“When he left college at 4:30 p.m., my son Tu Zi, 14, went directly to take his personal lessons in a private tutoring institution at the other end of the city”, says Alice Zen, who works in textile marketing in the large industrial city of Dongguan near Shenzhen.
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“With his evening and weekend classes, not to mention those on vacation, my only son was even busier than me and my husband, who is a civil servant at the town hall”, continues this young mother, who speaks in the imperfect. “His schools had to close by order of the central government last summer, she laments, but we found tricks to get around the ban. »
The collapse of a lucrative market
After having reframed the technological giants, the central power hardened its tone in July against the lucrative private education sector. According to new government directives, tutoring companies will now have to register as non-profit associations. And they will no longer be able to give lessons on weekends, on public holidays and during school holidays. Tens of thousands of teachers have been fired.
“I myself hired one of these teachers, rubs his hands Zhao Long, director of a perfectly legal private experimental school in Zhejiang province, but Chinese families, so concerned about the academic success of their children so that they enter the best universities and earn a good living, quickly found new tricks. »
Thus many establishments have been transformed into “leisure schools” which, under cover of entertainment, provide English and mathematics lessons in secret. Two essential subjects for the very selective tests of the “gaokao”, the Chinese baccalaureate.
Private lessons at €8,000 per year
“I have decided to employ several private teachers at home since the start of the school year so that my sons can enter a good college next year”, explains Ming, 35, mother of two boys and whose husband is a businessman in Wuhan. Because a good college will facilitate entry into a good high school, which will guarantee good results in the baccalaureate, for entry into a university of excellence. Some very wealthy families even hire a full-time home tutor who lives there.
“There is a legal vagueness on these courses at home which bring a lot to the teachers generally badly paid, explains Zhao Long. But several teachers have been fined and I know one who was in prison for a few months. »
Concern for inequality or censorship
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The government cited the overwork of children to justify its decision to ban these tutoring societies. He also wanted to ease the financial pressure on families, for the sake of social balance. “These are just excuses, laughs Zhao Long, in reality all these courses are very free, we discuss, we exchange ideas. The manuals are in English and often American or Canadian, therefore subversive in the eyes of the Communist Party. »
Social gaps will widen further
In fact, Chinese families devote a large part of their budget to these courses for their children. If Alice Zen talks about “200 yuan (27 €) per hour”, with a minimum of ten hours per week, the monthly cost is 4,000 yuan per month, or €550. Inaccessible for the 600 million Chinese who earn €120 per month, very expensive for an average salary of €800, but very affordable for the 250 million Chinese of the very good middle class.
“My annual budget for all my sons’ classes is 60,000 yuan ($8,000)”, confides Ming, specifying that “it’s normal for the good Chinese middle class”. And with prices soaring even more since last summer, inequalities will widen further.
A very lucrative market but in crisis
In the very lucrative sector of private tutoring, which weighs just over 230 billion euros in China, there are three major champions, strongly impacted by the takeover of the state. Some are listed on the stock exchange in Hong Kong or New York.
New Oriental Education & Technology had to lay off 60,000 people and his Hong Kong-listed company fell 90%.
Koolearn Technology has lost more than 35% of its value on the stock market and seeks to diversify.
China Maple Leaf Education fell nearly 20%. It prepares students to enter foreign universities.