Practice and issues of outsourcing of education: Cases from South Korea and Hong Kong

Tae Hee CHOI

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers


More and more governments use educational reforms as a tool to raise the competitiveness of their societies, and one shared feature of some of these reforms is privatization of public education. Countries in the Eastern and Western Europe alike, for instance, have implemented various educational reforms that allowed for, or promoted, privatization of education (Ball & Youdell, 2008; Patrinos, Barrera-Osorio, & Guàqueta, 2009). While privatization of education has received much academic attention, the new education privatization, in which the government financially supports the private sector’s participation in public education, has remained unexplored in many contexts (Burch, 2009), in particular in the East Asian context including South Korea and Hong Kong. Governments of South Korea and Hong Kong have circulated policy discourses which reconceptualise the private sector as a partner in public education for more than a decade. However, there has been little documentation of the actual practice of outsourcing of education delivery. This paper, drawing on three consecutive research projects funded by a tertiary institute in Hong Kong, aims to contribute to understanding this largely “hidden” phenomenon of educational privatization (Ball, Thrupp, & Forsey, 2010) focusing on government-funded outsourcing of core curriculum delivery. Understanding the focal phenomenon is necessary considering the public accountability in using public fund. It may concern, however, far more important issues of quality and equity of public education. Previous research on the quality of outsourced education is controversial (Green, 2005); some programmes have found to reproduce or even aggravate the gap between the haves and the have-nots in terms of access to quality education (Burch, 2009). By mapping out the policy and practice at the government and school levels in South Korea and Hong Kong, this paper aims to explore the degree to which privatization of education is happening in the two contexts and whether there are reasons to pay attention to the previously identified issues of quality and equity regarding outsourced education in the case contexts. In addition, comparing the findings with those from the‘Western’ contexts, factors which shape the local practice of state-funded outsourcing, and its quality and equity will be explored. Adopting a multi-level comparative analysis (Manzon, 2014) and informed by policy enactment theory which identifies the significant roles played by policy characteristics, contexts, and policy actors’ beliefs in shaping policy implementation(Ball, Maguire, & Braun, 2012), the paper reports investigation conducted at two levels, that is, the government and schools, and will look into the roles played by the characteristics of policies and related legislations, beliefs of decision makers (head teachers in this paper) and contextual features (e.g., resources, local curriculum). Method: Policy documents were collected from pertinent organizations of each context, i.e., the Ministry of Education and the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education which devises localized executive plans for government-issued policies for schools in Seoul(Korea), and the Educational Bureau and the Efficiency Unit which monitors government-funded outsourcing activities (Hong Kong). For school level discussion, two schools - one from Seoul, and the other from Hong Kong - which are active in outsourcing of the educational delivery, were selected as telling cases. Out of data collected during the case studies, the documents accessed or generated by the schools, e.g., policy texts, circulars, school reports, teaching materials for outsourced programmes, and interviews with head teachers will be discussed. Thematic content analysis was conducted on the entirety of the data(Bogdan & Biklen, 2007; Miles & Huberman, 1994), referring to, but not limited to, the themes identified in the analytical framework developed based on literature review and author’s previous research on outsourcing of education in Hong Kong and educational reforms (e.g., T.-H. Choi, 2015; T.-H. Choi, 2015, February). The main themes identified in the framework include policy design and implementation, leadership, and quality and equity of the programs. Expected Outcomes: Despite the fact that both governments present the private sector as partners in public education, the two contexts show rather contrastive patterns of practice. In Korea, outsourcing of delivery of the core curriculum, not extra-curricular activities, is only starting particularly in relation to the Free Semester reform. The Free Semester is for junior high school students to explore their careers and learn in a student-oriented way without the pressure of assessment and was implemented in full scale in 2016; whereas in Hong Kong, outsourcing for delivery of core curriculum is quite prominent, particularly with the help of various grants allocated for implementing individual reforms(T.-H. Choi, 2015, February). In this presentation, the types of educational outsourcing and service providers, the profiles of the outsourced programmes including the quality control mechanisms and target learners in both contexts will first be discussed, drawing on existing literature as well as policy and practical documents collected at the government and school levels. The criteria for decision making in terms of programme selection and the perceptions around quality and equity of the programmes will also be discussed, drawing on the interviews with the head teachers. The contextual features which might have affected different practices across the contexts will be identified. Finally, preliminary suggestions to ensure quality education for all in outsourced education in the case contexts will be shared, which may have wider implications.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2016
EventEuropean Conference on Educational Research (ECER) 2016: "Leading Education: The Distinct Contributions of Educational Research and Researchers" - University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
Duration: 22 Aug 201626 Aug 2016


ConferenceEuropean Conference on Educational Research (ECER) 2016: "Leading Education: The Distinct Contributions of Educational Research and Researchers"
Abbreviated titleECER 2016
Internet address


Choi, T.-H. (2016, August). Practice and issues of outsourcing of education: Cases from South Korea and Hong Kong. Paper presented at the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER 2016): Leading Education: The Distinct Contributions of Educational Research and Researchers, University College Dublin, Belfield, Ireland.


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