China’s Education Ministry Sets up New Department to Supervise After-School Tutoring, Intensifying Efforts to Curb Booming Private Education Sector

The Chinese Education Ministry announced on Tuesday that it has established a new department to oversee after-school tutoring, marking an further escalation in Beijing’s ongoing crackdown on the country’s burgeoning private tutoring industry.

According to a statement posted to the ministry’s website late Tuesday, the establishment of the new department – titled the Department of Supervision of Off-Campus Tutoring – reflects the central authorities’ concern for the growth of the country’s younger generation.

Reuters previously reported that China plans to introduce tougher rules this month on the sector, which could include banning weekend classes, as part of a broader campaign to ease pressure on school children and boost birth rates by lowering family living costs.

In March, the education ministry said at a press conference that the after-school tutoring is adding pressure to pupils in kindergarten through Grade 12 students, while also hampering the public education system. Along with the statement, authorities ordered businesses to cut excessive tutoring services. A double reduction – cutting students’ homework burden and after-school tutoring – is the ministry’s primary target this year.

Chinese President Xi Jinping notably expressed in March that after-school tutoring has caused children great stress, adding that education should not be heavily focused on test scores.

However, China’s highly competitive education system will hardly dampen parents and students’ enthusiasm for the so-called "cram schools". Last year, out of the ten million students who took the national college entrance exam – "gaokao" in Chinese – about two million failed to advance into college.

Recent census data shows that the national population is growing at its slowest pace in decades with the number of newborns plummeting to 12 million. On May 31, a Politburo meeting chaired by President Xi resulted in the monumental decision to allow each Chinese couple to have up to three children. A rapidly aging population may push China’s decision-makers to further scrutinize the county’s cut-throat education system in the future, adding uncertainty to the sector.

The ministry’s move also comes as Beijing is expanding its wide-ranging Big Tech crackdown on online education. Last month, two of the country’s fastest-growing edtech startups — Tencent-backed Yuanfudao and Alibaba-backed Zuoyebang — were each slapped with the maximum penalty of 2.5 million yuan ($390,692) for violating competition and pricing laws.

US-listed GSX Techedu, another Chinese online education platform, has shut down its its pre-school education business for children aged 3 to 8 and reportedly plans to dismiss 30% of its staff, after regulators banned kindergarten and private-tutoring schools from teaching the elementary-school curriculum.

According to a statement published by the State Administration for Market Regulation on June 1, 13 private tutoring firms, including US-listed New Oriental Education and peer TAL’s subsidiary Xueersi, were fined a total of 31.5 million yuan ($4.92 million) for false advertising and pricing fraud.