Chinese parents and teachers scramble after government crackdown on guardians

Two years ago, Bi, the mother of an outdoor-loving kindergarten in Beijing, enrolled her son in English classes three times a week to provide him with what she described as “a immersion environment ”to learn the language.

But now, as the Chinese government bans all private tutoring related to school studies after school and during weekends and holidays, Bi, a middle school teacher who does not speak English, has had to stop private tutoring. his son.

This is particularly troubling for Bi because learning English is compulsory in Chinese schools, and it is one of the four main subjects of the National University Entrance Examination, or Gaokao, that his son will pass at 18 years old. For most students in China, the exam is the sole determinant of their admission to top universities in major cities, which often guarantee better jobs with higher salaries throughout their careers. In the worst case, he could not be admitted to any university.

“What if he won’t be able to keep up with his comrades,” asked Bi, who asked not to be identified by her full name for fear of losing her job for speaking to a foreign media. “The school only offers two 30-minute English lessons per week to first and second year students without having to do it at home. We have to do something before he goes to college.

Following the Chinese government’s crackdown on tutoring programs to ease stress on students, reduce education costs for families and ensure equal access to education, Chinese regulators announced in June that they would shut down the after-school tutoring sector K-12. It’s a blow to a company that made $ 123 billion in 2019, according to a 2020 report by consulting firm Oliver Wyman.

On July 24, the State Council, the highest executive body of state power, officially banned all tutoring programs from teaching school curricula such as English, Math and Chinese, with some exceptions. Private tutors, who are often licensed teachers in public schools trying to earn extra money, are also prohibited from teaching outside their campuses.

But that doesn’t stop parents from seeking help for their children. Some parents turn to more expensive private guardians, whether or not they get permission from the government. Bi said parents around him secretly employ private tutors or public school teachers to teach at home, although they usually charge more than tutoring companies.

“That’s why I’m hesitant,” Bi said. “Private tutors charge us 2.5 times more than the institution. decision [of hiring tutors] varies widely from family to family and how much we want to spend on raising a child.

The Ministry of Education could not be reached for comment.

“The burden of excessive tutoring and the rising costs of hiring tutors will effectively be reduced within a year,” Yanpin Hu, inspector at the oversight office of the Chinese Ministry of Education, told a conference. release in August. “It will be drastically reduced in three years.

Educational pressures

Driven by the Chinese university entrance exam, which can only be taken once a year, the country’s education system is forcing students and their parents to support this grueling, test-driven system for a long time. part of their children’s young lives. For those in rural areas or low-income households, who typically only have one child, this exam can help their children move to big cities to study and ultimately land more lucrative jobs upon graduation.

“It’s ‘involution’,” Bi said, referring to a term commonly used on Chinese social media, which describes the highly competitive circumstances that persuade parents to do something because their peers are doing it.

“I wouldn’t dare allow my son to relax at home,” Bi said. “He’s happy right now. But he will blame us for not having taken him for tutoring when he grows up and fails the exam.

The world of hyper-competitive tutors is particularly concentrated in urban areas like Beijing and Shanghai, where there are more experienced teachers and financial support from the local government.

“Cities have the opportunity for parents to make choices,” said Fred Mednick, professor of education at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium. “It’s a matter of choice, which is linked to the question of fairness.

Secret teaching

Growing demand forces tutors to continue teaching despite the risk. Jennie Shi, a 24-year-old private tutor in Beijing, taught English at the elementary level for two years. But she was fired because the tutoring institution she worked for closed in June. She said she now runs an unlicensed private tutoring studio.

“Parents are begging me to keep teaching because they couldn’t find someone else who knows their children’s study habits,” said Shi, using her English name to avoid retaliation.

It charges $ 30 per hour compared to the hourly rate of $ 12 charged by establishments. But, she said, “parents never complain about the prices.”

Her tutoring business does not have the necessary operating permits issued by the local education administration, she said. To meet certain requirements, she must obtain a teaching license and have all of her tutoring materials follow the national curriculum standard. But she said she was not afraid of being reported.

“If my students’ neighbors saw us tutoring, they would just come to me and ask if their children can join us,” Shi said.

Not all tutors have had the chance to find a new job.

Tianyu Zhao, a 25-year-old college graduate who planned to join TAL Education as a Rubik’s cube tutor in June, said his job offer was revoked two days after the government crackdown. In China, many parents send their children for private lessons to improve their mental reflexes and help them stay focused and determined. Zhao said his department is waiting for an exemption because the new regulations claim that the cubing is irrelevant to the school curriculum.

TAL Education, New Oriental Education and Technology Group, and Gaotu Techedu are three of China’s leading education companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange. But they were prohibited from making a profit, raising capital or making public the teaching of the school curriculum from this summer.

Bigger goals

The crackdown on tutoring has forced families to take a step back and rethink how much they depend on tutoring. Mednick said there should be a top down, deep and introspective look at how Chinese children are being educated.

“It’s a wealth-driven education system where everything is going to be sacrificed for it,” Mednick said.

Bi, the schoolteacher, tries to make sure not to push her son too much and to stimulate his curiosity. With the exception of an English class, her son has a piano lesson every Sunday and spends Saturdays playing football and hiking with the family.

But other parents are finding other ways for their children to compete. Merry Ma said that she started her daughter in a weekly ruan lesson, which is a traditional Chinese instrument class. The 36-year-old mother wants her 7-year-old daughter to work for additional credits for her high school entrance exam, or Zhongkao, which will take place in eight years.

“We couldn’t guarantee that she would do well in Zhongkao or Gaokao,” Ma said, also using her English name. “With less tutoring, she needs to learn something else, as her peers are doing the same.”

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