Caixin
Jun 17, 2021 06:59 AM
CHINA

China Sets Up Department to Supervise Tutoring Industry

China has pushed to reduce the academic demands on young students for years
China has pushed to reduce the academic demands on young students for years

China’s top education authority set up a new department to supervise after-school tutoring institutions as part of tightened scrutiny of a sector implicated in a wide range of illegal activities in recent years.

The new department will manage and supervise training content, tutor qualifications and fee standards for online and in-person programs, according to a notice issued (link in Chinese) Tuesday by the Ministry of Education. It will also provide guidance to law enforcement, handle major violations and oversee competitions and activities for students, the notice said.

Chu Zhaohui, a researcher at the National Institute of Educational Sciences, told Caixin that the new department will improve and guarantee supervision of the after-school tutoring institutions and better balance relations between schools and institutions to avoid students shouldering excessive burdens after normal classes.

China has pushed to reduce the academic demands on young students for years, with the rollout of the so-called “happy education” policy. During a May meeting chaired by President Xi Jinping, the Central Comprehensively Deepening Reforms Commission, the country’s top leadership, issued a document (link in Chinese) calling for reducing burdens on primary and middle school students from both compulsory education and after-school tutoring — or a “double reduction,” as the policy is known.

Since the beginning of this year, Chinese authorities have punished a string of illegal after-school training activities. The national broadcaster CCTV in March removed advertisements of some top online tutoring businesses, including the Tencent-backed homework tutoring app Yuanfudao, following financial defaults in the sector.

In May, two popular tutoring institutions, Alibaba-backed Baidu edtech spinoff Zuoyebang and Tencent-backed Yuanfudao, were each fined 2.5 million yuan ($389,000) for false marketing claims. And earlier this month, 13 more tutoring companies were fined 31.5 million yuan for false advertising and pricing fraud.

Xiong Bingqi, vice president of the Beijing-based 21st Century Education Research Institute, said the purpose of establishing the department is to standardize after-school tutoring. However, Xiong also cited potential problems over its creation, including the way the department supervises and handles the institutions.

Xiong said the department should make sure that all after-school tutoring institutions have legal qualifications — school and business licenses — and “firmly” ban those without qualifications, which will require a “scientific and reasonable” threshold for entering the industry.

“If the threshold is set too high, institutions unable to get legal qualifications will choose to operate ‘underground’ out of supervision, creating educational chaos and infringing on the legitimate rights and interests of customers,” Xiong said.

In addition, Xiong suggested that the department establish a review system for after-school tutoring enterprises to keep up-to-date records. “If we don’t understand how the institutions conduct their training, we can hardly find problems such as popular tutors packaging and illegal charging,” Xiong said.

A 2018 statement (link in Chinese) issued by the State Council, China’s cabinet, pointed out issues such as licensing, prepayment and advertisement that need to be better regulated.

However, the review of education records has not been carried out. Currently, educational authorities launch investigations only after an incident, Xiong said.

The department should clarify what kind of training activities the institutions can carry out and prohibit “advanced and early education,” Xiong said. For example, China clearly prohibits pre-primary education, so the supervisory body should require early education tutoring institutions not to carry out subject knowledge training for children younger than 6, he said.

Contact reporter Cai Xuejiao (xuejiaocai@caixin.com) and editor Bob Simison (bobsimison@caixin.com)

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