Many people are aware of the educational inequality between rural China and urban China. Stories that students born in the mountain area have to walk for two or more hours to get to the nearest school every day are familiar to many of us, while children in big cities are usually described as enjoying sufficient educational resources and have no need to worry about their study opportunities. However, the fact is that educational inequality does not only exist between urban and rural areas but also can be found within big cities in China.

Supplementary education is a cause of educational inequality in urban China. Private supplementary tutoring often referred to as shadow education, is a kind of commercial education that mimics the curriculum of school education (Bray, 2009). By conducting a survey among students in Grade 3- 9 in Shanghai as well as interviewing them, Zhang and Bray (2018) find that although the government has made a lot of effort to equalize schooling in Shanghai, private supplementary tutoring is undermining this equality. As pointed out by many scholars, socio-economic backgrounds usually impact the amount and quality of tutoring a student receives (Bray, Mazawi, & Sultana, 2013). Zhang and Bray’s (2018) research also proves that students from well-endowed families and those whose parents have received higher education are more likely to receive private tutoring than other students.

The fact that rich families can purchase educational resources from commercial educational institutions reminds us that only governing school education is not enough to equalize education in big cities. Families desiring advantages in a competitive society, together with tutoring institutions seeking proficiency, give supplementary education a steady stream of vitality. To improve the educational inequality caused by private tutoring in big cities of China, the government needs to look not only inside but also outside the schools. (Zhang and Bray’s, 2018)

Written by Mingwei Chen. 



  1. Zhang, Wei & Bray, Mark, 2018. Equalising schooling, unequalising private supplementary tutoring: access and tracking through shadow education in China.Oxford review of education, 44(2), pp.221–238.
  2. Bray, M., 2009. Confronting the shadow education system: What government policies for what private tutoring?. Paris: UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning.
  3. Bray, M., Mazawi, A. E., & Sultana, R. G. (Eds.), 2013. Private tutoring across the Mediterranean: Power dynamics and implications for learning and equity. Rotterdam: Sense.