What do extracurricular tutoring and warm coats have in common? Not very much in normal circumstances. But under Beijing’s new ‘Double Reduction’ policy – which slashed homework and banned extra tuition in academic subjects taught in schools – winter jackets is one of the new business ideas being targeted by beleaguered education providers.
The firm in question is Yuanfudao, which was the world’s most valuable edtech as recently as last November. In September, shortly after the Double Reduction policy was announced, it launched Beijing Clothing. According to Late Post, which first posted news of the change in strategy, the company has hired five designers for a new product line in down jackets.
“It’s the natural reaction to their current [financial] winter,” was one of many quips from netizens.
Unlike previous attempts to reduce the academic burdens on Chinese children, Double Reduction appears to be deadly serious, suffocating the operations of thousands of tutoring firms in the sector.
Under a new law to promote family education promulgated last week, parents will have a legal responsibility to adhere to Double Reduction limits in homework and out-of-school study – lest families are tempted to circumvent the regulations by relying on free online materials or hiring live-in tutors officially designated as nannies.
“Parents will be required to manage minors’ study, rest and entertainment time in a reasonable way,” the Beijing News quoted Zang Tiewei, a spokesman for the Legislative Affairs Commission of the National People’s Congress, as saying. Zang added that the law would dilute “education anxiety” by shutting down the vast network of tutoring agencies and study aids that have fuelled an ‘arms race’ across the sector, from kindergarten upwards.
But where does that leave the many companies that provided the private classes? In short, they are having to get creative, often by reaching into totally unconnected areas to keep the cashflow coming.
Xueda Education, previously one of the largest tutoring companies in China, has moved into coffee production and catering, according to Shenzhen Commercial Daily.
New Oriental – one of the longest established private education brands – has set up a subsidiary to make television programmes and online dramas (it does at least have some past form in this area – a biopic about its founder was released in cinemas in 2013; see WiC167).
Others have tried to work within the new rules by shifting to training programmes for over-18s or launching classes in permitted subjects such as art, drama and music.
The new courses on offer include “thinking training”, “intellectual development” and “eloquence training” – leading to questions about whether they are efforts to offer covert lessons to customers within the restricted age group.
“There are still a few workarounds,” one tutor in Beijing told WiC.
Others have shifted to “parent training” which can mean anything from helping adults to hone their parenting skills to teaching them maths so they can tutor their kids themselves at home.
Yet come January – when the family education legislation comes into effect – many parents might find themselves attending government-mandated classes on their new responsibilities, as well as the values they must instill at home: respect for the elderly, love for children, the priorities of national unity and a good work ethic and, of course, an ardour for China’s Communist Party.
The new law also requires parents to enforce the new weekly three-hour playing limit on computer games and make sure that kids get a varied diet and enough exercise.
For parents who leave their children in the care of relatives while they work away from home there is another legal obligation to stay in regular contact with their offspring and their guardians.
“Where parents or guardians neglect to perform their family education responsibilities… they shall be criticised, admonished and urged to accept family education guidance when necessary,” the text of the new law warns.
Parents could also be “admonished” if minors exhibit “serious bad behaviour or commit criminal acts,” it added.
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