After-school education regulation could be the wrong solution

NOTE: This is the UNEDITED version of the article submitted to the Shenzhen Daily. It was heavily edited and published as a Letter to the Editor.

Like many foreigners in Shenzhen and across China, I have spent time in the education industry that the government is heavily scrutinizing. There is definitely a need for the education industry to be properly examined, with numerous charlatans and swindlers ripping money from unknowing parents. These companies seek to make a quick buck from families that only want the best for their child or children.

However, the current proposed set of regulations may not have the outcome that the government intends. It has been suggested that the real goal of these new laws is to reduce the cost of education for families. Families are currently thought to spend tens of thousands of renminbi a year on average to boost their kin’s chance of getting an edge over their classmates.

What is more likely to happen is that parents will seek out native-speaking foreigners to come to their homes and give face-to-face English classes to their children. While this has been happening for many years, this will doubtlessly increase as middle-class parents seek to provide any advantage. It will also see more parents dob in on other parents, to stop that advantage.

Secondly, training centers with sufficient capital will find ways to adjust. Daycare is one area that some companies are planning to pivot. Others will focus on non-curriculum subjects or provide classes that will look good on college applications. Topics such as debating, public speaking, logic, and critical thinking will increase in popularity, given their esoteric nature compared to the existing Chinese curriculum.

Thirdly, non-native teachers will find themselves squeezed out of the industry. Many training centers will not survive under a not-for-profit model, and most of them can not afford any foreign teachers at all. These non-native teachers will eventually get caught or find alternative work. Those that are grandfathered in under old provisions will be the only ones that remain – particularly Serbians with degrees from native-speaking countries.

So what to do? Smaller training centers would do well to offer specific programs at primary and middle schools. Providing particular programs on campus would be a revenue source for these training centers, outside of their traditional model, while also remaining on campus. This is not prohibited under the existing regulations, and public schools would benefit by not employing staff in these late afternoon or evening sessions.

There is a much bigger question — will these regulations, in conjunction with other policy changes, result in an increase in the birth rate across China? From my point of view, I do not think that it is enough. The housing price is too high, wages are largely stagnant, and the pressure on young couples is simply too high. This is not a China-specific problem but rather a global problem. There are no easy solutions to this, but policy-makers need to look at the micro-level as to why people do not have more children. The fact that things are expensive is not the only reason for the drop in the birth rate.

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