China’s Education Culture
As an ethnic Chinese that was born and raised in the West, I got to experience a blend of Chinese education culture (instilled by my parents at home) and Western education culture (influenced by my school teachers and classmates). During my childhood, my parents made sure that I spent plenty of hours revising and memorizing content that I learned from school to maximize the best possible chance of achieving high grades.
However, they also understood the importance of having a social life and letting me do what kids like to do – play and have fun. And so I was fortunate to experience a fairly balanced lifestyle that consisted of practicing past papers and playing the piano while being able to play video games and hang out with my friends.
During my time in China, I have been shocked by the burden of performance that is expected of children here, typically enforced by the parents. It is common knowledge at this point that Chinese education is very much the antithesis of Western education. Plenty of articles online have written extensively about the cultural differences that separate these two cultures.
In China, students dedicate hours memorizing content from their textbooks until all the information is ingrained in their minds. In the West, students are encouraged to socialize. develop critical thinking skills and partake in extracurricular activities outside of the classroom.
Nowadays, kids in China follow a strict schedule crafted by their parents that’s comparable to an adult’s 9-5 routine, with only 1-2 hours of break time each day. After school ends, many parents take their children to afterschool programs so that they can excel over their competition.
But what are the implications of this culture towards the mental wellbeing of these children? And how has this impacted the financial costs required to raise a child in such a competitive environment?
China’s Crackdown on After-School Tutoring
Last summer, the Chinese government enacted policies that would reduce children’s academic pressures. These policies included a ban on for-profit off-campus tutoring and online tutoring for all children younger than senior secondary school age, and turning existing licensed institutions into non-profit organizations. These policies were enforced by the government to ease the workload of young students, but we can also speculate other reasons that may have led to these policies coming to light.
The financial disparity in China between the upper and lower class is very pronounced. Children of wealthy families have a significant advantage as their parents can afford them access to the best private schools and after-school tutoring in affluent cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, where the most prestigious Chinese universities are concentrated (The Economist, 2017).
China’s birth rate continues to plummet for a fifth consecutive year at a record low, despite the government’s recent efforts to incentivize couples to have more children by allowing up to 3 children per household.
There are many reasons instigating China’s declining birth rate, most notably the fact that young people are becoming disillusioned with the reality that raising a child in today’s current climate is becoming more financially taxing. High property prices and rising education costs are ultimately deterring couples from having children (CNN, 2022).
Prior to these policies, the education and private tutoring industry continued to be one of the most lucrative and bustling industries in China. As China’s middle class continues to increase, companies within the industry have been responding to an endless demand by parents to maximize their child’s success in enrolling in prestigious universities abroad.
However, China’s regulations have placed a large dent in the industry and its long-term sustainability, with online tutoring companies such as New Oriental reporting losses of over $876 million after the policies were put in place (Financial Times, 2022). Companies in the private education sector that heavily relied on China have all felt the financial blow. So what’s our position in all of this?
Before these policies were imposed, WildChina Education differentiated itself from other education companies because we have always and continue to foremost educate students outside of the classroom setting. Since our first trip in 2000, we have organized life-changing and memorable experiences far and wide within the country. With experiential learning at the core of our programs, we have inspired thousands of students to develop critical problem-solving skills that will aid them in their future life endeavors.
Since these policies, we’ve noticed an increase in interest from parents and students enrolling in our programs. Parents are gradually understanding the importance of providing their children with meaningful extracurricular activities that are enjoyable and help provide balance to their studies. As a result, we are continuing to see more families introduce themselves into the world of experiential learning and the amazing educational benefits that experiential learning programs offer to children.
Unfortunately, we have also noticed an increase in companies that were affected by China’s regulations, looking to circumvent the policies and make up for lost profit by selling their own experiential learning programs. It is disappointing and alarming to see companies enter the experiential learning space with ulterior motives at the forefront.
Parents need to be aware that experiential learning programs are not simple to organize – they require years of development and experience to design. That’s why parents need to be vigilant that they enroll their child in a program that has been tried and tested and doesn’t compromise health and safety in exchange for a quick buck.
While China’s recent policies have opened more parents’ eyes to experiential learning programs, they have also produced mixed reactions by parents and unintended consequences. China’s ban on private tutoring has inadvertently created a black market for private tutors that charge significantly more than the previous rate, as many parents are still opting to have their children engage in afterschool tutoring (South China Morning Post, 2021).
In fact, the policies have actually placed parents under even greater pressure to find tutors for their children in an attempt to keep them competitive (Radio Free Asia, 2021). So what can China actually do to reduce the workloads of children across the country?
In an ideal world, countries would successfully provide students with a holistic education that balances work and pleasure effectively. Perhaps the fact that Chinese students spend upwards of 10 hours at school every day studying with minimal breaks is worth investigating and changing (NextShark, 2016).
In 2018, The World Economic Forum wrote an article praising Finland as having the best education system in the world, in which children only have a couple of classes a day, enjoy recreational activities at school, and are required to get involved in outside work (World Economic Forum, 2018). Whether or not implementing similar policies into the Chinese education system could help mitigate the current situation, is something we will have to wait for and see.
CNN. (2022). China’s birth rate drops for a fifth straight year to record low. CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/2022/01/17/economy/china-population-data-2021-intl-hnk/index.html
Financial Times. (2022). Chinese education group New Oriental posts $876mn loss after Beijing clampdown.
NextShark. (2021). Kids in China Spend 77 Hours a Week Studying. https://nextshark.com/chinese-kids-study-77-hours-a-week/
Radio Free Asia. (2021). China’s Cram School Ban Creates Black Market in Private Tutoring. https://www.rfa.org/english/news/china/school-10062021093449.html
South China Morning Post. (2021). China’s ban on private tutoring may create a black market as demand for education services remains high.
The Economist. (2021). Education in China is becoming increasingly unfair to the poor. https://www.economist.com/china/2021/05/27/education-in-china-is-becoming-increasingly-unfair-to-the-poor
World Economic Forum. (2018). 10 reasons why Finland’s education system is the best in the world.