Trapped by Shadow Education and Educational Involution: Science Engagement and Parental Anxiety in Urban China

Research output: Contribution to conference typesAbstractpeer-review


This article explores the impact of shadow education on educational involution and social
inequality in urban China. While rural Chinese students are primarily limited to engaging with
science through school, their urban peers experience high-intensity tutoring focused on math
and science. In the past two decades, the inflation of academic qualifications and the inequality
of educational resources have made Chinese urban middle-class parents very anxious. This drives
urban students to attend weekly private tutoring, which becomes their most frequent contact
with science. The widespread participation of students in shadow education, particularly in
learning in advance, has a significant impact on mainstream education, exacerbating parental
anxiety and increasing the number of parents paying for such services. This situation leads to
educational involution, where more effort is required to achieve outcomes that were once easier
to obtain. Families' science capital becomes the key to the reproduction of educational inequality
through the purchase of shadow education and participation in educational competition. While
the impact of shadow education on social inequality in urban China has been widely discussed,
its relationship with broader educational involution has yet to be fully explored. This study
discusses the status and impact of shadow education and educational involution on Chinese
parents' anxiety and secondary students' science engagement, using data collected from ten
interviews with urban secondary students, parents, and teachers. Additionally, given the recent
education reform of "double reduction" published by the Chinese government in September
2021, which has made profitable shadow education illegal, this study predicts whether the policy
will promote education justice and to what extent it could make a difference.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 24 May 2023
EventBERA ECR Conference 2023: The ECR Journey: From inspiration to impact - Leeds, UK, Leeds, United Kingdom
Duration: 24 May 202324 May 2023


ConferenceBERA ECR Conference 2023
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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