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Regular version of the site

Is Shadow Education Good for Us?

Prashant Loyalka is a visiting Leading Research Fellow at the HSE Institute for Education and the International Laboratory for Education Policy Analysis. His research article, ‘Does Shadow Education Help Students Prepare for College?’ will be published in the International Journal of Educational Development Vol 49, in July 2016. In an interview with HSE News Service, Dr Loyalka talked about his research into the advantages and shortcomings of shadow education and about why American parents send their kids to after-school Russian math class.

— Could you please share with us the main ideas and results in your article?

— Our paper estimates the causal effects of shadow education on high school student achievement. Using a unique dataset and quasi-experimental methods, we find that students, on average, do not benefit from participating in shadow education. However, at the same time, we find that shadow education positively impacts high-achieving but not low-achieving students, contributing to inequality in college access. Finally, we find that the lack of positive impacts for low-achieving students is not because of substitution of time from other studies, but rather may be due to the fact that low-achieving students receive lower quality shadow education.

— How was the study arranged?

— The study was done in collaboration with Andrey Zakharov, who is a senior researcher at the HSE. Andrey led a large-scale, representative survey in three regions of Russia in May 2010 (Pskovskaya and Yaroslavskaya oblasts and Krasnoyarsky krai). He and I were both interested in understanding the role of shadow education at the high school level and how it led to differences in performance on the USE. Our joint interest of course led to this study.

The study was also financially supported within the framework of a subsidy granted to the HSE by the Government of the Russian Federation for the implementation of the Global Competitiveness Programme.

— What recommendations you would make on the basis of the findings to the Russian government, the ministry of education, universities, teachers, parents and school leavers applying for university? Do you think we should try to avoid shadow education and if so how?

— I would recommend that parents and students try their best to pay careful attention to the quality of different shadow education programmes and find the programme that best suits their particular needs. Policymakers may also wish to periodically evaluate a few of the larger shadow education programmes and continue to monitor which programmes are appropriate for different kinds of students. Parents and policymakers can also encourage shadow education programmes to be more transparent about their curricula and teaching practices and to provide more evidence about why their programmes are effective.

Furthermore, although parents and students are concerned about performing well on the competitive entrance exam, they may wish to consider whether shadow education programmes are merely "teaching to the test" (that is, just helping students answer test items) or whether they actually improve student learning and interest in learning in the long run.

— How widespread is shadow education in other countries? Do you know examples of reducing it to increase equal opportunities in education for all students?

— Shadow education has grown rapidly in the last few decades and is now widespread in many countries, especially those with competitive entrance exams like the USE. It is estimated that by 2018, students and their families worldwide will spend—at all levels of schooling—over $100 billion annually on shadow education (Forbes 2012), but the number is probably even higher.

I do not know of any successful attempts to reduce shadow education so as to increase equal opportunities for students. Indeed, because shadow education is part of the private sector, it is difficult for policymakers to regulate. Policymakers often try to adjust the content or format of entrance exams to reduce the potentially heterogeneous impacts of participating in shadow education among students from higher and lower socioeconomic backgrounds, but this can be difficult to do.

— What are your research plans?

— I am working on several projects right now. One project, also in collaboration with the HSE and researchers from China, India, and the US, is to examine how much students are learning in higher education and what factors contribute to student learning. I am also conducting a study on how to best design teacher performance pay so that it not only improves student achievement but also raises the achievement of low, mid, and high performing students alike. I am conducting a similar study on how to use incentives at the school-level to improve the quality of vocational schooling in China. I am moreover conducting the first large-scale randomized evaluation of a teacher professional development programme outside of the United States — the national teacher training programme in China — and how to better design teacher professional development programmes so that they are indeed effective. Finally, I am working on a number of papers related to gender differences in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

— What are your impressions on living and working in Moscow?

— I greatly enjoy Moscow. It is a vibrant city, one with great history and culture. I very much enjoy working with my colleagues at HSE — they are incredibly hard-working and talented. I have learned a lot in my interactions with them.

— What are the strongest and most attractive sides of the Russian education?

— Russia is of course famous for its math and science education, especially at the K-12 levels. Russia has also produced many brilliant scientists and engineers — that is why I am keen to understand more about the quality of different engineering programs at the university level in Russia and what factors lead to higher learning outcomes for students.

As a father, I am also personally interested in the way in which Russian teachers teach math and science. Right now, there is a trend in the United States for families to send their kids to after-school Russian math programmes — programmes that teach students how to learn math through the Russian instructional style.

— What do you see as the advantages of getting a diploma in one of the Russian universities now?

— Having ties with the HSE for several years now, I see how quickly the university is improving its course offerings, intensifying its research into new and interesting areas, and is increasingly become a hub for international collaboration. I can see that the students, especially at the graduate level, are directly affected by this dynamic energy. This exposure will give them every opportunity to learn skills that will be useful either in academia or in the private sector.

— How is it living and working in Moscow being an international expert?

— It is great. I only wish I knew Russian and could travel more throughout this beautiful country.

Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for HSE News service


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