China's Cram School Ban Creates Black Market in Private Tutoring

Tutors are sneaking into people's homes disguised as domestic helpers or repair workers, as underground tutor fees skyrocket.
By Qiao Long
China's Cram School Ban Creates Black Market in Private Tutoring College students and graduates sit with signs offering tutoring services in Xian, in central China's Shaanxi province, in a file photo.

Teachers across China are being reported and punished for offering paid catch-up sessions to students amid an ongoing crackdown on the tutoring industry by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) under Xi Jinping.

On June 15, the Ministry of Education set up a new department to monitor off-campus education and training provisions and to implement "reforms to the off-campus education and training sector," and the CCP leadership then signaled on July 30 that it would crack down on private tuition schools and other measures aimed at slashing homework and out-of-hours educational activities.

Training institutions were banned from offering subject-based tutoring on national statutory holidays, rest days, or winter and summer vacations.

More than 75 percent of students in primary and secondary education attended after-school tutoring in 2016, the most recent industry figures showed, and the need to hothouse children privately to get them into the best schools was criticized by CCP leader Xi Jinping in March as a barrier to boosting birth rates.

Former cram school insider Zhou Xia told RFA that parental demand hasn't gone away, however.

"They have banned out-of-school training centers and cram schools now, but the need of parents [for tutoring] is still there," Zhou said. "Many teachers are now doing underground tutoring."

"The policy was supposed to reduce the burden on parents, but both parents and students are now under even greater pressure than before."

Parents are turning to private tutoring, either in-person or online, and are relying on private introductions or hiring tutors to come to their homes in the guise of domestic helpers or electrical appliance repair workers.

"Parents are under even more pressure than before, because it's harder to find teachers on the black market, and so the financial burden is also heavier," Zhou said. "The prices are definitely going up ... these are black market prices now."

Zhou said one-to-one tutoring currently commands a fee of at least 3,000 yuan (U.S.$465) per hour.

Inspections carried out

Recently authorities in Shenzen carried out spot inspections of more than 5,000 tutor centers and cram schools, closing hundreds of them, the municipal education bureau said in a social media post.

It said the teams were also on the lookout for tutors entering people's home disguised as other kinds of service providers.

Current affairs commentator Wang Zheng said the private tuition industry has gone underground in order to survive.

"They are now conducting one-to-one tutoring in the guise of housekeeping and other services," Wang said. "Far from falling, the fees may be increasing."

"But the risks are high, and this may affect students' learning," he said. "It's psychologically harmful for the kids to do this on the quiet when they used to do it openly."

State media reported recently that local governments have shut down around 700,000 buxibans, leaving around 10 million former teachers and tutors unemployed.

The moves came after a March 6, 2021 speech by CCP general secretary Xi Jinping, who hit out at "chaos" in the tutoring industry, calling it "a stubborn disease that is hard to manage."

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.