China’s Regulations on the After-School Tutoring Sector – Should ESL Teachers be Worried?
Recently the Chinese government has issued policies to regulate its after-school private tutoring sector. In June 2021, China’s Ministry of Education created a new department to oversee the private tutoring market and bring regulatory oversight to private teachers and curricula. If you are teaching English to Chinese children, should you be worried? This blog is an analysis of what some official policies exactly say, what is the context of these policies, and how and why they impact ESL teachers’ careers.
- Tutoring has become a huge profit-seeking business in China. Due to its tradition to value education, combined with increasing disposable income of rising middle-class families, Chinese society has seen an exponential growth of its private tutoring sector. This adds a burden to families financially and stresses to children physically and psychologically.
- China launched its new three-child policy in 2021 in order to encourage the birth rate. This policy is supported by measures to reduce the cost of raising a child for average Chinese families including their tutoring costs.
- China is also increasing the role of skill-based vocational training which has historically been undervalued. Conventionally parents prefer an academic path for their children. As the country aims to move towards a knowledge economy, it is looking at some countries’ successful vocational training models (e.g., Germany’s dual system) to make practical skill-based education more attractive.
It is in this context that some new regulations, as well as the new regulatory body for the private tutoring sector, have been formed. The purpose is to make private tutoring part of a healthy education system, restoring its role in providing students with personalised choices, not to shut down the whole tutoring industry indiscriminately.
Different tutoring products
It is important to understand the different after-school tutoring products, as the new regulations aim to clamp down certain types of tutoring services instead of discouraging all of them.
- Tutoring as childcare: Many parents are both working so they don’t have the time to pick up children after school. They use (in-person) tutoring classes as childcare services. In this case, the tutoring class provides a safe place for a child to snack and play. If he/she can learn a little, that is a bonus. The government is trying to have public schools fulfill this role, therefore these services from the private sector will likely decline.
- Tutoring as exam-factory: In the past decade, there has been a trend for children to learn curriculum ahead of what is normally expected. There are tutoring companies to prepare year-1 children for the year-3 curriculum or offer kindergarten children with the primary school curriculum. Parents buy these classes due to peer pressure. This is the exact service the Chinese government is trying to regulate as it is entirely unnecessary and unnatural cramming.
- Tutoring for personalised learning: A student might get extra tutoring specific to his/her needs and I have not seen any official policy to ban this type of tutoring.
- Tutoring for whole-person education: A student might get extra tutoring unrelated to school subjects and I have not seen any official policy relating to sports, art, music or similar tutoring.
- Tutoring to prepare for overseas study: A student might get extra tutoring to prepare his/her pathway to study overseas, for example, IELTS or TOFEL tutoring. Again, I have not seen any official policy to ban this.
Therefore, I suggest that instead of saying ‘China bans after-school or private tutoring’, we should be more precise in reading and understanding some policies officially announced by the government.
What are facts and what are some simplified statements? What do the official policies say?
It is important to point out that the Central Government usually issues guidelines for general directions. As the country is vast with provinces far from each other, it is usually up to the local provincial government to come up with interpretative measures, loose or strict.
Simplified statements – China is banning weekend and holiday tutoring!
- In January 2020, Cheng Du Municipal Government issued ‘Measures to foster healthy private tutoring education’ 《促进民办教育健康规范发展若干措施》, forbidding group teaching and training of children to of school curriculum during public holidays. This policy targets tutoring as exam-factory.
- In June 2021, the Ministry of Education issued a ‘Note to expand some regions’ compulsory education offering’ 《关于推广部分地区义务教育课后服务油管创新举措和典型经验的通知》, selecting 23 public education institutions in several provinces and cities to offer after-school activities until at least half an hour later than average working parents’ working hours. This policy is experimenting in engaging the public sector instead of the private sector to offer tutoring as childcare. (It is not stated how much teachers shall be paid for this extra work)
Simplified statements – China is banning tutoring for preschool children!
- In June 2021, a revised ‘Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Minors’《中华人民共和国未成年人保护法》 states that it is illegal to teach primary school curriculum to kindergarten children. Staff at the Ministry of Education during the press conference said that they make it a priority to stop such situations (this has become popular in recent years).
Simplified statements – China is banning the marketing of tutoring companies!
- In May 2021, Beijing Haidian District issued a ‘Note for educational training industry’s advertisement content’《教育培训行业广告发布重点内容提示书》. According to the note, companies can’t use words such as ‘celebrity teacher’, ‘celebrity school’, ‘enrolment rate’ and can’t use any teacher’s image in their advertisement.
- In June 2021, the State Administration for Market Regulation issued penalties to 13 private tutoring companies such as Wall Street English, DaDa ABC for untrue content and untrue pricing in their advertisements.
Simplified statements – China is banning after-school tutoring!
- In April 2021, the Ministry of Education published a ‘Note to better manage K-12 students’ sleeping time’ 《关于进一步加强中小学生睡眠管理工作的通知》requiring after-school in-person tutoring to be no later than 8:30 pm and online live streaming tutoring to be no later than 9 pm.
- Some regions have their own interpretation, for example, In May 2021, Zhejiang Hangzhou City held an internal meeting to restrict the after-school tutoring/training to between 8:30 am to 8:30 pm.
Should ESL teachers be worried?
- If your tutoring is mainly providing a child-minding value, you might be worried as the government is trying to use public schools to fulfil this function.
- If your tutoring is about cramming school curriculum to children so that they can learn school subjects ahead of what they are expected to do, you have reasons to be worried as this is seen as unhealthy and unnecessary.
- If your in-person class is scheduled for later than 8:30 pm, or your online class is scheduled for later than 9 pm, you might want to change your class schedule to avoid any trouble.
- Otherwise, I do not see a reason for immediate panic facing the new regulations. The best strategy can be just to carry on what you are doing and at the same time keep a very close eye on the ongoing development of the sector.
The Chinese government has shown a track record of using a cookie-cutter approach rather than customised policy solutions. Therefore, it is possible for some of the policy enforcement in some regions to treat various situations indiscriminately. That is a risk all the tutors/tutoring companies might face. It is my hope that in long term, the private tutoring sector will restore to a healthier position and good quality tutors and companies will establish premium brands and improve the overall quality and reputation of the industry.
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