of supply and demand for high quality education. Instead Turkey should do away with the practice of segregating students early in their academic careers and concentrate resources on disadvantaged students to ensure opportunities for success. For starters, Turkey could improve its high schools so every student can access high quality education, and provide high quality early childhood education to get students off to an equal start. 

Education equality would lead to better opportunity for all Turkey’s children, and the country as a whole, but it requires a break from the system of high-stakes testing and segregation. It requires holistic policies aimed at wiping out inequalities. 

*Eileen McGivney, Researcher at Education Reform Initiative, Sabancı University