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The dangers of private tutoring: the end of social mobility?


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Education is one of the crucial steps on the way to a country’s economic and social development. It is what helps to move from the production of simpler products that require mostly low-paid jobs to more complex products that require technology and educated people to produce it. Prioritizing education also plays an important role in the social mobility of a society: how likely is it for an individual or family to move up the social status ladder, whether it is getting out of poverty or moving from low-to -middle income. Education can also, in some cases, support democratization processes.

In the case of Azerbaijan, the economy is primarily dependent on oil exports (see our statistical charts for 2019 here). Because of this investments in human capital, and thus education, are essential to diversifying the economy (Baku Research Institute, 2019). It is even more important when we know that 40% of our population is under 24 years old, making education a key player in the overall development of the country.

When it comes to education in Azerbaijan, there are two sides of the picture. First, there is undoubtedly a well-established primary and pre-primary educational system. Illiteracy rates have been low for more than 30 years, even when comparing genders (Statista, 2020). From 2015 to 2019, the number of children enrolled in pre-primary education had even increased from 15% to 75% (UNICEF, 2019), further strengthening the foundations needed for human capital development in the country.

However, once we pay closer attention to secondary and tertiary education, the numbers start to differ especially when considering the family’s social status. Even worse, the educational system of the country supports the already high level of inequality, further strengthening patterns of elitism in the country. In this article, we will discuss one of the biggest issues in our country’s educational system, that of private tutoring.

A need for quality education

Despite education being for the most part public in Azerbaijan, there are many other costs that incur from it. The educational system hasn’t seen any relevant reforms since the end of the USSR (Aliyev, R.), partly because the yearly budget for the Ministry of Education has stayed very low as a % of the total government budget for the last decade. In 2017, only 7% of total government spending was spent on education compared to 21% in 2000 (World Bank, 2020).

This results in a lower quality of education all over the country, with bigger inequalities in rural areas. As of 2016, public education quality was low even when compared to other ex-USSR countries (Guliyev, 2016). According to the PISA 2018 (Programme for International Student Assessment, OECD), Azerbaijani students scored lower than the OECD average in reading, mathematics, and science by 16%, 11.5%, and 15.2% respectively. This trend is even more prevalent when comparing rural and urban education environments. In an analysis of State Exam Center statistics in 2019 (Baku Research Institute, 2019), it was concluded that regions apart from Baku and Sumqayit scored lower on all final high school exams.

Higher education is no different as students earn lower points in the State Exam and struggle with learning more complex ideas during their university years (Guliyev, 2016). Factors such as economical background and rural/urban inequalities continue being reproduced in higher education with Both factors are translated in a lower rate of admission of students from rural districts and/or poorer families (Aliyev, R.). Moreover, as a result of the lack of and/or poor implementation of reforms, as well as the difficulty to use new teaching methods, graduate students tend to report a low level of preparedness for both the domestic and international job markets.

An epidemic?

The term private tutoring usually includes both lessons offered by individuals and by institutions (' (Bray, Silova, 2006). While research does not have a consensus on the positive or negative effects of private tutoring on grades or university acceptance rates (Safarzynska, 2013), it has been on the rise in most of the CIS region for the last two decades.

The main reasons for students and their families to search for private tutoring seem to be better academic results, university entrance exam preparation, but also more individualized learning methods and environment than ones offered by the public education system (Silova, 2010). In a 2013 survey, Azerbaijani students believed that the level of education provided in secondary education was insufficient to enter any of the national universities, blaming the difference between what is taught in schools and the knowledge require to successfully pass entrance exams (Jokic, 2013). In the same survey, student stated the “oversophisticated curriculum” as one of the main reasons for reaching to private tutors. Compared to other CIS countries, Azerbaijani students tend to use private tutoring for longer periods of time and start earlier in the education system than others.

As a result, the “free” education in our country is more of an illusion than anything else. Whether it is to successfully finish secondary school, enter university or to obtain your tertiary diploma, students feel pressured into private tutoring and all the costs that incur from it. This is where the biggest inefficiency of our educational system appears: its inability to counteract class inequalities and to support meritocracy, a system where merit is rewarded by success. Instead, families with more disposable income and higher social status provide their children with better academic opportunities, while middle- and lower-income families struggle with dedicating large sums of their income to extra classes or having no choice but to stop their children’s  education mid-secondary. The epidemic of private tutoring is thus, reinforcing the position of the financially privileged in the society. In other words, it doesn’t matter how well or what you do, it matters who you are and how much you have.

