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China’s Crackdown on Tutoring Schools: Concerned Parents and Teachers on Weibo

The unprecedented crackdown on China’s private education has generated many online discussions.

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Regulatory reforms in China’s private education sector have triggered concerns among parents and teachers on what the changes will mean for them and their children.

The rumors on China implementing new regulations for private tutoring were already circulating for a long time, with official media reporting on a toughening of rules for off-campus training since March of this year.

The rule changes finally became a reality when Chinese regulators announced new reforms on July 24 that will radically alter how private firms teaching school curriculum will operate.

The new guidelines are also called the ‘Double Reduction’ (双减) rules for targeting “excessive homework” and off-campus tutoring for students in the mandatory nine-year education system.

The “double reduction” policy in a cartoon published by Chinese media: the student is holding up a heavy weight of off-campus tutoring and homework. (Source: NetEase).

Most importantly, the new regulations impose stricter regulations on existing private education institutions and force them to register as non-profit organizations. Any foreign investment in the sector will be banned.

The rules specifically apply to those private institutions offering tutoring on the school curriculum. New tutoring companies will no longer be able to get a license. It will also no longer be allowed for tutoring firms to provide after-school tutoring during weekends, public holidays, and school holidays.

Beijing, Shanghai, Shenyang, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Zhengzhou, Changzhi, Weihai and Nantong are selected as national pilot cities to implement the latest guidelines.

 

CHINA’S BOOMING TUTORING INDUSTRY

“If you come, we’ll educate your kid, if you don’t, we’ll educate the competitors of your kid”

 

When talking about education in China, one of the first things that often comes to mind is the culture of fierce competition, rankings, scores, and exams. The highly competitive nature of the gaokao (高考), the National College Entrance Examinations, has fuelled a private tutoring boom.

Companies offering off-campus training often provide very specific guidance to help students grasp the study materials taught at school. They help children with homework, and will generally work through all the subjects until they are completely prepared to take their exams.

Over the past decade, China has seen a surge in the number of private tutoring agencies. Due to the pandemic, that number saw a sharp rise in 2020. According to market research platform Qianzhan, there were approximately 340,000 more education-related enterprises in China in 2020 compared to the year before.

The market is enormous – there are nearly 200 million students in China’s K12 age group, and about 75% of them attend, or have attended, after-school tutoring classes.

One of the reasons that is mentioned in Chinese media for the crackdown on after-school tutoring is that educational companies were putting profits above anything else, and were feeding off parents’ anxiety while increasing the pressure on children to drive their business.

Most Chinese parents are willing to invest a large amount of money in their children’s education, as they generally fear that their children will be left behind if they don’t. The ubiquitous advertising of after-school tutoring agencies and their cunning marketing strategies have also exacerbated parents’ anxiety about their children’s future.

https://new.qq.com/omn/20201203/20201203A0EGL700.html

A telling and well-known example is that of a private tutoring school putting up a sign saying: “If you come to us, we’ll educate your child. If you don’t come to us, we’ll educate your child’s competitors” (“您来,我们培养您孩子;您不来,我们培养您孩子的竞争对手”).

Earlier this year, Chinese TV drama A Love for Dilemma (小舍得) reignited an ongoing debate about the problem of the extreme competitive education climate in Chinese society today. That problem is also referred to as ‘involution,’ where China’s ever-growing middle class is now facing the question of how they and their children can remain in the middle class in a situation where everyone is continuously working harder and doing all they can to rise above the rest.

 

MORE OR LESS WORRIES FOR PARENTS?

“This is not alleviating the burden on parents, this is forcing parents on a road of despair”

 

There are many people and experts in China who argue that the implementation of the ‘Double Reduction’ policy will solve existing problems in the tutoring industry and help alleviate the financial pressures on parents who feel they need to send their children to off-campus training schools.

