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Private Tuition: a successful free market in Sri Lanka


A typical student in Sri Lanka would attend public school from age 5 to 19. At the end of their studies, they would sit a GCE advanced level examination. Based on the results obtained in this examination, a student may enter a public or private university, thus making the process both challenging and competitive.

Although public schools follow the same syllabus as private schools, with no cost to students, the quality of teaching is generally considered to be of a lower standard. In addition, there are significant disparities in the resources available to rural and urban public schools. Resulting from these issues, a new industry emerged: private tuition.

Private tuition: a booming industry

For a fee, private individuals or institutions offer tuition services for GCE advanced level subjects. This industry has now grown to such an extent that private tuition is one of the most lucrative businesses in Sri Lanka. Other than a few erratic regulations that, for example, prohibit holding tuition classes on a monthly Poya bank holiday, the private tuition industry is free from formal regulations. There is almost no government involvement.

As with any good thing, this industry receives an undue amount of criticism. Some of the concerns raised include whether private schools are responsible for increasing mental stress levels, as well as the issue of whether or not private tutors are aptly qualified. Furthermore, the costs are often another point of contention. For the most part, these concerns are admittedly not unreasonable.

However, it is important to take a step back and consider the bigger picture. It is apparent that the overwhelming majority of students agree that they wouldn’t even have come close to their level of academic achievements without the support of private tutors.

Mitigating the divide between urban and rural schools

The disparity in the quality of teaching between urban and rural schools has been an impediment for rural students to pursue higher education or achieve upward social mobility. Interestingly, private tuition has been able to mitigate this problem to a great extent by allowing students from dysfunctional rural schools to supplement their education. Consequently, this enhances their ability to compete for places in top universities. This is evidenced by the fact that results of rural students at the GCE AL exam are currently improving exponentially.

Opportunities for educators

Another problem in the public school system is that teachers are paid wholly inadequate salaries. The private tuition industry has allowed public school teachers to offer tuition and thereby supplement their incomes. Consequently, most public school teachers earn more money via private tutoring than from their government jobs. The extremely high level of competition among tutors has pushed them to continuously improve the teaching-learning mechanisms they employ while also keeping tuition charges at a minimum.

Nonetheless, we can conclude that the private tuition industry has had a significant positive impact on education in Sri Lanka. A crucial point to highlight here is that this has been brought about by an industry that is neither regulated, interfered with, subsidized, nor taxed by the government, i.e. a free market enterprise.

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