China’s Three-Child Policy, Opportunity or Threat to Online English Tutoring?
The new three-child policy issued by the Chinese government, with supporting measures, will have a big impact not only on Chinese families but also on China’s booming tutoring industry (including the online English language learning industry). If you are teaching English online to Chinese children, it means either a threat or an opportunity, depending on your teaching styles and ability to adapt.
The three-child policy
In May 2021, the Central Chinese Government announced a decision to allow couples to have up to three children, a major shift from its one-child policy from 1978 and two-child policy since 2016.
Chinese parents appear reluctant to embrace this population policy shift. Chinese social media has shown three reasons for their lukewarm responses:
- It is too costly to raise one child, not to mention three.
- There’s a lack of early child caring infrastructure to support young families.
- It is very hard for a mom to balance her family and her career.
Realising this policy alone wouldn’t automatically translate into a higher birth rate, the Chinese government has prepared further measures so parenting can be less painful, stressful and costly. (see blog The New Chinese Education Policies Every ESL Teacher Ought to Know)
Supporting measures to regulate the Chinese tutoring industry
To make parents’ lives easier, the government is considering prolonging mandatory maternity leave, putting in place paternity leave, and revising labour laws so the rights of working mothers are more protected.
The government also sees the urgent need to bring down the cost and stress of education for Chinese families in order for the policy to be effective.
High regard for education (see blog Chinese Education System Explained), paired with the right disposable income of middle-class families, has spurred a flourishing private tutoring industry.
Parents send their children one tutoring class after another, learning subjects such as arts, science, and languages. Often, children are asked to learn content ahead of their expected age. It is not uncommon for a pre-school child to learn a grade 1-3 curriculum so that he/she does not fall behind at the starting line. (不要输在起跑线上)
Since 2020, several measures have come out with the aim to reduce stress for children and their parents, in both public and private education sectors. (see blog The New Chinese Education Policies Every ESL Teacher Ought to Know)
In April 2021, the Ministry of Education gave guidance forbidding the introduction of the primary school curriculum into kindergartens.
In May 2021, the Beijing local government issued a notice to control how private tutoring companies can advertise their educational products. Any promotional message which adds anxiety or has misleading information will be banned. In short, companies are banned from selling anxiety and stress.
In June 2021, the law on the protection of minors was revised. One of the changes is to forbid educational institutions (public and private) to impose a primary school curriculum on pre-school children. The Ministry of Education announced in the same month that schools can no longer rank students’ academic results.
These latest measures and regulations are to reduce the burden of education on average children (of all ages) and their parents. So, what do they mean for the tutoring industry? More important, you might ask ‘if I teach Chinese students English online, what do these policy changes mean to teachers like me?’
Short-term impacts of Chinese education and population policies
- The major online English teaching platforms will have to reduce significantly their marketing efforts. The burgeoning tutoring industry is nicknamed ‘money burning ground’ as most platforms spend an average 60% to 85% of their revenue to compete for students. The new measures put very strict restrictions on how companies can market their products. Either they lose students, or they spend the money on improving their learning products. My verdict on how this will impact online English teachers is ‘neutral’.
- If you are ‘stuffing’ school curriculum to pre-school children in advance without adding much educational value, this is probably a threat to you. Not only is this approach discouraged/forbidden by the Ministry of Education, but also it can be seen as unnecessary when a family cuts its education investment budge per child as they have more children. Actually, many such tutoring companies are laying off their staff in anticipation of a sharp decline in what they offer and what they are not allowed to offer in the future.
- There are, however, opportunities with new skills to learn and teach. Growing up as a single child is completely different from growing up among siblings. Children need to learn peer-to-peer support and communication if they are expected to live with siblings. Social skills are becoming more important and valuable than before. Any company or teacher with understanding and experience in fostering soft skills (such as collaboration, communication, active listening, negotiation) shall find themselves facing a new and unmet market opportunity.
Long-term impacts of Chinese education and population policies
- If the three-child policy fails to be effective, it means a declining population for society in the future. I see this as a neutral signal for educators:
- For teachers, it suggests fewer students to teach. Yes, it will be a threat. But as the world’s most populous country, China still has a vast absolute number of people so online English tutors might not feel its impact too strongly.
- On the other hand, this might also cause a change in China’s mainstream education approach. With rising living standards and less labour coming through the pipeline, the government might make further strategic decisions to move towards a knowledge-based economy. This means transforming its current cookie-cutter method into a more personalised method to encourage divergence in skills and talents. That can be an opportunity for good teachers.
- There are also opportunities in changing ways of teaching and learning for teachers who know how to do so with their Chinese students online. The Ministry of Education continuously pushes incorporating a well-rounded education in the curriculum and assessment system. In their recent notice to kindergartens and primary schools, they call for pedagogies that are explorative and experiential. This not only brings a new way to teach students but also a possibility to train other teachers who need to familiarize themselves with more engaging, innovative, and meaningful ways to teach.
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