Managing “Gained” and “Lost” Time: Hong Kong Parents’ Perceptions of Private Tutoring During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Authors: Nutsa Kobakhidze, Assistant Professor, The University of Hong Kong
Mr. Alex Tsaloukidis

The COVID-19 pandemic created unprecedented challenges for the education sector. School closures and remote instruction disrupted learning for millions of students worldwide, amounting to what experts had called “a global education crisis”. In response to these disruptions, private tutoring has gained prominence for its potential to mitigate learning losses, including from the viewpoint of parents.

Our research (Tsaloukidis & Kobakhidze, 2023, in press) examined how the pandemic affected parents’ use and perception of private tutoring in Hong Kong’s competitive academic environment, in which private tutoring is commonplace. We interviewed 80 secondary school parents from diverse backgrounds.

We found that parents grappled with managing “gained” and “lost” time—the extra time resulting from lockdowns and the time lost due to school closures. Parents aimed to maintain private tutoring classes at a pre-pandemic frequency. For these parents—nearly half the sample—continuity in education and all-round development was important. Private tutoring provided their children with stability and educational support despite the challenges posed by the pandemic.

Other parents opted to increase or decrease private tutoring. Parents who decreased private tutoring use were concerned about remote learning’s effectiveness as well as cost considerations, since tutoring centre closures had reduced affordable options for in-person private tutoring. Also, many of these parents were concerned about health risks, even after the relaxation of public health measures. Some mentioned that there were other ways their children could make up for reduced instruction time, such as by watching online educational videos.

Conversely, parents who increased their children’s private tutoring wanted to maintain their children’s ability to keep up with the curriculum in certain subjects such as English, Mathematics, and Chinese. While in-person one-to-one tutoring was common in this group, some viewed remote learning as particularly convenient and an opportunity to add more classes in the absence of long commutes.

Across these groups of parents, our analysis revealed three main functions of private tutoring during the pandemic. Firstly, many parents saw private tutoring as a way to mitigate the adverse effects of schooling disruptions. With remote learning presenting its own set of challenges, private tutoring ensured their children received comprehensive education and personalized attention. Secondly, parents valued making productive use of newfound free time. By enrolling their children in private tutoring, parents sought to optimise their children’s development and keep them intellectually stimulated during long periods of lockdowns and social distancing. Lastly, private tutoring provided a sense of normality amid the chaos and uncertainty of the pandemic. For both parents and children, the familiar routine of private tutoring sessions offered stability and normalcy.

As we continue to grapple with the effects of the pandemic, understanding the role of private tutoring in times of disruption remains crucial in fostering resilience and adaptability in education systems worldwide. In the midst of crises, when schools shut down and health risks emerge, parents persist in providing education to their children using whatever means available to them. These findings not only emphasize the unwavering support of parents but also illustrate their pivotal role as key actors in the education system. This research contributes to the existing literature by shedding light on the role of private tutoring during an educational crisis, offering valuable perspectives from Hong Kong, where private tutoring has long been prevalent.


Tsaloukidis, A. A., & Kobakhidze, M. N. (in press). Responding to uncertainty: Examining Hong Kong parent’s perceptions of private tutoring through the lens of timescapes. Journal for the Study of Education and Development.

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