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.