Desperate Chinese Parents Are Looking For Best Educational Options For Kids Amid Beijing’s Crackdown On Tutoring

by Bhaswati Guha Majumder - Nov 23, 2021 06:49 PM +05:30 IST
Desperate Chinese Parents Are Looking For Best Educational Options For Kids Amid Beijing’s Crackdown On TutoringChinese School (unsplash)
  • Despite Beijing's crackdown on tutoring, Chinese parents still want the best educational options for their children.

    Beijing has prohibited local businesses from hiring tutors from other countries, increasing demand for the country's limited number of foreign professors, increasing the cost of lessons taught by foreigners like debate sessions.

Earlier this year, reports revealed that China has outlawed for-profit tuition in core subjects and tutoring on weekends and holidays, as well as all online tutoring of children—an effort to reduce inequality and alleviate a major source of stress for both children and their parents.

The Chinese government thought that by lowering the role of tutoring outside of school—for which parents pay hundreds or thousands of dollars each month—couples will feel more comfortable having a child or another child.

In July 2021, three large Chinese education companies lost billions of dollars within hours, after investors sold off shares following the leak of the new Chinese education policy. However, despite Beijing's crackdown on tutoring, parents still want the best educational options for their children, revealed a recent report from Financial Times.

It was reported earlier that tutoring businesses would have to register as non-profits and will be unable to raise funds or receive investment from foreign firms. Even foreign tutors and curriculum will be prohibited as well, claimed a Bloomberg report.

Yu Yali, a Shanghai-based career consultant and mother, recently told FT: “The sudden change brought anxiety to parents, accustomed to arranging lots of extracurricular activities because of the competitive schooling system.”

But parents have been looking for new ways to give their children an advantage in the competitive university entrance exams since the changes in policy. One of these parents is a Shanghai-based entrepreneur, Colin, who wants to give his 14-year-old son a chance to attend a top-tier Ivy League university in the United States.

Ekaterina Kologrivaya, the co-founder of Edtech Expand, a Beijing-based consulting firm, explained the present situation while stating that parents now prefer non-core curriculum courses like art, which are taught in English, rather than signing up for foreign language classes, which are prohibited by the legislation.

To save money, many large tutoring organisations have shuttered their physical classrooms and moved their services online. However, Beijing has prohibited local businesses from hiring tutors from other countries, increasing demand for the country's limited number of foreign professors who are unable to enter due to rigorous border controls.

This has increased the cost of lessons taught by foreigners, such as debate sessions, which are another ingenious way for students to learn valuable English skills while adhering to the new restrictions.

For example, parents at Colin's son's debate school spend over $2,000 for one semester of weekend debate sessions. Colin said: “The price increased by 50 per cent from last year. Even for me, the price was surprising, and I’m wealthier than most. Luckily, I can afford it.”

Meanwhile, tutoring firms and cram schools have either closed or undergone a drastic makeover.

Beijing’s New Oriental Education & Technology Group Inc., a New York-listed company that had over 5 million children registered in after-school programmes before the restrictions took effect, is discovering new revenue streams. These include "new concept camping" vacation courses in which children remain on university campuses during the day and attend classes.

One foreign investor with a consumer-focused investment firm situated in Shanghai said: “Chinese parents still want the best education for their children. The market will find a way around restrictions when there is strong demand and willing supply for a certain product or service.”

But there are some parents who support the Xi Jinping government’s plan to reduce the burden on students. For example, Yu from Shanghai said: “Children, like my five-year-old son, have less homework and tests so have time to cultivate hobbies and become independent.”

On the other hand, other concerned parents are turning to the expanding underground market for ex-tutors posing as "high-end housekeepers" to get their children personalised learning.

For example, according to the FT report, parents are posting ads on two local employment websites, Zhipin and Liepin, searching for domestic employees with bachelor's degrees and foreign language abilities to help "look after their children", without any housework skills requirement.

One such post on Zhipin states: “A family with two children, aged six and 13, looking for a nanny that has graduated from a famous university, who is not too old but also has experience working as a live-in tutor. Monthly salary RMB24,000-25,000 ($3,758 to $3,915).”

However, such efforts by the Chinese parents could lead them to a troubled scenario as the Education Ministry has promised to prosecute families that break the laws. The Ministry also encouraged residents to report neighbours who are spotted allowing tutors into their homes.

As the tutoring business emerges from Beijing's ban with watered-down curriculums and lower cash flow estimates, now wealthy Chinese parents fear that private schools will be the next target of the government's "common prosperity" campaign—a vision promoted by the Chinese President who earlier stated that it is not only about the economic issues, rather “it’s a major political matter bearing on the party’s foundation for rule”.

However, the Chinese government halted awarding licences for new private schools for the compulsory years of schooling in May 2021. Since then, some provincial governments have taken steps to bring multilingual private schools, which follow foreign curricula but cater to local kids, closer to the heavily regulated public school system.

The report noted that Chinese authorities are beginning to exert pressure on private schools, especially in Shanghai, where they have been obliged to teach Chinese literature, politics, history and geography using the same textbooks as public schools.

While citing uncertainty over the direction of local private school laws as a contributing factor, Colin says that Chinese applications to the boarding schools in the United States and the United Kingdom are now increasing.

Emma Vanbergen, who is the co-founder and president of BE Education, an educational consultancy that advises Chinese families on foreign studies, also echoed the same comment from Colin and said interest in boarding schools in the United Kingdom is building up again.

However, Colin claims to have given a tonne of money to a high school in the United States as a backup plan in case his son decides to leave the Chinese system before starting university.

“But who knows when we would be able to see him if he goes? The regulations make it very difficult to plan for our child’s future,” he added.

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