Beijing intensifies oversight on after-school tutoring in nationwide campaign
Photo: EPA-EFE
From workshops with merely several teachers to public companies boasting tens of billions of yuan in market value – a large variety of companies constitute what’s hailed as “after-school tutoring center of the universe” in Beijing’s Haidian district, where many top universities of the country are located.

Over the years, China’s swelling middle class more than willing to splash on children’s education has inflated the country’s after-school tutoring industry, although in 2018, educational authorities decided to ‘bring down the fever’, in a bid to relieve heavy academic burdens on primary and middle school students.

Around 70 percent of primary and middle school students in the city were attending after-school teaching institutions, an official with the Beijing Municipal Education Commission was quoted by the Chinese media as saying in August.

Haidian Huangzhuang, an area home to many prestigious institutions and high-ranking middle schools, is locally dubbed as the “tutoring center of the universe”, with throngs of parents escorting their kids to and fro for taking private lessons in test subjects like Mathematics, English, Chinese, and Physics.

Liang Hong (alias) and her kid spent three afternoons every week in the E-wing Center, an office building in Huangzhuang that leases a large part of its offices to companies in the booming industry.

The mother would always accompany her child in the ground floor café to do homework while waiting for classes upstairs to begin. Liang’s family owns five real estate properties in Beijing and they spend 100,000 yuan annually on the after-school classes.

Paying for private lessons has become common practice for middle-class parents in China like Liang. There is a bigger chance for a well-off family with high social status to buy their children more tutoring service, according to a survey of primary students in Haidian, which was conducted in 2014 by Chen Binli, a public policy lecturer of the Beijing Normal University (BNU).

However, Beijing has begun to clamp down on the companies that are not up to standards this year, as part of a broader campaign nationwide.

“I’m thinking about finding another job,” 33-year-old Yu Hua told the 21st Century Business Herald. He was formerly hired by a prestigious after-school teaching institution as a composition teacher, with an annual salary of 400,000 yuan.

After accumulating several years of experience and industry resources, Yu quit his job and set up his own workshop. He had planned to make his startup a successful business and then sell it to a bigger company although the unexpected crackdown totally blew up the project because the workshop was found to be unqualified based on certain criterion.

At a Ministry of Education briefing on December 13, Feng Hongrong, deputy inspector of the Beijing Education Commission, said that among the 12,681 tutoring centers covered, more than half were found to be ineligible—they either didn’t get business licenses or did not have required teaching certificates with their teachers.

The South China Morning Post earlier reported the tougher government oversight on the booming industry would work to force out smaller players with large players gobbling up their rivals’ market share, citing research by Jefferies.

Roughly 13 percent – about $6.66 billion – of China’s estimated $52 billion K-12 tutoring market share will be up for grabs, said the report by Jefferies.

Big players like TAL Education Group, the world’s largest private education company, and New Oriental Education and Tech Group are most likely to benefit from authorities’ push to improve compliance, according to the report.

Besides the crackdown on smaller institutions, authorities also take action to further regulate the industry as a whole in a bid to reduce academic load of school kids, which has long been criticized for impairing young students’ physical and psychological well-being.

Sino-US earlier reported that the State Council, China’s cabinet, issued a guideline in August, according to which all after-school tutoring centers are not allowed to offer courses “for the purpose of passing an exam, ahead of or beyond public schools’ teaching syllabus”.

“Most kids have finished learning public school’s content of courses at after-school centers, so teachers in the public system tend to force their pace and skip some learning content. We have no other choice but to enlist our children in the after-school classes like all the others,” Liang explained.

The mother once asked for advice from a friend whose child could always gain high marks. “She told me although her child was in grade three, he had gotten into fourth grade’s after-school courses for elite students,” Liang said.

Feng Hongrong admitted it’s especially challenging to have an oversight on courses beyond regulated teaching syllabus. “Some institutions would adopt two sets of courses, one for filing with the authorities and one for actual teaching. While enrolling students, they may also cheat by recruiting lower-grade kids for higher-grade classes.”

Although China has reportedly announced what’s billed as the sternest measures to regulate the after-school tutoring sector, many observers doubt the ramped-up oversight will help alleviate the burdens of the students, if exam remains the main appraisal method in the country.

Liang confessed she only wanted for her child to broaden the mind with the classes, while now she’s becoming more and more anxious. What concerns us is not whether or not we should buy them, but if we could squeeze into those wildly popular ones, she told the 21st Century Business Herald.

The article is based on report by 21st Century Business Herald and some other media sources.


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