China clamps down on private tutoring

Just as parents in China were gearing up to send their children to expensive summer education programmes, new rules released on July 30 have banned for-profit private tutoring and introduced further restrictions.

The new regulations are going to put additional scrutiny on the country’s tutoring business reportedly worth $120 billion, with an eye on improving affordability and quality of life.

All institutions offering tutoring have to be registered and no new licences will be granted. After-school tutoring aimed at passing the gaokao, the notoriously tough university entrance exam, is banned over weekends, public holidays and school vacations. All tutoring and education services firms are banned from raising money. Foreign curricula and hiring foreigners to teach remotely are banned as well.

The regulations have come in to relieve some of the financial pressure and stress that have become entwined into the examination processes and education systems in China. More than 75% of students from 6 to 18 years old attended after-school tutoring classes in 2016, according to the most recent figures from the Chinese Society of Education.

Private tutoring not a Chinese phenomenon. It is very common in countries such as Egypt and India. A 2019 Egyptian national survey showed that 36% of primary, 53% of lower secondary, and 84% of upper secondary students were receiving tutoring. In India’s West Bengal State, 70% of rural students in Grades 1-5 and 77% of rural students in Grades 6-8 sampled by Pratham in 2019 were receiving tutoring as well.

As a recent blog on this site by Mark Bray showed, a 2020 report for the European Commission had found that “shadow education is increasingly visible, including in Scandinavian countries where it had previously been negligible. England and Wales, for example, had little tradition of private supplementary tutoring in the past, but a 2019 survey of students aged 11-16 found that 27% had received private tutoring at some point, rising to 41% in London.

Private tutoring puts a lot of pressure on household financing. According to Bloomberg, at the high end, the going price for one-on-one tutoring in China is already $200 an hour, and it may go up after these measures. While the government offers a public summer-day-care programme, most parents shun that and opt for private alternatives.

The fact that it is a money-making business is no secret. It was laid bare in the impact these bans have had on the stock prices of Hong Kong and New York private education companies, with some plummeting by up to 40% as reported. For many companies, which have built their business on teaching in English, or providing access to western teachers online, these regulations will have sharp implications.

A major concern is that many teachers are giving private tutorials after hours to the same children they teach in the day. They may do that to supplement meagre salaries. But this practice widens the gap between poor and rich students and puts into question the quality of education provided in schools. Codes of conduct may exist but these are rarely followed through.

As the 2017/8 GEM Report reported, government regulation of formal and informal tutoring ranges from ignoring it (Canada, Nigeria) to failed attempts at banning it. Other government means of holding tutoring agencies to account typically include arming consumers with information, partnering with schools and working with teacher unions to develop standards and disseminate information to members. Officially regulating the growing sector of online tutoring is difficult, making the recent move by China a bold one.

Tutoring is one of several examples of non-state engagement in education getting out of control, with regulations unable to keep up with the fast expansion in activity, and severe knock-on effects on both quality and equity in education. The subject therefore receives a lot of attention in the forthcoming 2021/2 GEM Report on non-state actors in education. We look forward to sharing the findings with you soon.



  1. Private tutoring has become a huge problem in Nigeria. Almost every teacher use it as an avenue to make extra money. Although it is not completely their fault, I share the blame between the Nigerian government (with no solid education policies on ground), the parents and school leadership who see it as “ok” for children to be privately tutored by the same or another teacher in order to “pass” their examinations. We fail to understand that the children are placed under a lot of pressure to pass their examinations. And some parents are not making it any easier for these children. These parents go as far as threatening to withdraw some privileges if these examinations are not passed gloriously because lot of money has been paid to the school and private teachers to make sure success is achieved. This clearly supports the teachers to demand for after school private tutoring even when they are in a position to teach the children as duty demands. They prefer to push their responsibilities to after school where they can get paid for doing what they should have done in the morning at school.
    Secondly, the school leadership puts the teachers under situational pressure because no student should fail any internal or external examinations. No school wants to appear unsuccessful as this will tag the school as “low” achievers! Every school strives to succeed even at the expense of the children’s emotional well-being not fully cared for. All that matters to them is to brag about their trophies and medals being displayed either as objects or in human form. Some boast “Our school has high successful results in our examinations!” How pitiful!!!!
    I am a teacher and a parent. I will be unfair to my daughter who just got back from school at 4pm, tired and exhausted from all the activities she had to go through at school. Who probably had a bad day with friends and teacher, only for her to come home and meet another teacher waiting for another round of school! What a life of horror?!!
    I honestly think that after school private tutoring should be banned in Nigeria.

  2. Private tutoring is one of remedial approaches to correcting a child’s learning deficiencies which usually takes place outside the school premises. The classroom is a place where different kinds of pupils having different level of exposures, upbringing, mental acuity and intellectual capabilities converge to be taught which however justify that a classroom is made up of two categories of student; fast learner and slow learner. The importance of private tutoring cannot be undermined as a veritable tool in responding to some personal, financial and economic challenges of an individual and a nation as a whole. In a country like Nigeria where close to 90 million Nigerians live in poverty (NBS, 2020), private tutoring has served as a source of income to many unemployed youths who would rather be paid stipend as a private tutor than to steal. An average Nigerian teacher receives 20dollars (ten thousand naira only) as a salary which is too small for personal survival let alone family upkeep and of such needs additional means of income. Private tutoring also serves as a mental-leveller between fast learner and slow learner. The mental acuity of a child differs from the other. Some could learn in a noisy classroom while some cannot. Some pupils could understand a concept just at a glance while some could take months to understand. Some could learn without any additional effort of a teacher while some could learn by extra efforts of a teacher and to such, private tutoring could be a solution. A slow learner is however subjected to private tutoring if the parents wouldn’t want to waste school fees and at the same record child’s academic progress. In addition to this, private tutoring makes a child mentally busy and academically dutiful at home. It is believed that “an idle hand is the devil’s workshop’’. The prevalent socio-economic crimes in Nigeria among the youths could be traced to laxity of hands at home. Rather than being busy watching immoral movies of corrupting practices, a child could be busied with private tutoring so as to keep his/her mind safe and also instill studying culture in the home. Remember, charity begins at home.
    The potential implications of the new regulations of shadow education in China could be viewed from two-dimensional angle. One, it could lead to increase in illiteracy ratio as no nation can outgrow its level of education. The illiteracy level of china is close to 6% as at 2020 which if adequate measures are not put in place may increase gradually. There is no bad without a good side. A pupil who understand a concept when spent much time with may lose interest in school where there’s little or no attention for his deficiencies. Hence, private tutoring is the answer. Two, it may lower some teachers financial capacity since it is an additional stream of income and this will definitely lead to poverty ratio increment if shadow education is stopped.
    In my own point of view, it is necessary that educational authorities regulate shadow education. Using Nigeria as an example, most private tutors are not professional/ licensed teachers which has made Nigerian teaching profession to be bastardized in terms of poor methods of teaching, involvement of teachers in examination malpractices and pervasive sexual abuse of pupils/students by private tutors. In the case of china, it is germane to regulate shadow education so that the image of its teaching profession can be preserved, respected and valued. Also, it is incumbent upon educational authorities to regulate shadow education so that teachers would put in their best in ensuring every concept in a subject is well taught and understood by pupils without any need for private tutorials. By doing this, the quality of the nation’s education would be highly, positively and jealously maintained. Lastly, as an educational expert, if shadow education is not regulated, the future of China is questionable because a little excess breeds extremism. To be remembered, there’s no good without a bad side (vice versa) if not well regulated.

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