China faces a tumult of confusion and frustration from millions of angry parents following the
crackdown of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on private schools and private tutoring.
The idea is ostensibly to reduce a part of the tremendous pressure Chinese children face as they
prepare for an extremely competitive school and high school life.
However, some analysts see an attempt to strengthen public school education in order to keep
the private sector in check, increase control of the state over school education with a view to
inculcate educational values the state deems fit, and reduce foreign influences, whatever they
may be, on children.
There is a bizarre explanation doing the rounds on the internet that the government may have
come down heavily on private tutoring in order to relieve the financial burden of parents so
that they could then think of having more children. China has recently announced a three-child
policy and is encouraging parents to have more children. The country’s population is stagnating
and people are effusing to have more than one child because of the expensive costs of bringing
them up and educating them.
The sudden changes ordered by the government have upset the education system with parents
finding themselves in a dilemma about continuing their children in private schools and, more
importantly, finding it difficult to locate private tutors for after-school coaching.
The changes were enforced at once, without preparing the massive education system to adapt
to them. The Gaokao examination – for admission to colleges – is extremely tough to crack
and high school students no longer have the benefit of private tutoring to prepare for the
The parents have protested in several Chinese cities but their complaints have fallen on deaf
ears. They are wary of taking the protests to the next level for fear of retaliation by the
The private education sector reforms are contained in a law titled “Law on the Promotion of
Private Education”. It prohibits foreign ownership of private compulsory education and
restricts “profiteering” of private schools.
The government simultaneously introduced a policy called “dual alleviation” to ban “for-profit
tutoring” or private tutoring. The name refers to twin benefits it claims to confer on the students
– reduction of their homework burden and after-school tutoring.
Private tutoring companies that teach school subjects must from now register as non-profits.
They can no longer raise capital from overseas investors or through public listings. Existing
companies will have to submit themselves to regulatory reviews and apply for licences. New
company applications will not be approved.
Online education companies together raised 103.4 billion yuan ($16 billion) from investors last
year. The industry was valued at 257.3 billion yuan in 2020. The Coronavirus pandemic that
led to the closure of all schools encouraged private tutoring as millions of students went online
for their studies. A consultancy predicted the market will break 1 trillion yuan by 2025.
School students in China are forced to cram education for 12 to 16 hours a day. Millions of
students take the Gaokao examination at the end of high school for their college education
while the number of seats remain the same. The competition automatically becomes severe.
While rich parents hire private tutors at whatever the cost, poor parents succumb to peer
pressure and dip into their precious savings to see that their children get a good education.
A section of the media reported that a mother of two in Shenzhen “spends about 80,000 yuan
(US$12,350) per year on after-school tuition classes for her nine-year-old son and four-yearold daughter for traditional subjects like English and mathematics, as well as computer
programming, painting, piano, football and even basic engineering with Lego”.
What is shocking is what the media probe found about the mother’s financial burden: “(The)
tuition budget, nearly double the average annual salary of urban Chinese workers in 2020, is
beyond most of the country’s households with an annual disposable income per capita of about
32,189 yuan.”
The tutoring stakes have gone higher overnight after the reforms set in. Fearing government
crackdown, private tutors have gone underground. They are currently approachable only
through secret networks which is possible for rich families. The tutors charge unbelievable
prices — $460 an hour. The rich pay, but the salaried class cannot and worries about its
children’s fate. The children of the rich will in any case end up going abroad, but the others
think they will fail to get admission to local colleges if they do not have the competitive edge
they believe private tutoring arms them with.
Private schools are in a tizzy of their own. They have been told in no uncertain terms that
private education is eroding Chinese ideals the CCP wants the children to inculcate. The
government feels public schools, rather than private ones, are in a better position to give
ideological overtones to education, like for instance teaching the principles of Xi Thought.
The private school managements are waiting for the axe to fall on them in terms of prohibition
of foreign textbooks and strict adherence to the national curriculum without any changes.
Foreign companies are as it is not allowed to have stakes in these schools any longer. The
government explanation is that armed with private school education, children of rich parents
commit the “unpatriotic” act of going overseas for studies.
The government proposes to reduce enrolments in private schools to five per cent by 2022. The
current national average is 10.8 per cent. The Henan and Sichuan provinces have already begun
to implement the order.
The government wants the private education system to be small and compact and a mirror
version of the public education system teaching the same curriculum and at affordable, nonprofit rates.
SupChina, a New York-based China news platform, quoted education experts asking: “What’s
the point of going to a private school if it’s exactly the same as a public school? Is it worth
paying 180,000 yuan [$27,800] a year to go to a school that has nicer facilities when you could
go for free?