- Alicia Sigmon
China’s New Education Regulations and Their Effects on International Education
Young students engaged in class. Chinese parents often enroll children as young as two years old in extracurricular programs.
China’s primary and secondary school students are renowned for their rigorous schedules, spending long hours studying and doing homework. These hours often extend outside of school with Chinese parents enrolling children as young as two years old in extracurricular programs.
With school, extracurriculars, homework, and tutoring, it’s not uncommon for a student’s schedule to start from early morning through late evening, six days a week.
Currently, however, this is changing with China’s new “Double Reduction” policy, which will impact Chinese students including those destined to study abroad.
In this article, we summarize the key aspects of China’s new regulations and their effects on study abroad and international recruitment.
Table of Contents
Double Reduction – An Overview
In July 2021, the General Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the General Office of the State Council released the “Opinions on Further Reducing the Burden of Compulsory Education Students’ Homework and Off-campus Training,” which outlines their new “Double Reduction” policy.
Double Reduction aims to improve the quality of education for all students in China and to reduce student and parent burdens. Below are the key aspects of the policy:
Double Reduction bans for-profit “subject-based” after-school training programs. “Subject-based” programs refer to content also taught in school, such as foreign languages, literature, history, and math. Double Reduction requires for-profit subject-based training centers to convert to non-profit business models. In response, many such training centers are modifying their business models by shifting to non-subject-based lessons.
Double Reduction also limits online education hours and prohibits people outside of China from teaching Chinese students online. This drastically reduced the online education market in China, with many prominent tutoring companies, such as VIPKid, halting international tutoring for Chinese students overnight. However, many teachers abroad are still teaching their students privately online.
Double Reduction prohibits training centers with subject-based programs from teaching classes on weekends, holidays, and winter and summer vacations. Before Double Reduction, many students attended training centers on the weekends, and training centers often held additional classes during holidays. The new policy aims to enforce student holidays for travel, rest, and visiting family.
Double Reduction limits the amount of time that students can spend on homework. Students below third grade will no longer be assigned any homework. Third- to sixth-grade students should be able to complete homework within 60 minutes and junior high students within 90 minutes. The policy also aims to help schools and teachers consolidate homework to design more effective, level-appropriate assignments for students.
Motivating Factors – Analysis
Double Reduction is not only about reducing student burdens but is also a response to China’s declining birth rate. Since the 1979 one-child policy, China’s birth rate has steadily been declining, and the country now needs families to have more children. Despite replacing the one-child policy with a two-child policy in 2016, the birth rate continued declining because of the exuberant costs of raising a child.
Families view such high costs for their children’s education as an investment to raise the family’s economic status. Under China’s highly competitive university entrance system, students with the best exam scores are admitted to the top programs at the best universities. As families seek to gain a competitive advantage, they have enrolled their students in more classes and at earlier ages -- further increasing competitive pressures and prices.
In May of 2021, China again increased the policy to three children per family, and Double Reduction is one of multiple new policies to help families be able to afford more children. According to Reuters, at 12 million births, 2020 had the lowest number of births in China since 1961. This record-low number follows a mostly declining trend and is over 2.5 million births fewer than in 2019.
With an aging population and families unable to afford more children, China will face a serious problem with an inadequate workforce in the future unless the birthrate increases. Double Reduction is one hopeful step towards increasing the birthrate by decreasing the cost of education.
Effects on Education in China
Will these changes have the desired effects and reduce Chinese families’ burdens, or will the policy increase anxiety as families navigate the changes while still feeling pressure to achieve high marks?
Here are some possible pros and cons of Double Reduction:
Fewer hours, less stress, and more interest: As students see reduced workloads, they will have more time to pursue their interests and enjoy school while completing fewer, but more relevant, assignments.
More equitable education: Previously, only wealthier families could afford private tutoring to give their students the best education. With Double Reduction, China aims to provide a quality education for all.
Increased birth rate: Only time will tell if Double Reduction will be successful in increasing the birth rate. Within the next few years, Chinese officials hope to see at least some of their fears eased.
Implementation and unintended consequences: While the regulation intends for training centers to convert to non-profit models, many are finding workarounds to continue providing for-profit courses after school and over breaks. Online tutors are also continuing to teach students privately instead of through companies. Costs may rise even further as tutoring services become scarcer and parents continue to view such services as crucial for their children’s education.
Stress and anxiety from uncertainty: Families are currently facing a time of change, so they may feel additional stress and anxiety about navigating the uncertainty. They may wonder how their children will achieve the high marks necessary to get into good schools without extra tutoring and whether schools are equipped to take the place of private tutoring.
Effects on International Education & Recruitment
Not only will this policy affect education within China, but it will also affect Chinese students destined for schools and universities abroad.
Here are several ways that the new policy could affect Chinese students studying abroad:
Impact on foreign language skills: Before Double Reduction, private tutoring centers provided plentiful access to foreign language tutoring and native-language teachers. This was one of the main draws of private tutoring companies. Traditional schools will need to make up for the decreased access to language training. Publicly-funded schools, especially in smaller cities and remote areas, may not be able to attract foreign language teachers so that students can reach the proficiency required to study abroad. This may lead to greater popularity of pathway and language programs among students from China.
Students going abroad at younger ages: Before Double Reduction, many parents enrolled their children at training centers with the goal of helping their students gain admission to elite universities abroad. As training centers close or modify their curricula, many learners have lost access to foreign language training and tutoring for exams like TOEFL, IELTS, ACT, and SAT. Parents are considering sending their students abroad at earlier ages where they will have more robust preparation to enter competitive universities.
Diversity of Chinese students studying abroad: If Double Reduction is successful in creating more affordable and equitable education for students, more students from low-income families may be able to afford to study abroad. Hopefully, Double Reduction will give more opportunities to disadvantaged children within China, including those in remote areas or those belonging to ethnic minority communities. Increased diversity amongst students studying abroad would also provide more cultural exchange for their study abroad destinations to provide countries with a better understanding of the diversity within China.
Chinese students and their parents are navigating a time of great change in the Chinese education system, but study abroad will continue to be important for Chinese students.
If Double Reduction is successful, more students will have access to equitable, affordable education and families will not need to rely on training centers and private tutors to supplement their students’ education. A more equitable education system could also increase diversity amongst Chinese study abroad students.
As with any major policy changes, this new policy will have unexpected results for China’s education system. The world is watching China to see how Double Reduction will benefit students and how previous models will adapt to fit the new mold.
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