More effort needed to ease parental anxiety

Chen Boyou
Government regulations might tackle off-campus tutoring, but addressing the pervasive anxiety will involve coordinated, lasting effort.
Chen Boyou

On Saturday, the long-anticipated regulations governing off-campus tutoring programs were made public.

The severity of the regulations exceeds the worse expectations of those engaged in the once thriving training sector.

Then related businesses listed in domestic and overseas markets experienced steep declines. These training agencies have experienced explosive growths in recent years by cashing in on pervasive anxiety among Chinese parents over the education of their children.

For parents, the prevailing means of gaining competitive edge for their children is to get them into better schools, by paying more for extracurricular training.

I myself once attended a tutoring program on math, with a two-hour session costing my parents 800 yuan (US$123). I took ten sessions a month.

Unfortunately, my progress in the subject, as reflected by my scores at school, was unsatisfactory. When my parents took this up with the trainer, the answer they got was: "If you buy your son fifteen or twenty lessons a month, you can expect more progress."

It came as no surprise that when Indian movie Hindi Medium was shown a few years ago, it became a huge box office success, likely because the parental anxiety depicted in the film resonates with many Chinese viewers struggling with their children's education.

Like their Indian counterparts, parents here would do anything to get their children into the right school.

While most children like me would undoubtedly welcome the government regulation of the training sector, parental responses are more mixed.

Asked to comment on this, a mother whose son is taking four training courses was less than enthusiastic. The training is going on as scheduled, and she insisted that she would terminate the training only on condition that all other parents have done the same. "You know, there is still significant difference between professional instruction and learning on your own," she explained. Her attitude is not atypical, and probably well justified by past experience. Obviously, she has seen her fair share of previous rectification campaigns.

According to Yang Dongping, professor at Beijing Institute of Technology, Chinese parental anxiety stands out in two aspects. First, the anxiety affects all social strata irrespective of their financial circumstances. Second, for the children the competition gets started steadily earlier, from primary schools a few years ago to kindergartens now.

The formidable expenditures involved in bringing up a child make many wary of having more than one child, and this worsens the demographic structure in a fast graying country.

Zheng Yefu, professor of Sociology at Peking University, blamed this obsession with education on blind fetishism of diplomas, with those churned out by a few select universities particularly venerated.

Thus a fundamental change to the situation entails a change in attitude on the part of the whole society. It would mean a change to the narrow-minded perception of education as a good school and a lucrative job. Hopefully the current initiatives would go on to address growing superstition in, particularly in some governmental organizations, diplomas and "elite" schools.

Only when education goes beyond simple scores and metrics and evolves into a lifelong pursuit of sweetness and light could it hope to be truly self-motivating and sustainable. The guidelines might be effective in tackling off-campus tutoring, but addressing the pervasive anxiety will involve coordinated, lasting effort.

Chen Boyou is a Grade 11 student at Beijing New Oriental Foreign Language School at Yangzhou. He is now an intern at Shanghai Daily.

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