Chinese students with books
Photo Credit: VCG

“We Have Students Falling Asleep in Class”: Life After China’s Private Tutoring Ban

Students, parents, and tutors discuss life after China's crackdown on after school tutoring and what’s really wrong with the education system

On July 24, the general offices of the Communist Party of China's Central Committee and the State Council published a guideline to reduce the academic burden on students and equalize access to educational resources. The so-called “double reduction” policy has swept across the country over the last two months, calling for a reduction in the homework load of younger elementary school students, a ban on education companies going public on the stock market, and a prohibition on academic tutoring on weekends and national holidays at the compulsory education level (Grades 1 to 9), among other measures.

The policy has severely hit the private education sectors, resulting in shutdowns of many after-school tutoring centers and online courses. According to the 21st Century Business Herald, stocks in Chinese education companies halved in value since the policy was enacted in July. The big Chinese education firms such as the New Oriental, TAL Education Group, and VIPKID have turned to offering arts, vocational, and family education, while many of the estimated 10 million employees of the private education sector face redundancy—Beijing-based company Gaotu Class alone reportedly laid off tens of thousands of employees the week after the policy was announced.

How has the “double reduction” policy affected the students, parents, tutors, and entrepreneurs who've invested years of their life in after-school tutoring? Will it bring any tangible change to China's pressure-fueled academic grind? TWOC invites five people to share their thoughts on life after the tutoring crackdown.

it's unclear what will happen to students' education after China's tutoring crackdown

A young Beijing student attends an online class (VCG)

Zhang Youjing, 9, Beijing

Elementary school student

I am now in the third grade. Apart from school courses, I also study English, drums, and basketball in my spare time. I study English online through this platform called Dingding five times a week, 50 minutes each time. At the beginning, I was unwilling to take the online English lectures because I thought my grades were good enough. My mom didn’t agree. She is also my English teacher at school, so she wants me to be better at English. Later, I started to find the lectures very interesting, and my English got better.

I think I’m okay with taking extracurricular lessons, but if I have to do three or four different classes at the same time, I am unhappy. I don’t like the idea that parents force their children to participate in some extracurricular activities. I think kids should have a choice. If they want to broaden their thinking, they can choose to have one or two extra classes. However, if they are not doing well in school, and they already feel lots of pressure, extra work will just make them hate studying. In general, I think the government policy is necessary for children who are forced into these lessons.

Jay Wolfpack, 35, Thailand

Recently laid-off ESL teacher

I've worked for a few different companies online, the latest being Gogo Kid until the recent regulation change in which they cancelled all of my classes. I've been teaching for eight years. I’ve taught over 3,000 classes and had over 2,000 five-star reviews from parents.

I enjoyed the classes and I really love working with kids. We taught one-on-one lessons and the curriculum was custom-made. There were fun stories with characters, like cartoons, and practicing everyday conversational English. It was really fun to watch the children progress from not being able to read, or not being able to create full sentences, to eventually having conversations with you. And they'll show us on their phones, like, a swimming contest or music that they did. It’s fun to share their lives with them and get a chance to watch their English really evolve.

Then one day we woke up in the morning and an hour later, all of our classes just disappeared. Hundreds of classes off of our schedule, and it was only after another hour or two that they even bothered to email us and say “Hey, by the way, we're done, the company's done.” It’s dramatically affected my income. Luckily, I've had money saved so I'll be able to feed my kids. I'm lucky that I have these other little jobs to support myself, but there are other teachers that did not. They were teaching full time, single moms supporting their families just off of this job. And it just got taken out from under them with no warning.

I understand the intention of wanting the students to have more free time after school. I think that's great. I really do feel sympathy for some of my students that get home from school at 6 p.m. and go immediately into lessons. It'll be my lesson, then piano, then math tutoring, Chinese tutoring, then everything else. We have students falling asleep in class sometimes, and some parents are shaking them, saying, “Wake up! Wake up! Come on, keep going! Keep going!” And I feel bad. I love these kids and I want the best for them. But I think the way they're going about it [with the policy], it is not necessarily going to help. Yes, they took away the classes, but the pressure is still there. All the parents are still just as worried about their kids getting into university, and they will find ways to give them lessons if they think that that's what they need in order to succeed in life.

