China Plans New Rules to Curtail After-School Tutoring, Target Academic Pressure Amid Scandals

The Chinese government is reportedly set to announce new rules to significantly curtail the operations of after-school tuition centers, in an effort to reduce skyrocketing academic competition and pressure on Chinese students. For Reuters, Julie Zhu reported on Wednesday that the government will trial a ban on both online and offline tutoring during the summer and winter holidays in several major cities, a move which could decimate the revenue of many burgeoning tuition centers:

The new rules, which aim to both to ease pressure on school children and boost the country’s birth rate by lowering family living costs, could be announced as early as next week and take effect next month, two of the people with knowledge of the plans said.

[…] The trial vacation ban, which adds to plans to bar online and offline tutoring on weekends during term time, could deprive tutoring companies of as much as 70-80% of their annual revenue, two of the sources said.

[…] More than 75% of K-12 students – roughly aged from 6 to 18 – in China attended after-school tutoring classes in 2016, according to the most recent figures from the Chinese Society of Education, and anecdotal evidence suggests that percentage has risen.

[…] The ban on vacation and weekend tutoring would be implemented in nine municipalities and provinces, including Beijing, Shanghai and Jiangsu, for twelve months before being rolled out across the country, one of the sources said. [Source]

In addition to curtailing the operating times of tuition centers, authorities are also set to introduce a new oversight body for the industry. Sixth Tone’s Ni Dandan reported on details about the new regulator:

China’s government has further strengthened its oversight on the rapidly growing market for extracurricular education by establishing a new ministerial department tasked with monitoring the sector.

The main responsibilities of the department, which falls under the Ministry of Education, include managing training schools that target middle and primary school students and kindergarteners, drafting policies to regulate the market, guiding law enforcement, and regulating contests, according to an announcement Tuesday.

[…] The new department means further standardization of how the sector is regulated, [Chu Zhaohui, a researcher with the state-run National Institute for Education Sciences] said, adding he’s not confident the move can fundamentally address the chaos in this market.

“The most effective way of managing training organizations is to reduce demand,” Chu told Sixth Tone. “That can be realized through providing balanced education resources and changing the score-based evaluation system (for students).” [Source]

In April, CDT also wrote about new regulations announced during China’s “Two Sessions” to protect children’s sleep by limiting the operating hours of online education and gaming services.

The expected rules would come as China grapples with the daunting challenge of raising its birth rate, which sharply declined last year. In May, new census data revealed that the country’s birth rate was just 1.3, far below the replacement level of 2.1. An announcement earlier this month that China would revise its “two-child policy” to a “three-child policy” was met with widespread ambivalence. Part of the reason why many families are reluctant to have more children is the soaring cost and social pressure on parents to help their children keep up with intense academic competition. The growing pressure on students to perform from ever younger ages is one phenomenon cited as contributing to China’s nèijuǎn or “involution” crisis.

After-school tuition centers have profited massively from demand for educational services by anxious parents. But as Nikkei Asia’s Nikki Sun reported earlier this month, many of those centers have fallen under the scrutiny of government regulators after engaging in unscrupulous practices:

An official at the State Administration for Market Regulation was reported as saying its investigation showed some of the companies fabricated teachers’ qualifications and user comments, as well as exaggerating the outcomes of the tutoring classes.

Some companies also launched misleading promotional events in which they inflated the price of their instruction and then offered deep discounts to boost sales. “The discounts seem to bring great benefits to consumers, but in reality, they aim to trap parents into buying classes,” the official was quoted by the People’s Daily as saying.

Market regulators in Shanghai and Guangdong also fined several other tutoring schools a total of 24 million yuan for similar offenses. [Source]

It is unlikely, however, that the crackdown on after-school tuition will do much to curtail the many elaborate methods that parents and certain entrepreneurial individuals have devised to give students a leg up. Chinese schools themselves are also using increasingly invasive and intense methods to track how students perform. And many of the most high-profile examples of schemes to help students gain an advantage over their peers, such as the case of one Chinese student linked to the U.S. 2019 college admissions scandal, skew towards China’s wealthiest, underscoring how academic competition and prestige-seeking is often linked to wealth inequality. Wealthier families often look overseas for new forms of prestige and advantages that may help their children get into better universities. This week, an extensive investigation by Business Insider’s Nicole Einbinder exposed how a top education official in California helped sell access to Californian private schools to Chinese elites:

The Val Verde Unified School District, in the heart of Southern California’s Inland Empire, isn’t a bad place to get a public education, all things considered. It’s not as well heeled as some of the wealthier Los Angeles exurbs to the west, where districts can spend up to $21,000 a student — Val Verde budgets just over half that. And the majority of its 20,000 students come from low-income families and are eligible for free or reduced lunch.

[…] But there would’ve been another high school, out of sight, that was different: Pegasus California School. It didn’t have to struggle. With around 160 students, its class sizes were significantly smaller than other Val Verde schools, and it offered dedicated evening study sessions overseen by faculty. The school guaranteed parents, in writing, that every graduate would gain admission to one of the top 100 US universities. Pegasus boasted of strong relationships with schools such as the University of California at Irvine, where students could participate in a summer program tailored for Pegasus students. According to Val Verde’s superintendent, UC Riverside was so impressed with the school that it took the extraordinary step of promising admission to every Pegasus graduate.

But for high schoolers in the district who might’ve wanted the benefit of Pegasus’ intensive, college-oriented curriculum, there was a hitch: Even though it was a part of an American public-school district, tuition and fees at Pegasus added up to more than $34,000 a year. And even though it was largely staffed by Val Verde teachers and administrators, it was actually a boarding school. And even though it conferred a Val Verde diploma to graduates, Pegasus California School was really a private academy exclusively serving Chinese students in Qingdao, China, a city of more than 9 million bordering the Yellow Sea, some 6,300 miles from Val Verde. How it got there, and how it leveraged the resources and personnel of a middling public-school district for the benefit of private investors and wealthy families halfway across the globe, is the story of one businessman’s quest to monetize American public education with the help of California’s most powerful education official. [Source]


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