Mainstream schools as shadow education providers in the Czech Republic


 Presenter (s) Vít Šťastný, Faculty of Education, Charles University

Shadow education is a global phenomenon encompassing various forms and types of private supplementary tutoring (Bray, 1999). Scholarly literature so far mainly focused on fee-based tutoring in academic subjects provided by individual tutors or tutoring companies. In the Czech Republic though, a specific form of shadow education is offered by mainstream schools within compulsory education. Three types of such shadow education can be identified: 1) extra lessons of academic school subjects to extend or enrich the school curriculum (most often in English language), which are provided mainly to school’s own pupils; 2) preparatory courses for entrance examinations (both for external and internal pupils); and 3) tutoring courses in various subjects (for wider public including not only pupils from the same school or other schools, but also adults), thus acting as tutorial centres.

The focus of this paper is on preparatory courses offered by multi-year gymnasia (MYGs, academic track schools) to prepare pupils from basic schools (regular mainstream track) for their entrance examinations.
Czech Republic belongs to a group of countries, which before 1989 were under the communist rule. After the political reversal, 1990s have brought massive social and economic changes, which have had a strong influence on education system in terms of structure, financing, school autonomy and other areas. Similarly to Germany, Austria, Hungary or Slovakia, it can be characterised by early (premature) and considerable tracking. About 12 % of pupils change from regular track (basic schools) to academic track (multi-year gymnasia, MYG) after 5th or 7th grade. Enrollment in the academic track is conditioned by high-stake entrance examinations administered by the state authority. According to PISA 2015, the autonomy index of Czech schools is (after Macao) the 2nd highest of 68 compared countries. This autonomy is high not only in managerial or financial issues, but also in curricular or instruction-related matters.

The objective of the paper is to analyse the motivations of Czech school principals to organize and provide paid preparatory courses to academic track entrance examinations in their MYG, and perceived challenges and issues associated with provision of this type of shadow education.

The paper is a part of wider research project, which aims to analyse the relationships between mainstream and shadow education systems. The data for the study were drawn from a mixed-method study conducted between 2018–2019. Mixed method research design was chosen to benefit from the strengths of both qualitative and quantititave components. Schools were chosen using probability two stage stratified sampling (stratification criteria were school size and school type, i.e. basic school or MYG), besides qualitative interviews, data were collected from teachers and pupils through questionnaires. Findings of the paper draw mainly from qualitative interviews with principals and other management staff, which were conducted during the school visits (n=43). Interview data were transcribed word-by-word and analysed in MaxQDA 2018 software following the guidelines for thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006).

Results suggest that in the context of high school autonomy and per-capita school funding, principals perceive preparatory courses as a tool to marketise the school and attract more (high-achieving) pupils. This strategy was mentinned both by low-demand as well as high demand multi-year gymnasia principals. For MYG principals, it was important to improve and differentiate their preparatory courses from others’. They strive to achieve this e.g. by providing tailor-made study materials, providing catering to attending pupils, adjusting the timing of the lessons to suit parents‘ needs, placing pupils-friends into the same tutoring classes, if parallel courses are in place. The offer of preparatory courses is constantly compared with the school’s competitor(s). The research identified three different modes of provision: 1) preparatory course was offered directly by school as legal entity under the frame of school’s “complementary activities”, which means that the course economics (incomes and costs) constitute part of school budget, and schoolteachers in preparatory course are paid from this source; 2) one schoolteacher established a company (on purpose) and employed other schoolteachers, who also taught in the preparatory course. The school arranged a formal contract with the company, rented classrooms for symbolic price and advertised the courses on its website; 3) school contracted an external company, rented the classrooms in the school and advertised on webpages, some teachers of the external company were employees of the school. Main advantage of modes two and three is, according to surveyed principals, that the course economics was not a part of the school budget, thus not under their direct responsibility.
The study systematizes main factors underlying the principal’s decition to (not) offer preparatory courses using a scheme, which includes factors associated with the local legal and demographic context, parental demand, competing schools, schoolteachers and also principals’ values and beliefs about equity in education. These will be further elaborated in the paper presentation.

To conclude, the situation in the Czech Republic is paradoxical: instead of cooperation, schools of different tracks within the compulsory education compete for pupils, and whilst basic schools generally try to keep most pupils for themselves and sometimes even discourage pupils from early transitions to academic track, MYGs organize special preparatory courses to increase the demand among basic school pupils, with an aim to “drain” them from basic schools and win them over other MYGs. Pressure perceived by sampled principals to provide preparatory courses increased with perceived school competition.
The study explains how the structural characteristics of the educational system (tracking and high autonomy in particular) influence the supply and focus of school-based shadow education. Findings are relavant not only to the Czech Republic, but also to other countries in which mainstream schools provide shadow education. Although the sample of interviewed (vice-)principals was not representative and generalizable to all schools within the category, obtained information may point to significant patterns and raise many new questions or emerging research problems which would deserve further attention.

Vít Šťastný is a researcher at the Institute for Research and Development of Education, Faculty of Education, Charles University (Prague), where he obtained a Ph.D. degree in Educational sciences. His research interests include shadow education, and in a wider scope comparative education and education policy. He is a principal investigator of a research project focused on shadow education in Czech lower secondary schools, and closely cooperates with the Czech School Inspectorate as an associate of the department for large-scale international assessments.

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