But there are also those who say that China’s crackdown on tutoring leaves parents facing new problems. Some worry that the new policy will further increase educational inequality because richer families can always find ways to let their children have off-campus tutoring, while families with heavier financial burdens have no alternative options.

“Without extracurricular training, children can only rely on one-on-one tutoring in the future. It will be even more unaffordable. This is not alleviating the burden on parents, this is forcing parents on a road of despair,” one worried commenter wrote.

Another Weibo user published the following post:

All of the bigger and smaller online influencers are talking about how it is right that off-campus training is canceled and they support it, but isn’t it true that you are knowledgeable and experienced enough to tutor your own kids or that you have wonderful public school resources? Before you write down your opinions, have you considered that there are parents out there in the remote towns and villages who haven’t attended middle and high school, and who are raising their whole family in the hope that their children will be able to test their way out of these sad towns? Have you ever considered that the English teacher in some cities’ public schools are art graduates retrained to teach literature, language, and math at the same time, and have to manage classes of 50 children? The children of these ordinary families (..), they do not have good public school resources, and all hopes are pinned on their extra-curricular tutoring as a small step forward. Have you ever thought about that? Perhaps you will argue that only the state can guarantee fairness for the majority, but eventually, there is social stratification. Perhaps you will also say that children know how to study themselves, it’s stronger than anything, and that they will practically eat their way through the study material, and that it won’t be a problem for them to do the exam and get into a notable university. But don’t you know that without good public school resources, children don’t even have a direction for their studies? Their parents are at a loss because they are exhausted from working from 9 to 9, seven days per week.

Higher education is greatly valued in China, as it is often perceived as the key to future opportunities and climbing the social ladder. Many Chinese families believe in “winning at the starting line” and in the idea of “ten years of study to secure an entry key to a good university.”

There is a popular term in China – ‘jiwa‘ (鸡娃), literally ‘chicken babies’, which refers to the phenomenon that today’s middle-class parents in Chinese cities tend to arrange all kinds of training courses for their children so that they have a competitive edge over other children.

However, the reality is not just about hard work and being good students; many families believe that their children have to be the best, or at least, be able to stand out from the crowd.

The admission rate of normal high schools in China is only 50%, which means that most students will have to choose between two paths in the future: one is to go to university and the other is to go to a vocational school, which is seen as less prestigious. This is a cause of anxiety for countless Chinese parents. A lot of people say that even if the extracurricular class is banned, the hyper-competitive environment is not going to change in the foreseeable future.

One Weibo user commented: “We are likely to be [even] more anxious. The difference between private schools and public schools is huge, and now people who are poor don’t even have a chance to catch up.” Another user added: “Are you pretending not to know the reality? Are you saying that we won’t have off-campus tutoring now and we’re all going to be less anxious? Won’t our kids still face a fiercely competitive struggle for the gaokao?”

One online survey conducted by a Weibo account posed the question ‘Do you think the nature of educational institutions can be changed?’ The response shows that more than half of the participants voted ‘no, because of the gaokao system, parents’ needs for educational training won’t be affected.’ Less than one-eighth of respondents thinks the situation will actually change.

 

TEACHERS AND THEIR WORKLOAD

“We need to let teachers catch their breath”

 

Since China’s new education policy emphasizes the responsibilities of regular schools, there are also those who worry about the increased pressure on teachers, of whom many have already voiced concerns about the excessive workloads and unrealistic expectations of parents.

Chinese state media outlet Xinhua reported that, to fill the gap of the private tutoring schools, all compulsory education institutions in China will provide their students with after-school services starting fall semester 2021.

“I have a relative who is a teacher,” one social media user writes: “I know she has to work even during the break. She has to actively participate in social work. She needs to be in school at 7am, and after she gets back from school, she needs to reply to all the parents’ messages until 9pm. She also has to do online and face-to-face training, and to plan lessons and prepare homework.”

“Now, everyone is focused on reducing the workload of students, [but] we also need to let the teachers catch their breath. They deserve a better life, and the overall education quality can only be really improved if they have more energy for their everyday teaching,” one commenter said.

