Hothouse tutorials by any other name smell equally obnoxious

Wan Lixin
One estimate suggests that in the 3,000-plus live-action role playing game venues available offline, 80 percent are virtually the alter ego of former education training entities.
Wan Lixin

I recently ran into a family of five – grandparents, parents, and the only heir, a rotund 7-year-old boy full of active curiosity for the world around him.

I asked the father: "Does the kid have to attend extracurricular classes?" "Well, several, covering maths, Chinese, and English," the father replied.

"Haven't all those training entities been restricted, following the 'double reduction'?" I asked.

The "double reduction" policy, aiming to drastically cut down on schoolwork and off-campus tutoring, was rolled out in July last year, and has since put a number of tutorials out of business.

"Well, they don't have to be known by their former names," the father observed cynically.

For example, maths has become "fun innovation."

Or they could simply evolve into playgrounds, like the children edition of jubensha, live-action role playing (LARP) games that have been a craze among young people in recent years.

You would marvel at how much learning can be facilitated in this infotainment setting.

For instance, in a takagism scenario, the children can escape from a room only after solving some challenging mathematical problems, some Olympiad-worth, with the benefit of instructions from the DM (Dungeon Master), a role now played by de facto teachers. There are also dramas scripted to instruct the children on Python or C++ programming. Non Playing Characters, are also on stand by, ready to elaborate on examination items.

Some Chinese students have often been criticized for their deficiency in creativity and innovation, but obviously these extracurricular tutorials do not lack the volition to constantly reinvent to carry on their former business.

One estimate suggests that in the 3,000-plus LARP venues available offline today in the country, 80 percent are virtually the alter ego of former education training entities.

Double reduction has compelled many former off-campus tutorials to change their business mode, but apparently it is too premature for regulators to declare victory as these LARP variants are being allowed to continue to stoke up parental anxiety to push their kids to outperform their peers.

Hothouse tutorials by any other name smell equally obnoxious
Wan Lixin / SHINE

Parents wait to pick up their children from a training facility in the Pudong New Area at around 8:00pm on Saturday, October 22.

Some tutorials also circumvent the curbs in other ways.

There have been reports of former tutorials morphing into cafés where children can sit for a cup of coffee priced at 300 yuan (US$43) and then be instructed on individual subjects.

So it is my belief that the watchdog needs to innovate in tandem so as to regulate the market more effectively.

I recently conducted a random survey of two parents with school-age children.

One, surnamed Tao, in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, spent 50,000 to 60,000 yuan a year on her daughter, a fourth grader, for online tutorials in painting, English, Belles-lettres (Read: Chinese), science, and mathematics, and offline instructions in composition, Lego/Robotics, dancing, cucurbit flute, piano, and badminton. Each session lasts between 45 minutes to two hours.

The discerning mom is also constantly updating her investment portfolio. Since the Lego series is essentially module based, this has been replaced by sciences, which she found "more encyclopedic."

The lady confessed that her daughter's enrichment scheme has been affected by the "double reduction" initiatives.

Her daughter used to take English classes from VIPKID, with instructions formerly given by professional teachers from overseas, but in view of compliance with current policy, these teachers were later replaced by robots, which forced her to stop subscribing.

The daughter's composition class, which used to be given more conveniently on weekends, has to be on Friday evening, given the new restriction.

Another girl surnamed Gu, who is a second-year student in junior high school in Shanghai, has tutorials in mathematics, English and physics from on Monday, Thursday and Friday evening, with each lasting two hours, at a total cost of over 4,000 yuan for one term. This is in addition to her 1.5 hour drawing class on the weekends.

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