Bespectacled, fatigued, and gaunt. This is the typical Chinese student enrolled in China’s enervating public schools and a myriad of laborious tutoring classes. Now, this stereotype is about to be reversed.
Ever since public education was reintroduced in the late 1970s after the Cultural Revolution, Chinese students have been faced with more and more competition and stress, all of their years of studies boiling down to a single university entrance exam, the Gaokao. For many years, the government has tried to decrease academic pressure for public school students, starting with a policy called “Happy Education” in 2013, which was aimed at relieving the workloads of elementary students. In early 2021, the government banned schools from assigning more than one hour of homework per day to students grade three to six. This summer, the government took the issue farther, targeting students of all ages; it decreed that all existing tutoring institutions must be registered as non-profit organizations and that no new licenses will be granted, essentially cracking down on after-school tutoring in response to the booming tutoring industry. The government hopes that doing so will also increase birth rates by reducing the average household spending and reduce education inequality.
The positives of this policy are immediate and clear. Prior to the ban, most Chinese students attended at least six hours of tutoring classes per week, most of them during weekends. Now, with the exception of those who take one-on-one classes clandestinely, most Chinese students will be relieved of tutoring classes, leaving room for relaxation and exercise. With the absence of tutoring classes to fill up the students’ time, parents turn to fitness classes to better their children’s physical health. Ma Hui, a badminton coach and co-owner of a Beijing sports club, recently said “Our phones kept ringing. We received so many calls from parents inquiring about the training, even after we increased the number of trainers from 20 to 30, we still cannot catch up with the demand”. For most students, the situation seems optimistic; from a broader perspective, however, many issues remain unchanged.
As much as the government’s intentions are thoughtful, problems surrounding birth rates, education inequality, and student pressure will likely remain the same, if not worsen. Many economics experts suggest that economic growth is strongly and negatively correlated with fertility, meaning that economic growth equals decreased birth rates. While it reduces families’ education expenses, the ban on tutoring classes does not seem to be halting China’s booming economic growth, the biggest factor in contributing to the country’s decreasing fertility and aging population. On the other hand, the issue of education inequality is more effectively tackled; now that only private and more expensive classes are available, most students (those from middle class families) will now have to join the ranks of those who already could not afford tutoring classes prior to the ban, which makes education fairer on a larger scale. However, from a different perspective, this policy also makes education more polarized;. As Mr. Scott Yang, a parent from Wenzhou puts it, “It [this policy] makes it harder for kids of poor families to succeed”, and rightfully so. Now, only the rich will have access to private tutoring classes, albeit illegally, giving them an even greater advantage. Although for student pressure, the ban does directly eliminate a time-consuming part of students’ lives, China’s education will continue to be defined by fierce competitiveness, high student pressure, and student obsession with academics as long as its exam-based education program exists.
Even without considering the financial changes done to Chinese enterprises, employees of big tutoring companies, and truly eager students, the policy, if not managed correctly, could be very fruitless, even adverse, despite its respectable intentions. Although it might not have been executed in the best way possible, the ban on tutoring classes marks the government’s efforts to make China into a more mature nation that focuses on not only its economic growth, but also on the lives of its citizens.