But it is not just the teachers at the regular schools who are seeing increased pressure. Many teachers who work at private education facilities are facing grim perspectives. In light of the new regulations, companies laid off hundreds of employees and shut down after-school tutoring schools in order to comply.

“My friend worked at one of the after-school training institutions. The whole company shut down after the new policy was released, and all of the employees lost their jobs,” one person said.

“Don’t tell me I just started my new job and already lost it within a month,” one teacher wrote: “This year is just too difficult!”

 

BUT WILL THE BAN BRING MORE BABIES?

“I can’t consider having a third child, I can’t even have a second”

 

China’s ban on after-school tutoring is directly tied to its recent decision to relax the country’s birth control policy, now allowing parents to have three children in light of the country’s rapidly aging society.

Reducing education costs is just one policy within a range of measures intended to combat falling birth rates and make it easier for parents to have multiple children, state media outlet CGTN reported.

Although many on social media do say they think that the new policy will reduce the burden for the younger generation, they do not necessarily believe it will ease the burden for this generation of (soon-to-be) parents.

These parents, after all, are often still working long hours themselves while also worrying about their child’s performance in a score-based education system.

“I can’t consider a third child,” one parent wrote on Weibo: “I can’t even consider a second child. (..) If I can save money [at all], I’ll spend it on one-on-one tutoring for my kid. After all, the gaokao college admission exam system is still here.”

“Nowadays, students have a lot of pressure, teachers face a lot of pressure, and parents also have a lot of pressure,” one Weibo concluded.

Facing the new regulations, some tutoring schools are trying to keep their head above water by training parents of K12 children now, instead of their kids. The Beijing New Oriental company has recently launched their “excellent parenting” (优质父母) training class to help parents train their kids.

“They had to take tutoring classes when they were young, and now they have to take tutoring classes again, this generation is really suffering!”, one commenter half-jokingly said.

For now, it seems clear that the burden on students and teachers has not been alleviated by this single policy move, even though Beijing’s strike against the private tutoring industry has rattled the market. Many parents will continue to spend huge amounts on their children’s future success, no matter what the cost.

 

By Yunyi Wang & Manya Koetse

Featured image: MChe Lee

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China Digital

Key Players, Digital Trends & Deep Dives: China Internet Report 2021

SCMP just launched its latest China Internet Report. (And What’s on Weibo readers can get a 30% discount on the Pro Edition!)

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As China’s tech sector has been facing an ongoing crackdown by Beijing regulations, a lot has been changing in the country’s digital environment over the past year. The new China Internet Report 2021 by SCMP gives an overview of the latest trends and developments.

When it comes to China’s online landscape, nothing ever stays the same. Over the past year, political, economic, and social developments and measures have once again changed the Chinese digital environment.

Giving a comprehensive overview of the key leaders and major trends dominating the Chinese online field, South China Morning Post (SCMP) issued its fourth annual China Internet Report.

China’s internet population has now risen to 989 million – last year’s report indicated an internet population of 904 million. By now, there are 853 million mobile payment users, which indicates that over 86% of the entire mobile internet population uses mobile as a way to pay.

As China’s internet population is still growing, and new online startups are still popping up every day, there have been tightening regulations on multiple fronts.

As laid out in SCMP’s report, regulations mainly focus on the four areas of antitrust, finance, cybersecurity, and data privacy. Regulatory actions targeting the monopolistic behaviours of China’s biggest internet companies are still ongoing, and the new Data Security Law came into effect on September 1st of this year.

While Chinese tech companies are seeing increased scrutiny at home, they have also been facing intensifying geopolitical tensions between China and other countries. Over the past year, the various probes and shutdowns into Chinese companies by countries such as the US and India have meant a serious blow to the market share of Chinese apps.

