Surprise, Controversy, and the “Double Reduction Policy” in China

This week, Aidi Bian shares her perspective on what’s been happening in China since the announcement by the Chinese government of major changes in the education system there. Bian is a bilingual math teacher and form tutor at HD Ningbo School, which belongs to a private educational group with 5 campuses in Beijing, Shanghai, Ningbo, Qingdao and Nanjing. She has previously reported on “New Gaokao in Zhejiang China: Carrying on with Challenges” and contributed to “AI and education in China

Surprise and controversy came with the announcement of a new “Double Reduction Policy” for China’s education system in late August. The policy, Opinions on Further Reducing the Burden of Homework and Off-Campus Training for Compulsory Education Students, was released by the highest office of the central government. The document requires a reduction in the burdens for students created by homework and off-campus tutoring programs. This contributed to what some have described as the downfall of the tutoring industry in China, estimated to be worth more than 400 billion RMB. The central government determined that the academic stress and pressure in education is having an irreversible, harmful influence on the next generation of the country and concluded that it must take harsh action to change the situation by administrative force.

The central government determined that the academic stress and pressure in education is having an irreversible, harmful influence on the next generation of the country and concluded that it must take harsh action to change the situation by administrative force.

China has long been known for high academic pressure in elementary and secondary education. Parents put great emphasis on academic achievement of their children from the first day of school (even from kindergarten) to win the fierce competition of entering good colleges. Recent years have witnessed a rapid expansion of the private tutoring industry with the help of the internet (especially online tutoring after COVID). This in turn has created further anxiety for parents who are constantly bombarded with advertisements for tutoring. The explosive growth of the tutoring sector has created a vast market, forcing many families to invest in tutoring training either willingly or under peer pressure. In some way, the educational cost of raising children has become so high that young couples refuse to have more than one child, creating big problems for a government that wants parents to have more children to relieve the challenges of a rapidly aging population. Along with an ongoing emphasis on test scores, the demands of heavy schoolwork and tutoring raise concerns about students’ physical and mental health. The Double Reduction policy is aimed at addressing these issues, freeing families from the economic burden of educating a child and protecting the physical and mental health of the next generation.

The Double Reduction policy includes the following key points:

  • Reduce the amount and time of school homework (specific time limits for written homework were listed for different grades).
  • Provide after school care for students by requiring schools to offer after-school services (such as extracurricular activities and evening self-study) to keep students in school until parents get off from work.
  • Strictly regulate private tutoring, including banning tutoring during weekends and winter/summer breaks, forbidding tutoring companies from going public, and preventing school teachers from providing any tutoring service.
  • Outlaw frequent formal exams and rankings in schools.

Some families welcomed the policy in relief while others seemed to get even more anxious as they feel compelled to pay more money to find private tutors or to take on the burden of tutoring their children themselves. Some parents also worried that if they have no way to keep their children occupied with studying, their children will spend more time on the internet, watching videos and playing games. To ensure the enforcement of the policy, local governments have been encouraged to report violations and infractions, which has caused some conflicts among students, parents and teachers. The policy was effectively enforced over the past months. Yet, the strong demand for tutoring remains constant, with parents afraid to risk their children’s future given the fierce competition for the best scores, the best schools, and the best educational supports and resources.

The policy was effectively enforced over the past months. Yet, the strong demand
for tutoring remains constant, with parents afraid to risk their children’s future
given the fierce competition for the best scores, the best schools, and the best
educational supports and resources.

Although not part of the “Double Reduction”, related policies were also implemented around the same time to address the broader goal of educational equality. One new policy sought to address the problem that in some big cities parents will buy expensive houses just to get into an area where their children can enroll in the best schools. To that end, local governments are now pursuing a “random draw” to decide which schools children go to. To further promote equality, some cities also began to implement a teacher rotation program. The best teachers and principals are required to move to other local schools so that students in different areas of the city have equal access to high quality education from experienced educators. With all the efforts, the government is aiming for a high-quality in-school education and restrict the wild growth of after-school competition.

– Aidi Bian

Related links:

China Releases “Double Reduction” Policy in Education Sector

Will ‘double reduction’ policy lead to fairer education?

China’s new private tutoring rules put billions of dollars at stake

China’s crackdown on tutoring leaves parents with new problems

Beijing’s Top Teachers Will Rotate Shifts Across Schools

Beijing to Rotate Teachers to Promote Educational Fairness

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