China private tutoring ban hits foreign teachers, cultural ties


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Beijing (AFP)

Every morning, Sam Josti would go online from his American home to teach children halfway around the world, with one of the thousands of foreign language teachers giving Chinese students a rare window into Western culture.

But tutors like Massachusetts-based Josti have suffered a financial blow after Beijing’s harsh crackdown on extracurricular classes lowered the blinds of the outside world for Chinese students.

Foreign language education companies have long tapped a vast demand for English in China, where armies of parents are eager to advance their children in a ruthless education system in which a single exam can determine the trajectory of a lifetime. .

It came to a screeching halt in August when Beijing announced education reforms banning tutoring companies from hiring overseas teachers.

The rules – which also required tutoring platforms to turn their nonprofit businesses and banned certain classes during weekends and holidays – are touted by Beijing as necessary to alleviate stress on overworked students and reduce costs of education. education.

Critics say they are also cutting off Chinese children from outside influences, as an increasingly nationalist Beijing prepares to reaffirm socialist ideology in classrooms across the country.

“I understand wanting to relieve parents … but not why it has been so sudden and so hard,” said Josti, 44, a former elementary school teacher who switched to full-time online tutoring in 2017.

“We were in the process of bridging the gap between the two countries, and it seems to have stopped before we could finish it,” she told AFP, fearing that cultural exchanges were now lost. .

“On a personal level, it’s heartbreaking.

– ‘Socialist values’ –

Cindy Mi, founder of the online learning platform VIPKid, told Chinese State TV in March that her company has 800,000 Chinese students, in what she called a “global classroom.” in line.

But a few months later, VIPKid announced that it would no longer sell English lessons with tutors based abroad – the heart of its business model – due to the new rules.

Teachers to be cut off from major revenue stream as China crackdown on online tutoring platforms Olivier DOULIERY AFP

Other distance learning platforms such as GOGOKID and 51talk quickly followed suit.

Canadian VIPKid tutor Tim Gascoigne said the changes have closed an exciting space for cultural exchange and learning.

“A lot of what happened was edutainment – short, fun, interactive lessons with native speakers, and that was great cross-cultural communication,” he told AFP.

The reforms appear to be part of broader measures to control what is learned in the classroom, after China last year banned foreign educational materials and ordered the president’s political ideology, Xi Jinping thought, to be taught. in all schools.

“(Chinese leaders) pay attention to several factors such as socialist values, patriotism and educational sovereignty,” said Claudia Wang, education partner at consultancy firm Oliver Wyman.

“Perhaps it is difficult to count on an American or European teacher to teach a Chinese child about history or patriotism.

– Black market tutoring –

Since there is still a great demand for private English lessons, tutors say there is an emerging black market.

Some education platforms are trying to recruit foreign teachers in China to give additional tutoring classes, said Jessica, a former staff member of an education agency in Beijing.

Others offer informal classes on social media platforms.

There were more than 400,000 foreign teachers in China in 2017, according to a survey by state media, although some expats have since relocated due to the pandemic and strict border controls.

“Most of the kids I know still have a way to learn English and buy whatever they need,” Jessica added.

Many Chinese parents prefer foreign teachers for conversational practice and especially for spoken English, according to mother Wang Xiaogui.

“My daughter misses her teacher a lot,” said Wang, whose 14-year-old daughter Wendy, in the eastern town of Shaoxing, regularly took classes with an American teacher.

“The teacher really cared about my child,” she added.

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