This article focuses on the limitations of terms and definitions regarding shadow education research in Cambodia. Although shadow education in Cambodia is typically defined as private tutoring taught by mainstream schoolteachers to their own students, other manifestations of it have been missed by most studies on the subject, including my own. By tracing the terms used and the definitions of shadow education in various research studies, I argue that the assumptions made over terms and definitions (i.e., what ought to be the case) limited researchers’ understanding of shadow education in its ontological evolution and complexity (i.e., what is the case). Methodologically, the unintentional recycling of the same definition across time resulted in the epistemic fallacy and concept reification. These outcomes have profound consequences for how the phenomenon may be theorized not only in Cambodia but across the Southeast Asian region. In conclusion, I propose an alternative approach to study shadow education based on critical realism.
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