Survival mode

Why edtechs are pivoting from pupils to parents


In the TV show A Little Dilemma, a series about the downsides of tiger parenting that went viral in China in April (see WiC537), a father decides to attend tutoring classes every day after work so he can help to teach his fifth-grade daughter at home.

While that seemed a bit extreme to many viewers, little did the producers know that they were flagging a forthcoming trend.

That’s because more parents may now have to take up tutoring classes in preparation for coaching their children academically, following the government’s crackdown on private tutoring firms.

Under the new rules, which were implemented in late July, all entities offering tutoring on school curriculum subjects must register as non-profit organisations, and no new licences will be granted for similar work. After-school instruction has also been limited to weekdays (so no weekends or school holidays) as part of efforts to “ease the burden on young students” in mandatory education.

Parents aren’t wholly supportive of the change in policy. “Without the existence of these extracurricular companies, the role of pushing my daughter to study hard will lie with us parents, which will be exhausting,” one complained to the South China Morning Post.

New Oriental, one of the largest provider of private educational services in China, has come up with a new business idea to help parents navigate the regulations. According to China Business News, several New Oriental locations across the country are preparing to launch what they call “all-round education growth centres”. They will offer non-core curriculum classes like chess, as well as programmes on how to improve children’s skills in areas such as computer programming. But more controversially, the company will also offer classes specially for parents. Initial reports suggested topics like helping them cope better with managing their children’s emotions and improving their kids’ efficiency in the learning process. But before long, rumours started to spread that there would also be programmes that teach parents how to tutor their children to ace exams too.

New Oriental quickly denied the speculation, saying that its new curriculum, which is yet to be finalised, doesn’t focus on teaching parents how to be tutors at home. That did not stop the idea from becoming the highest trending topic on Sina Weibo, collecting over 130 million views on the platform in one day. Many of the responses were uncomplimentary, complaining that New Oriental was “stoking anxiety” and “shifting the pressure” onto parents. “It really is impossible for those of us born in the post-90s generation. When we were little, we had to study at New Oriental. And even when we become parents, we still have to study there,” one joked.

What’s certain is that the privately-owned tutoring platforms that mushroomed around the country are scrambling for survival. Some, like New Oriental, are launching new programmes targeting adults. VIPKID, a platform that connects domestic students with English tutors overseas, is in the final phase of testing an adult learning programme as well.

Commentators say that offers of adult parenting classes are short-term fixes as companies react to the new policies but are problematic in delivering future growth. “After all, the same teachers that tutor children in core subjects are ill-equipped to teach adult parenting classes. And the size of the adult market is also much smaller than the K-12 market,” says Caijing.

More than 75% of Chinese K-12 students – the cohort from kindergarten to 12th grade – attended after-school tutoring classes in 2016, according to the most recent figures from the Chinese Society of Education. That percentage is widely believed to have increased over the last five years. Prior to Beijing’s clampdown, the K-12 off-campus education market was forecast to reach Rmb730 billion ($112.6 billion) in sales this year.

Other companies have simply thrown in the towel. Tech giant Bytedance closed its education platforms earlier this month. Italian company Wall Street English, which first came to China in 2000, has gone into bankruptcy this week, says CBN. At its peak, it employed 3,000 staff at 71 locations across China.

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