Many tutors are unsure and confused after China's tutoring crackdown

A tutor teaches a student at a Guangdong tutoring center (VCG)

Shen Xin, 25, Jiangsu province

English tutor in a private tutoring company

My message box kept popping up on that day while I was lecturing online. It was from my friend: “The ‘double reduction’ policy comes out today! Are you all right?” Luckily, I am a tutor for senior high school students, so I'm excluded from the policy. Still, I wondered, “How long until the next crackdown that targets me?”

Students come to me mainly to improve their scores in the gaokao, China’s national college entrance examination. I’m usually surrounded by good news after the exam, where 80 to 90 percent of my students see their best performances in the whole of their senior high career. Sometimes, I also get knocks on the door. I had a graduating senior who often consulted me online at 11 p.m.

The “double reduction” policy puts the tutoring industry in the spotlight. Banning tutoring during weekends and vacations leaves tutors with almost no backup career plan and puts extra burden on public school teachers, who have to teach for extended hours after school. Imagine, if a student was not enrolled in a good-quality school and was also banned from getting tutoring: What are his or her options? I also feel pretty confused when seeing some comments on Chinese social media labeling the tutoring industry as “heinous.”

I have no idea about my future plan. A career shift? Professionally, I’m good at nothing but English teaching. It sucks! Teaching for public schools may be an ideal option, and it's also what my parents hope for me, but won't it become more competitive after the new policy? My previous colleague at the tutoring company spent six months or so hunting for a public school teaching position, but failed. One thing is for sure: I won’t resign from the tutoring industry, even if it seems unstable, until I have a new job lined up.

Parents are unsure what to do after China's tutoring crackdown

Chinese wait for their kids at Beijing No.1 Middle School after their first day of school (VCG)

Li Yiwen, 44, Beijing

Mother of a junior high school student

Without tutoring, [my daughter] Mingming could hardly pass school exams. She has a kaleidoscope of school activities yet no detailed instruction in class. If not tutoring, what else can keep her from falling behind her peers?

This summer vacation, I hired a one-on-one tutor to lecture her on physics [in our home]. This is not much at all, compared with our neighbors who hire tutors in five subjects on average. Mingming’s spoken English will also be tested this December as part of the 2022 high school entrance exam, so English tutoring is also a must. In China, raising a child means you’ll never be able to save money.

I prefer one-on-one tutoring. It’s more targeted. I don’t fully trust profit-driven tutoring firms—they may not be very professional. I have a colleague who managed to become an English teacher for a tutoring company just after a few years of working in Africa.

With the so-called “double reduction” policy taking effect, one-on-one tutoring has not yet been regulated and is likely to become more expensive. Also, this policy can’t completely relieve our kids of burdens: It just banned tutoring in the core-curriculum subjects during weekends and vacation time; how about weekdays?

I believe strongly in the importance of curricular learning, yet we seem to be wholly stuck in an educational involution. Doesn’t cultivating children into individuals with independent thinking and moral values matter more? For Mingming, apart from tutoring, she has been learning Chinese calligraphy since the third grade and she’s also recently gotten interested in Chinese painting. It’s her hobby, so there's no stress at all. I feel proud of her artistic masterpieces. Sometimes when you have no expectations, you get unexpected windfalls.

Feifei, 28, Anhui province

Founder of a tutoring startup

I was overwhelmed by mixed relief and sorrow when the “double reduction” policy was announced. I knew it would come, but didn't expect it to be so fast.

Before I founded my startup, I worked for a tutoring company, but disagreed with its profits-driven priorities and fixed lecturing models. I started my own company to offer students quality tutoring at a reasonable price. But the pressure of getting enrolled in public schools, coupled with parents’ inner anxiety, does shock me. This year, a score of 78 out of 100 on average is the benchmark for high school enrollment in Hefei, the capital city of Anhui province. Most of this is achieved by tutoring. The frequently-asked questions from parents are, “How large is your class?” and “How long is your tutoring session?” They hope we can tutor them for as long as possible. Once a parent even told me, “Our hope lies not in schools, but tutoring.”

Online tutoring will become the routine for the upcoming semester to accommodate students' needs on weekdays in a more flexible fashion. Only 50-odd students half of the summer class, have made preliminary registrations, but high standards will be kept as usual, not disappointing their expectations and my ideals.

Names have been changed in the story to protect the identity of interviewees.


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