Is shadow education the driver of East Asia’s high performance on comparative learning assessments?




alternative theories, international large-scale assessments, scale mismatch, stereotypes, TIMSS


East Asian students consistently top comparative assessments of academic achievement. Yet, rather than attempting to develop more sophisticated understandings of this difference, the most common reaction is to attribute East Asian performance to longer study hours and/or the attendance at schools focused on academic skill enhancement and test preparation (i.e., juku). Herein we seek to contribute to a richer debate both by presenting new data and findings in relation to Japan, and by highlighting new analytical strategies to understand the relationship between East Asian performance and shadow education. Specifically, we highlight that comparatively high levels of achievement among Japanese students were apparent even at the level of fourth graders, even though juku attendance was low prior to this stage. This suggests that juku attendance is not the primary factor for the high academic achievement of Japanese students. The wider significance of these findings lies in countering both common portrayals of East Asian success and factually inaccurate information disseminated by organizations such as the OECD. In so doing, researchers are in better position to elaborate new, more sophisticated theories that explain East Asia’s consistently world- leading academic achievement.


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Author Biographies

Jeremy Rappleye, Kyoto University

Jeremy Rappleye is Associate Professor at Kyoto University, Graduate School of Education. His recent work has focused on developing a mutually moving dialogue on education free of first assumptions common in Anglo-American research circles, as discussed recently in Reimagining Modern Education (Komatsu & Rappleye, 2020) and Comparative Education as Cultural Critique (Rappleye, 2020).

Hikaru Komatsu, Kyoto University

Hikaru Komatsu is an interdisciplinary environmental studies scholar. After spending more than 15 years in the field of environmental science, he realized the importance of culture for achieving sustainability. He is currently examining how culture is related to sustainability and how culture can be rearticulated for sustainability through education.





How to Cite

Rappleye, J., & Komatsu, H. (2020). Is shadow education the driver of East Asia’s high performance on comparative learning assessments?. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 28, 67.