China’s Parents Say For-Profit Tutoring Ban Helps Only the Rich

on Aug2
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Zhang Hongchun worries that his 10-year-old daughter isn’t getting enough sleep. Between school, homework and after-school guitar, clarinet and calligraphy practice, most nights she doesn’t get to bed before 11. Some of her classmates keep going until midnight.

“Everyone wants to follow suit,” Mr. Zhang said. “No one wants to lose at the starting line.”

In China, the competitive pursuit of education — and the better life it promises — is relentless. So are the financial pressures it adds to families already dealing with climbing house prices, caring for aging parents and costly health care.

The burden of this pursuit has caught the attention of officials who want couples to have more children. China’s ruling Communist Party has tried to slow the education treadmill. It has banned homework, curbed livestreaming hours of online tutors and created more coveted slots at top universities.

Last week, it tried something bigger: barring private companies that offer after-school tutoring and targeting China’s $100 billion for-profit test-prep industry. The first limits are set to take place during the coming year, to be carried out by local governments.

The move, which will require companies that offer curriculum tutoring to register as nonprofits, is aimed at making life easier for parents who are overwhelmed by the financial pressures of educating their children. Yet parents and experts are skeptical it will work. The wealthy, they point out, will simply hire expensive private tutors, making education even more competitive and ultimately widening China’s yawning wealth gap.

For Mr. Zhang, who sells chemistry lab equipment in the southern Chinese city of Kunming, banning after-school tutoring does little to address his broader concerns. “As long as there is competition, parents will still have their anxiety,” he said.

“If this criteria for selecting students doesn’t change, it’s hard to change specific practices,” said Ms. Tu, whose research is focused on wealth and education in China. Parents often describe being pressured into finding tutors who will teach their children next year’s curriculum well before the semester begins, she said.

Much of the competition comes from a culture of parenting known colloquially in China as “chicken parenting,” which refers to the obsessive involvement of parents in their children’s lives and education. The term “jiwa” or “chicken baby” has trended on Chinese social media in recent days.

Officials have blamed private educators for preying on parents’ fears associated with the jiwa culture. While banning tutoring services is meant to eliminate some of the anxiety, parents said the new rule would simply create new pressures, especially for families that depended on the after-school programs for child care.

“After-school tutoring was expensive, but at least it was a solution. Now China has taken away an easy solution for parents without changing the problem,” said Lenora Chu, the author of “Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve.” In her book, Ms. Chu wrote about her experience putting her toddler son through China’s education system and recounted how her son’s friend was enrolled in “early M.B.A.” classes.

“If you don’t have the money or the means or the know-how, what are you left with?” she said. “Why would this compel you to have another child? No way.”

The new regulation has created some confusion for many small after-school businesses that are unsure if it will affect them. Others wondered how the rules would be enforced.

Jasmine Zhang, the school master at an English training school in southern China, said she hadn’t heard from local officials about the new rules. She said she hoped that rather than shutting institutions down, the government would provide more guidance on how to run programs like hers, which provide educators with jobs.

“We pay our teachers social insurance,” Ms. Zhang said. “If we are ordered to close suddenly, we still have to pay rent and salaries.”

While she waits to learn more about the new rules, some for-profit educators outside China see an opportunity.

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