Shanghai, China – China intensifies measures to curb the country’s growing private tutoring industry in an attempt to reduce academic pressure on students and help combat their worsening demographic crisis.
The industry has been under pressure since March this year, when President Xi Jinping called extracurricular enrollment a “social problem” and the Ministry of Education set out plans to ease the burden on children and adolescents. parents should not send their children to private tutoring and tell teachers to avoid doing homework for their students.
For many parents, the moves are a relief.
“We are glad to see that the government is finally starting to pay attention to this crazy tutoring scene,” said Wu Xiaomei, a father of two in Shanghai. “We enrolled many off-campus classes for our children, mostly under pressure to see other parents do the same.
“We don’t want our children to be left behind, but so much pressure not only for us but also for them, so hopefully these regulations will make it easier for us to at least economically increase them.”
Out-of-school classes began to become popular in the late 1990s, as more Chinese students sought to improve their English language skills to earn places at overseas universities; However, the industry has taken over in the last ten years amid intense competition for places in the best schools and universities and the perception among parents that what was taught during the typical school day was not enough to help. their children to reach their potential.
But rising costs and the greenhouse environment have also caused many young couples not to form a family.
The new measures, which are expected to be announced soon, will arrive shortly after China decides to allow each couple to have them. three children, compared to a previous limit of two amid concern in Beijing about the effect of a population aging about the economy.
The Ministry of Education set up an off-campus education and training oversight agency on June 15, which will oversee the tutoring industry, including teachers and curricula. Although there are few details about the plans, the new regulations are expected to be broad and include a ban on taking private lessons online and offline over the weekend, Reuters news agency reported. last week. These classes account for more than a third of private classes in China, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.
Hardening regulation has been a disaster for the country’s multimillion-dollar tutoring companies, after years of what many parents and even tutors themselves have called “morbidly wild growth”.
Shares of three major mentoring companies, New Oriental, Gaotu and TAL have crashed this year and several mentoring companies, both offline and online, have initiated massive layoffs.
Employees of various institutions confirmed to Al Jazeera that people had started losing their jobs.
It’s not uncommon to have to pay hundreds of yuan for just one private tutoring session, that’s almost a tenth of what I earn a month. How can I pay?
Zhao Jiang, father of Chengdu
The peak of the private tutoring season falls in the summer, when students typically use the three-month school vacation to prepare for another competitive term course, but a source from a leading tutoring company told Al Jazeera that more than 100,000 jobs could be at risk before then.
Companies that have recently promised new jobs to candidates have begun withdrawing their offers.
“I have already signed my lease and was ready to move to Shanghai for my new job, but suddenly I no longer have a job,” said Du Lei, a recent graduate of a university in Wuhan who planned to join. to Xueersi, a major private tutoring company. He was informed that his job offer had been withdrawn earlier this month.
“This is absolutely heartbreaking and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do now.”
Du is not alone; among more than half a dozen employees of various tutoring companies serving primary and secondary students, a number told Al Jazeera they were desperate. A search on Weibo, a social networking platform in China, showed thousands of posts in which employees of major tutoring institutes, both incoming and current, discussed impending unemployment.
The government said it wants to lighten the academic burden on children and adolescents and prevent exhaustion, but despite years of repeated efforts, the pressure has never eased.
There is a large gap in educational resources among the cities, suburban and rural areas of China, as well as between rich and poor people.
Shanghai, for example, offers some of the best schools in China with a set of options for students and a higher proportion going on to top-tier universities. Its schools regularly top the world ranking (known as the International Student Assessment Program (PISA)), which tracks the performance of 15-year-olds in math, science and reading.
However, in places like Guizhou, a less prosperous province in southwest China, where most people reside in rural areas, well-qualified teachers are rare and lack basic infrastructure. Many children even have to travel miles a day just to get to school.
From modest beginnings, mentoring firms have garnered growing financial support, often from deep-pocketed venture capitalists, who hold mass recruitment actions for teachers and advertise their products on multiple platforms.
But parents said that as the industry has grown, the cost of tutoring has risen to “unreasonable” levels and only the wealthiest, who were already likely to have gotten their children a place in the best schools, they are now able to do that. allow private tutoring, further widening the gap between those at the top of society and those at the bottom.
“I thought about sending my son to a math tutorial because he’s not very good at it,” said Zhao Jiang, a father in Chengdu, the capital of southwestern Sichuan Province. “But it’s not uncommon to have to pay hundreds of yuan for just a private tutoring session, that’s almost a tenth of what I earn a month. How can I pay? “
Despite the intended goal of making education more affordable for the public, many are skeptical about the effectiveness of the new measures, and some worry that the reforms could further aggravate inequality.
“After the explosive regulations, it is likely that only the most prominent companies can get the necessary permission from the government to continue operations,” a professional who has worked for many years in the industry, asking for anonymity, told Al Jazeera. “And the price they offer won’t necessarily be the nicest for the less wealthy family, which can consolidate the class disparity.”
Without further addressing the root causes of the increasing academic pressure among students and the declining willingness of China’s younger generation to have children, some policy experts say tutoring regulations will only be a help to to the provision of education and the demographic crisis.
“I don’t think the problem depends solely on the tutoring industry,” said Han Dongyan, a Beijing-based education policy researcher.
“Academic pressure will remain no matter how rigid the regulation towards tutoring is simply because without a structural change in the inequality of quality of education, education will almost always be an industry and people will not necessarily feel that parenting of children would be cheaper or easier. ”