Private tutoring sector in China fighting the cuts – by trying to avoid the rules

New legislation was introduced in China in June 2021, restricting the amount of hours and times during which private tutoring of children could take place. The restrictions have been met with difficulties, seeing many continuing the tutoring and going against the governments requirements. Will the new laws hold out in the face of these struggles?

What We’ll Cover

  • What the changes were which sparked the current situation

  • Why the tutoring ban was introduced

  • How rogue employers are using loopholes to continue offering services

  • What can happen if you’re caught trying to evade restrictions

  • How I predict the ban will have an impact going forwards

What were the changes made to private tutoring in China?

In June this year, Beijing announced a shock change in legislation aimed at reducing the amount of tutoring hours children in China were allowed each week. This move was an attempt to ease the pressure on both school children, who are widely exposed to many hours of extra-curricular tutoring, as well as their parents.

With expectations set so high within children’s education, parents feel the need to ensure their children are getting the best chance at success alongside their peers. As the cost of providing private tutoring for a child can be so high, the Chinese government has deduced that this added strain on an already costly commitment is to blame for China’s dwindling birth rate.

It is hoped that by banning private learning outside of certain hours of the week, as well as on weekends and within school holidays, it would level the playing field for all families. By having restrictions in place, the financial load would be lightened and the students themselves would see an improvement in their mental wellbeing.

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How are the new restrictions being received?

With extra-curricular learning being such a habitual part of contemporary life in China, it’s not been a change that’s been accepted overnight. The private tutoring industry is worth billions every year in the People’s Republic; it’s estimated that over a million companies specialising in these services are currently operating in the state.

As competition for university places are extremely tough in China, it’s proving difficult for parent’s to trim back the learning their children receive for fear of them not getting the best chances in life. This is understandable, but whilst their business is still there, the underhand employers are willing to come up with creative ways to get it. Even if it breaks the law.

Although this mandate was implemented to support parents, some have blatantly ignored the rules, continuing to send their children to attend study classes on a weekend. With these out-of-hours services only now available on what is essentially the black market, tutors offering the services are taking a serious risk.

Some tutors seem happy to continue teaching, deeming the risk worth it. But many have been dissuaded from going against the restrictions, probably in light of how tough the messages put out by the government have been, and how notorious officials in China are for dealing out consequences to the letter.

It’s clear how serious the authorities are in implementing the ban, as some local provinces have even taken it upon themselves to launch whistle-blowing schemes to report dissidents. They have even put up a reward of hundreds of Yuan for each successful report received.

How are rogue agencies avoiding the restrictions?

The new legislation was implemented so stringently that the government even created a whole new department to deal with the roll-out. The ministry’s “Department for Supervision of After-School Tutoring Institutions” has continued to re-iterate the rules put in place, by speaking out officially several times about the situation in recent weeks.

They have been very clear that anyone found breaking the rules will face the consequences of the law and, in most cases, it is the teachers themselves which feel the brunt of the punishment rather than the employer.

Employers and agencies in China are trying to circumvent the mandate by cloaking the tutoring services with a different name. These include terms such as “high-end domestic helper” and “crowdfunding private tutoring”, which are all attempts at continuing the illicit activity of private tutoring under the radar of the law.

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What can happen if the laws are being broken?

The repercussions for breaking the law can vary from a severe fine, to your teaching licence being revoked, or even deportation and a travel ban for up to 3 years. This is entirely dependent upon the circumstances, but you can be sure that a simple “slap on the wrist” will not be on the cards if you are caught.

The impact on your prospects in China will be serious.

As with other restrictions already in place in China before this new change, the buck always seems to stop with the tutor themselves when it comes to punishments. This is the case despite them being hired by a parent, or deployed to the job by an agency, who are both knowingly breaking rules also.

Is it having an impact on tutors wanting to relocate to China to teach?

In our current experience as legalisation specialists, we haven’t seen a decline in the number of people wanting to travel to China for TEFL positions. We are still processing as many documents for Z-Visas as we were before the changes were announced, and with such high value placed on English language skills in China, it’s unlikely the industry will feel too much of an impact.

I have however been asked several times about the need for work permits and Z-Visas recently, and if it’s still a requirement to teach there. It seems some employers are attempting to bend the rules to get ESL tutors into the country via improper processes.

I can confirm that to teach legally in China, the requirements for work permits and Z-Visas remains the same as it was before the pandemic hit. With the re-introduction of the PU Letter, it seems that some agents are attempting to use this excuse to offer illegitimate paperwork to new hires to get around restrictions. Be wary of anything which doesn’t feel “right” and don’t worry about turning down a position if you feel you may be at risk.

Will the ban be a success going forwards?

There is a deep-seated anxiety in China’s parents which is making it difficult for them to fully step away from the additional learning they provide for their children. High-end careers and top university places are always fought over with stiff competition. Who would willingly take any possible opportunity boost away from their child?

The only real way that Beijing can solve the issues of underground tutoring services is to change the mindset at source. If parent’s minds are eased and the culture of grappling to gain an auspicious spot in a strict societal hierarchy is changed, there will be no sustenance for a black market to feed from.

It’s obvious that the driving force behind the scheme is virtuous and good-natured; it’s an attempt to engineer a happier and fairer society.

But this will not be a quick fix. This mindset is ingrained in the fabric of Chinese culture as it stands, but by taking a broader and more holistic approach to the problem, it can definitely be a welcomed change to the country’s parents and children alike.

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Ashraf Vachhiat
Ashraf Vachhiat

Ashraf is the Marketing Technologist at Vital Consular, which means he handles all the technicalities involved in bringing this blog to life! He also enjoys creating in-depth articles around current affairs which impact the travel and relocation industry. In his free time, Ashraf relishes travelling as much as possible, and is always looking for quirky spots to take some great photos.

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  1. Great post, Melanie, and very topical. Once again, this change to the TEFL industry in China reiterates how important it is for prospective candidates to work with a trusted and reputable recruiter in China. Going it alone can cause of all sorts of problems and, at worse, illegal work in China which can result in fines and deportation.

    • Thanks Mike, much appreciated. I agree, it’s always best seeking out the reputable employers since there are so many loopholes out there which some recruiters try to exploit, and often land you in hot water!

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