@cafealternativo via Twenty20

It should be said that the situation on the side of the teachers isn’t any better. Teachers themselves are a product of the poor educational system. Moreover, their salaries being one of the lowest of the country, there is no motivation for teachers to counteract the private tutoring epidemic. Indeed, teachers and professors from all levels of education have been underpaid for years, only receiving a small increase in 2016 which was barely enough to respond to the hike in overall prices in the country (Baku Research Institute, 2019). In a situation where teachers are more preoccupied by securing their monthly finances, teachers are pressured into unethical behavior (Silova, 2010), such as purposefully sabotaging students’ achievement so as to create demand for private tutoring, or even pressuring their students to hire them as private tutors during after-school hours (Jokic, 2013).

Why and how do we need to reverse the trend?

The wide and prolonged use of private tutoring is a symptom of the issues of the public education system of the country, but also it is one more agent fueling inequality.

Despite the oil boom of the early 2010s and the Azerbaijani government’s promises to spend more on social policies as a result of the afflux of revenue, government expenditure on healthcare and education remained stagnant at first, then falling to 4% and 9% of GDP respectively (Mammadova, 2016). It should be noted that during the same period, large sums were spent on the Eurovision (2012) and European Games (2014). Education expenditures had fallen under 3% of GDP by 2016 (TradingEconomics) as oil revenues went down with the falling price of oil starting in 2014. This negligence of educational investment by the Azerbaijani government has prevented the human development of its citizens, continuing to widen the educational gap between poor and rich (Mammadova, 2016).

Completely stopping all private tutoring (PT) services is not achievable, nor is it necessary. After all private tutoring is just another type of academic help services. However, limiting it and ensuring wider access to it can be done. After some research, Kertenkele will present one possible option to counteract the adverse effects of private tutoring.

As seen before, one of the main underlying reasons for this growing phenomenon are teachers’ low salaries acting as motivation to create demand for private tutoring. By acting on this point, we can also impact the access to private tutoring itself, making it more accessible to all social groups.

Increasing salaries to an acceptable level will lower the need and motivation for teachers to earn extra money in private tutoring, thus limiting the artificially created demand for PT. However, this would still not be enough to fully counteract the gap between poor and rich. To help with this second problem, government-mandated tutoring can be organized, shifting the PT from private to public. This type of government-subsidized tutoring would take place inside of the public school in the form of extra-curricular activities.  By doing this, a larger number of students will have access to PT, thus achieving higher academic grades or entering their university of choice without the need for extra financial support from their families. While teachers are provided with an extra revenue source, this option eliminates the financial burden of PT for the students that want or need PT.


In our opinion, if Azerbaijan wants to become a developed country, it needs to effectively prioritize access to secondary and tertiary education and private courses, modernize teaching methods, ensure a good livelihood and thus, salary for teachers and professors in all regions. Only once these are achieved will the public education system act as a positive agent in the human development of the population.


Aliyev, R. (). Azerbaijan: How Equitable is Access to Higher Education? Khazar Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences. University of Maryland, USA.

Baku Research Institute. (2019). Orta təhsildə islahatlar və eksperimentlər. BAİ İqtisadi Qrupu. Available online: https://bakuresearchinstitute.org/az/reforms-and-experiments-in-secondary-education/

Bray, M. Silova, I. (2006). The private tutoring phenomen: international patterns and perspectives. In Silova, I., Budiene, V. and Bray, M. (Eds.), Education in a Hidden Marketplace: Monitoring of private Tutoring. Open Society Institute.

Guliyev, F. (2016). The Quality of Education in Azerbaijan: Problems and Prospects. Caucasus Analytical Digest, n.90.

Jokic, B. (2013). Emerging from the Shadow. A Comparative Qualitative Exploration of Private Tutoring in Eurasia. Network of Education Policy Centers. Zagreb: NEPC.

Mammadova, S. (2016). The Oil Boom and Human Capital Development in Azerbaijan:  “Turning Black Gold into Human Gold”. Caucasus Analytical Digest, n.90.

Safarzynska, K. (2013). Socio-economic Determinants of Demand for Private Tutoring. European Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 2, pp. 139-154.

Silova, I. (2010). Private tutoring in Eastern Europe and Central Asia: policy choices and implications. Compare Vol. 40, No. 3, May 2010, 327–344. College of Education, Lehigh University, USA.


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