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2022-01-14 14:17:50

It’s been six months since the massive shakeup in China’s education sector, and the “double reduction” policy left the country’s once-thriving private tutoring centers in shambles.

Tutoring centers that enrolled children from kindergarten to ninth grade have since ceased operations or turned into nonprofits as ordered by the central government. The clampdown has resulted in anxiety among parents and students, while upending the lives of tens of thousands of teachers and other employees.

Over the weekend, the founder of New Oriental Education and Technology Group, one of China’s largest private education providers, said it dismissed 60,000 staff last year. Other tutoring companies such as Gaotu, Qingbei, and Guagualong also planned to let thousands of employees go after the tutoring ban disrupted business, while others such as Xueersi have registered separate nonprofit entities.

Sixth Tone spoke to five teachers — all wished to use pseudonyms for privacy reasons — to share their experiences in the aftermath of the sudden and sweeping changes. Here are their stories.

Coco, 27
Current status: Tutor at a nonprofit agency
Location: Guangdong province, South China

For seven years, I taught math to primary school students at a Chinese tutoring giant. The only thing I complained about my job was its monotony, until last year.

I was upset by the plethora of changes in the second half of last year ​​— the announcements changed on a daily and weekly basis. I was unsure if the company and the industry would survive, and if I should switch careers.

I felt helpless and anxious after the double reduction policy and was reluctant to talk much to my parents about the changes. I turned to fitness and reading — and waited.

I decided to turn to a nonprofit tutoring agency by the end of last year and am now preparing courses. I will start my first online lesson at the agency in February.

The income for the new job is not bad, and I hope to work long-term at the nonprofit agency. I hope to prove to the parents that teachers who have stuck with the tutoring sector are taking classes seriously.

I’m not sure whether nonprofit tutoring agencies will survive or eventually die. For now, I’ll just do my job well.

Chen Rou, 26
Current status: Product manager
Location: Hubei province, Central China

I left an English tutoring center in November after working there for about four years, first as a tutor and then as an office assistant.

I didn’t plan to leave the tutoring industry, and interviewed for a post at New Oriental. But the salary was lower than expected. I realized tutoring companies could no longer thrive, and even if I stayed, I wouldn’t have as good an income and benefits as before.

So I decided to get out of my comfort zone and self-studied product management for a month. It’s a completely new field, and I was anxious during the one-month job search and career transition.

I started as a product manager in a software development company in mid-December. My monthly salary is thousands of yuan less than what I made tutoring, but I hope to learn and improve.

I would have continued working at the tutoring agency had there been no policy change. Those still in the tutoring industry may have a higher workload and a reduced wage, but remain anxious, so why not leave as soon as possible?

Wang Xinyi, 24
Current status: Content operator at a financial institution
Location: Shanghai

I spent two years teaching Chinese to first and second-graders at Xueersi.

After the double reduction policy, we first closed offline sites and turned to online classes, which were ultimately closed. During the fall quarter, many students had left, and my monthly salary was slashed by thousands of yuan.

I planned to work at Xueersi’s new nonprofit tutoring agency Ledu as a part-time teacher, but the company wouldn’t pay social insurance and pension and reduced the salary by half. Finally, I decided to leave the industry in December.

I like kids, and I cried realizing the little hope that remained for me to teach. I’m sad to have witnessed the end of an era. I think the tutoring industry has few future prospects.

I’ve sent dozens of resumes this month, but after an interview last week, I only wanted to become a teacher more. Just the thought of working at a financial company and talking to clients at banks and businesses, instead of parents and kids, scares me.

But you have to make a living. On Friday, I got an offer as a new media content operator at a financial institution, and it pays over 10,000 yuan ($1,575) per month. If you have to do a painful job (other than teaching), why not do a painful but lucrative one?

I plan to work at the new job for a year. If I fail to adapt and still want to be a teacher, I will prepare for exams for a position at a public school in Shanghai. But it’s very difficult, as I don’t have a Shanghai hukou (household registration) or master’s degree.

Wei Xing, 28
Current status: Unemployed
Location: Jiangsu province, East China

I taught middle and high school students physics for about five years at Xueda tutoring agency. Then in 2019, I opened my own tutoring company and had fewer than 100 students until we closed last October.

When I joined Xueda, I believed tutoring was essential for both parents and students, with large potential for development. The tutoring industry has now vanished.

I have lost around 500,000 yuan to my business. In the initial years, the profits were considerable, at least better than working in an office.

I felt the double reduction policy was unacceptable at first ​​— it came suddenly, leaving us with no time to plan. I’m now unemployed, and plan to sell aquatic products and fruits. But I’m confused about what to do next. You cannot be in sales for life.

I no longer have any strong confidence to easily invest in any industry, as policies are likely to change abruptly.

But I have to admit, the money we made in the tutoring industry was a bit dishonorable. Firstly, in Chinese “involuted” society, if all students have tutoring classes, it’s like they are starting from the same academic level. Secondly, like many others, Xueda mostly invested in advertising, promotion, and expansion, rather than (improving) employees’ salaries and teaching quality.

Gong Shen, 53
Current status: Public school teacher
Location: Sichuan province, Southwest China

Tutoring is a market, and there is a demand for the service.

As a public school teacher, I taught middle school students during weekends and winter and summer holidays at a private tutoring agency for a decade. But it wasn’t until last September that I discontinued, as authorities implemented stricter inspections.

As a teacher with over 30 years of experience at a county-level school, I earn less than 5,000 yuan a month, and over half of my total income came from extracurricular tutoring. I stood to lose about 100,000 yuan a year because of the tutoring crackdown, making it difficult to support my family.

Cutting the academic burden should entail systematic reform of examination systems, talent selection, and vocational education.

However, the current policy is one-sided. On one hand, students have reduced academic burden, but on the other, less training means they have little preparation for exams.

After the tutoring ban, the average math grade in my middle school class dropped by over 10 points (out of 150) in the fall midterm exam.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image and icons: People Visual)