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China regulates off-campus tutoring to ease students’ burden

Students at a primary school in Pingli county, Shaanxi province, practice wushu during the summer vacation. (SHAO RUI / XINHUA)

BEIJING – Unlike their usual tranquility during the summer vacation, primary and middle schools in Beijing will be buzzing with excited students as the municipal government has required schools to provide daycare services during the holiday.

Doors to school libraries, reading rooms and playgrounds will be wide open, and school subject classes are not allowed to be organized, according to the city's education bureau.

In addition to Beijing, the cities of Shanghai, Wuhan and Suzhou have introduced similar daycare policies, which target the competitive tutoring market for school children during holidays so as to ease their pressure.

At a late May meeting, the central authority ordered the comprehensive management of off-campus training institutions and a tougher crackdown on unqualified operations, false advertising, profiteering, and improper connections with schools.

Taking advantage of parents' ambitions for their children, some training institutions take part in anxiety marketing, selling unnecessary programs that increase the burden on students and disrupt the laws of education.

"This has led to a series of social problems such as students' falling levels of physical fitness, increased psychological problems, heavy family financial burdens and decreased willingness to have children," said Chu Zhaohui, a senior researcher with the National Institute of Education Sciences.

According to the Ministry of Education, 400,000 off-campus training institutions were inspected from 2016 to 2020, focusing on problems such as unlicensed training, excessive training, illegal charges and false advertising.

In addition to Beijing, the cities of Shanghai, Wuhan and Suzhou have introduced similar daycare policies, which target the competitive tutoring market for school children during holidays so as to ease their pressure

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In 2018, the Chinese government introduced the country's first document on the development of the off-campus tutoring industry at the national level.

On June 15 this year, the Ministry of Education announced the establishment of a special department for the supervision of after-school education and training for pre-school children, as well as primary and middle-school students.

"With the establishment of the department, regulatory measures concerning the qualifications, operations, courses and capital of after-school education and training institutions are expected to be unveiled in the near future," said education expert Xiong Bingqi.

In early June, the State Administration for Market Regulation, China's top market watchdog, imposed maximum-level fines of 36.5 million yuan on 15 tutoring firms for violations including misleading advertisements and pricing fraud.

Changes have been taking place in such institutions. Courses for preschoolers have been removed from the shelf, while extracurricular classes such as theater, speech, arts, calligraphy and chess have been introduced.

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Also at the May meeting, the central authority specifically encouraged schools to carry out extracurricular courses after school to meet the diversified demand of students.

"My child used to be enrolled in many classes such as dancing, speech and writing in the evenings and during the weekends. The tuition fees were considerable," said Liu Yongling, parent to a fifth-grader. But now her child has joined similar after-school classes organized by their own school from Monday to Friday. These classes mean more leisure time for children and fewer financial burdens for parents.

"Off-campus training exists not only in China, but also in the Republic of Korea, Japan, Singapore and other East Asian and Southeast Asian countries. If China's management practices can achieve better results, it will also provide a reference for these countries," said Wang Jie, a researcher with the School of Government at Sun Yat-sen University.