Private lessons have a long history, and are increasingly becoming a worldwide phenomenon. Today, they are expanding in countries where the education system is perceived not to meet the needs of students aiming to obtain the best degrees.

The UK spends the most in Europe on private education. In Scandinavia and Germany, private tuition is by contrast much less common. In the richer Asian and African countries, it is commonplace, creating something of a 2-tier educational system.

The competition to enter the best universities and preparatory schools is as fierce as ever. Moreover, with high rates of unemployment in many countries, parents are anxious to give their children the best preparation possible for an uncertain future.

To meet these concerns, private lessons and online tutoring have emerged as the favoured solution.

The UK: Top Spender on Private Education

Taking private education as a whole - schooling as well as tuition - Britain spends the highest amounts in Europe, at 4.8% of GDP, compared to the OECD average of 3.6%, and the nation's private tutoring market along is valued at £2 billion per year. Private lessons are often taught by students and teachers, working as personal tutors. For the most part, they do so as an additional activity in addition to a main or full-time job.

Tutoring for homework assistance is popular
Help with homework is one of the main reasons for seeking private tuition (Source: - San José Public Library)

The typical cost of a private tutor is £22 an hour, with Bristol tutors at £20 and the national average at £20 for primary and secondary tuition, up to £26 per hour for university degree assistance and A level tutors. Home tutors UK are used by 31% of better-off families, but only 15% of less well-off families.

While the UK lacks an equivalent of the French system of tax breaks for private tuition, some schools attempt to close the gap by using 'pupil premiums' – extra cash received from the Government for admitting pupils who are receiving free school meals – to pay for private tuition for their more disadvantaged pupils.

Private lessons have become complementary to the teaching provided through the National Curriculum.

Maths is the subject in which tuition is most frequently sought, with English and the sciences also very popular.

For a variety of reasons, such as parents' poor knowledge in certain disciplines, lack of time or reluctance to deal with a recalcitrant teenager, the private tutor can be a great substitute for parental help.

Private teachers can help with the A Level tuition, exam preparation and more. The quest for excellence is particularly important from the start of the lower sixth, when students choose the subjects that will determine their choice of university course and even career.

Tutoring agencies are numerous and have various courses on offer.

The most common form remains one to one tuition with a personal tutor, either at the child's home or that of the tutor. Such lessons can be supplemented by coaching in small groups, or language classes for the learning of modern languages.

Private Tuition Marginal in Northern Europe

In Germany, Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands and Denmark, parents tend to have greater trust in the educational system. In France, on the contrary, private tuition is even more prevalent than in the UK, reflecting dissatisfaction with mainstream education in that country.

Fewer children receive personal tuition in northern European countries
In Scandinavia, private tuition is less in demand (Source: - Haeruman)

In the UK, exam results are still of paramount importance. Even if they do not necessarily reflect an individual's effectiveness in the workforce, they remain key to gaining a university place and building a good CV in order to pave the way to a successful career.

Today, unless one opts for vocational training in a given profession or trade, it's hard to gain the necessary skills and enter the job market without first getting the necessary grades.

Educational systems in other countries place a lesser importance on exam results. In Finland, which frequently tops the worldwide rankings as the country with the best national education system, there are no school inspectors, no league tables, and no exams until the age of 16. Children are not sorted into sets by ability, and homework is limited to 30 minutes per day.

There is no private tuition industry to speak of in Finland, and in other Northern European countries, it is a similarly scarce phenomenon.

What do you know about the history of private tuition?

Home Tutoring: the Norm in Asia

Generally speaking, in Asia, a high importance is placed on academic excellence. Asian students, overall, consistently perform better than the global average.

Unlike in Europe, education is seen less as a means of enriching knowledge and more as one social advancement. Tuition is an area accorded great respect, and one to which children are expected to devote themselves.

Extra lessons
After-school tuition is the norm in many countries (Source: - John Severns)

In South Korea, the private tutoring market far surpasses that of any single European country, at almost US$15 billion per year. And the tutoring market is expected to grow in the future.

Every year on the second Thursday of November, the country holds its breath for the school entrance exam results. It's a big event, which involves the deployment of traffic police, changes to train and subway timetables, even airport closures!

Great pressure is felt by pupils, as they move from the cramming and group learning of regular schools to hagwon, or private tutoring establishments.

The government of South Korean intervened in 2009 by introducing a curfew on private lessons from 10pm.

The organisation of private tutoring is becoming increasingly regulated. But what will the future for tutoring hold?

In Japan, China, Malaysia and Taiwan, parents' expectations are similarly high and spending on private tutors is in the region of  €800 to €1,500 per month per family.

In Japan, many pupils enjoy no Sundays or holidays off. Private lessons are taught 7 days a week, at juku: Private tutoring establishments. Between school and personal tutors, a Japanese student can work between 10 and 16 hours a day. However, if only private courses are counted, it is in Sri Lanka that students bear the heaviest burden, with up to an additional 13 hours a week.

Access to most prestigious schools is reserved for the best-performing students, which is why in some areas virtually all pupils take private lessons.

India: Focus on Academic Support

Today, private tuition in India has entered the mainstream, especially in certain of the country's states. This parallel form of learning has become a familiar part of education.

The involvement of a personal teacher depends, of course, on the resources available to parents. Private lessons are only available to the middle and upper classes, and are usually out of reach of the rest of society.

Schoolchildren in Karnataka, India
Many pupils in India receive private tuition (Source: Max Pixel)

The majority of children receiving private tuition in India are from expensive non-subsidised private schools. While students in public schools will tend to take extra lessons in order to pass exams, those at private schools tend to do so with the aim of better grades.

Students in India receive tuition in an average of three subjects. Tutoring courses begin at the start of the school year. While in Europe and Southeast Asia, private tuition tends to take place in the evenings, in India more than half of the students have classes in the morning before going to school.

Students take courses either in coaching organisations or private tutoring schools.

Private lessons can be subject to corruption: Some teachers only deliver half of their instruction during school lessons, so parents often organise extra lessons with their children's school teacher, in order to reinforce regular lessons.

This kind of practice is also commonplace in Cambodia.

Australia: A Different Direction for Private Tutors

Australia is embarking on a reform of its education system, with major changes such as a more intense kindergarten program for children, including a grounding in a foreign language.

In secondary education, class sizes will become somewhat larger, with fewer hours of instruction, to allow teachers more time for preparation.

Parents remain free to finance private lessons, however schools will reinforce individual learning with teacher-pupil mentoring.

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