Meanwhile, the SCMP report highlights the trend of various older and newer Chinese (e-commerce) apps “downplaying” their Chinese origins when entering foreign markets. Shein is a good example of this development, but other players including Zaful, Urbanic, and Cider are also experiencing more success outside of China while not explicitly marketing themselves as Chinese e-commerce apps.

Another noteworthy trend explained in the new report is how China’s shifting demographics are creating new niche segments to compete over. The COVID-19 crisis is partially a reason why China has seen an increase in senior internet users, with an increasing number of online products and content catering to the elderly.

China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) even issued special guidelines earlier this year for web pages and mobile apps to carry out so-called “elderly friendliness modifications.” Since this user group is still expected to see significant growth, the “silver economy” is an area that will only become more important in the years to come.

To check out all the main trends for 2021, China’s latest internet statistics, its top tech competitors, internet companies, and more, here’s a link to the free report.

The free report is 55 pages long and gives an overview of China’s latest internet numbers and players, covers the top cross-sector trends for 2021, including the tightening regulations and the bumpy road ahead for China’s tech IPOs.

The Pro Edition of China’s Internet Report 2021, also launched by SCMP, is 138 pages long and provides a deep-dive into ten relevant sectors – featuring insightful and useful analysis, data, and case studies relating to China’s e-commerce market, content & media, gaming, blockchain, fintech, online education, healthtech, smart cars, 5G, and Artificial Intelligence.

The China Internet Report Pro Edition is priced at US$400, but the team at SCMP has kindly reached out and made it possible for us to offer a special 30% discount to What’s on Weibo readers.

You’ll get the discount by using the discount code: WHATSONWEIBO30, or by clicking this link that will automatically include your discount code.

By Manya Koetse

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China Insight

Goodbye 996? Weibo Discussions on Changes in Overtime Work Culture

Beijing made it clear that working overtime is illegal, but netizens are concerned about the realities of changing working schedules.

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Many people are tired of being forced to log long hours, but are also worried about how a national crackdown on ‘996’ working culture could impact their workload and income.

In late August of 2021, China’s Ministry of Human Resources & Social Security (人社部) and the Supreme People’s Court issued a joint clarification on the country’s legal standards of working hours and overtime pay.

Their message was clear: the practices of ‘996’ (working 9am-9pm, six days per week) and ‘007’ (working 24 hours seven days per week, referring to a flexible working system worse than 996) are illegal, and employers are obliged to obey the national working-time regime.

On Weibo, China’s state broadcaster CCTV published a 10-minute long video illustrating the 10 typical cases of overtime work laid out by the ministry and the top court. The moment was marked as the first time for the state-owned broadcaster to publicly comment on overtime work practices.

The Weibo post pointed out that “striving for success is not a shield companies can use to evade legal responsibilities,” and made it clear that employees have the right to “say no to forced overtime.”

The topics of overtime work and China’s 996 work culture generated many discussions on Weibo, with the hashtag “Ministry of Human Resources & Social Security and the Supreme Court Clarify 996 and 007 Are Illegal” (#人社部最高法明确996和007都违法#) generating over 420 million views on the social media platform.

 
“Without implementation and enforcement, the law is useless”
 

The current labor law in China bars employees from working more than 44 hours a week, and any overtime work must be paid.

Although the 996 practice is technically prohibited by law, many companies still enforce the hours informally.

Many employees revealed online that, although the 996 practice is legally prohibited, they were nevertheless being assigned job tasks that exceeded the prescribed working hours.

“Just finished work,” one Weibo user (@介也没嘛) posted with this picture, showing it’s nearing 11PM.

“I wonder if the workload will decrease after all. If it doesn’t change, it means people will now have to work voluntarily,” one Weibo user commented.

People also indicated that, since the start of the pandemic, remote work has become a new norm. Many companies have moved from office to working at home, making it harder to draw the line between regular working hours and overtime hours.

