China tightens curbs on ‘disguised’ tutoring as winter break nears

Authorities in China have intensified supervision of after-school education providers that go underground by renaming their services or switching to individual tutoring, especially amid increased demand as winter holidays approach.

The Ministry of Education in a notice issued last week required local education authorities to strengthen policy enforcement during the school holiday period and to crack down on private tutoring for school curriculum subjects conducted in the name of “thinking training” or “home economics services.”

Following the industry’s transition to nonprofit status by the year-end deadline last month, the country’s top education authority said that strengthened supervision is needed to “consolidate the achievements” of the sweeping “double reduction” policy issued in July, designed to reduce the twin burden on students of excessive homework and after-school tutoring.

Harbin, the capital of northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province, on the same day unveiled a list of 62 local tutoring institutions that violated government regulations, noting that many in the city’s Nangang district were given hefty fines, including one that was fined 270,000 yuan ($42,000).

Harbin’s Nangang district, where many provincial government agencies are located, has developed detailed tactics to manage after-school tutoring, with autonomy to issue fines that can be up to five times the illegal gains in accordance with the law, Caixin has learned.

According to the notice from the Ministry of Education, education administrative departments across the country should work with other government agencies to strengthen regular checks of after-school tutoring institutions. The notice said “hidden” or “disguised” tutoring services that are advertised as “crowdfunded private tutors” or “research studies” should be curbed.

In recent months, some institutions, including the TAL Education Group, have offered classes on English operas, which authorities have dubbed “disguised” tutoring on school curriculum subjects, and some of the institutions’ branches in Beijing have been ordered to close, according to media reports.

As providers changed tactics amid the government crackdown on private education enterprises, authorities in August began increased scrutiny of individual tutors and institutions that switch to small-scale tuition.

From one tutor in Beijing’s Haidian district, Caixin has learned that his institution still offers one-on-one tutoring for middle schoolers this winter break. There are also many star tutors and retired public school teachers who offer tutoring within parent circles, charging high fees of up to several thousand yuan.

Meanwhile, although authorities in many Chinese cities have set government-guided pricing standards to cap tutoring class fees, a representative of a Heilongjiang tutoring institution said that some institutions are still trying to negotiate class fees with parents themselves.

Authors: Wang Bowen, Cai Xuejiao, Caixin

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