“What really matters is whether working from home includes overtime hours,” one Weibo user wrote. Many netizens complained that their companies wouldn’t explicitly stipulate a 996 schedule; instead, most of them disguise the overtime hours as ‘voluntary’ work.


Many commenters say it takes more comprehensive legislation and tougher law enforcement to really solve the issue of overtime work.

“These regulations are good, but they are basically impossible to implement. Even if they ban ‘996’ and ‘007’ there is no way to regulate the so-called ‘voluntary work,’” one Weibo user wrote.

Some people said that their companies have various performance assessments and that they feared that refusing to work more hours would make them lose their competitive advantage: “The burn-out (内卷 nèijuǎn, ‘involution’) is severe. It is too difficult for us. I have only one day off during the week and I’m so tired,” one person commented.

 
“We don’t need those who comfortably work 8 hours”
 

China’s 996 work culture has been championed by tech leaders and denounced by workers for years, and it has become an unwritten standard – not just in the tech sector but also in other industries.

While working long hours has been ingrained in Chinese workplace culture since the early days of the country’s internet boom, it later also started to represent ‘a road to success’ for Chinese tech entrepreneurs.

Many Chinese netizens blame Alibaba’s Jack Ma for praising the ‘996’ work system. In 2019, Ma called the 12-hour working day a “huge blessing,” causing much controversy online. During his talk at Kyiv International Economic Forum, Ma said: “(..) ‘996 is the spirit that I encourage Alibaba people to follow. If you want to have a bright future, (..) if you want to be successful, you have to work hard.”

On another occasion, the tech mogul reportedly said: “If you join Alibaba, you should get ready to work 12 hours a day, otherwise why do you come to Alibaba? We don’t need those who comfortably work 8 hours.”

Jack Ma, the co-founder of Alibaba Group described 996 as a ‘blessing’.

However, after the shocking death of one Chinese delivery man working for food delivery platform Ele.me and the widespread discussions about the ‘996 ICU’ project – which called on tech workers to add names and evidence of excessive hours to a ‘blacklist,’ – the 996 work culture has come under increased scrutiny.

Some people argue that the overtime culture is draining employees and creating an unhealthy work-life balance; others argue that they work for themselves and believe that putting in extra hours will eventually translate to individual success.

While economic growth has slowed down during the pandemic, most companies are persisting with long working hours because they are under pressure to achieve results.

According to an online survey conducted by an influential tech blogging account (@IT观察猿), more than one-third of participants claimed to have one day off per week, and more than one quarter claimed they didn’t have any weekend days off.

 
“The workload is the same, but the income has reduced”
 

Starting from August 1st, ByteDance, the Chinese company behind the popular short-form video app TikTok, dropped its ‘big and small week’ (大小周) – a schedule that previously required employees to work six days in a row every other week.

ByteDance is not the only Chinese tech company that has begun to cut back on its long working hours. More and more companies have decided to drop grueling work schedules.

Kuaishou, another Chinese short-form video app company, stopped scheduling weekend work in July. Since early June, Tencent – China’s largest game publisher – has encouraged people to clock out at 6 pm every Wednesday.

Although these changes seem to signal a positive development, there are also many people who do not support the new measures. When Bytedance announced the changes to its working schedule, news came out that one-third of the employees did not support the decision (#字节跳动1/3员工不支持取消周末加班#).

Those relying on overtime pay said abolishing overtime work will cut their take-home pay by around 20%. Indeed, the first pay-out after the new implementation at Bytedance showed an overall drop of 17% in employees’ wages.

“The workload is the same, but the income has reduced,” one Weibo commenter complained.

One trending discussion on Weibo focused on the question “Do companies need to make up for employees’ financial loss after the abolition of weekend work?” Many comments revealed the situation faced by thousands of struggling workers who value free time but value their income more.

Many on Weibo still wonder whether a company that abolishes ‘996’ will come up with an alternative to compensate those employees who will otherwise inevitably lose vital income.

By Yunyi Wang

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