Joshua Barr (M.A. M.Ed)
What is the Future of Private Education in China?
The new year is approaching and 2022 marks 12 years I have spent living and teaching in China. When I first moved to China, back in 2010, I never thought I would still be here over a decade later but meeting my now wife and working in a job I love has made it difficult to leave. China is a huge country with many advantages for foreigners both financially and personally. Being located in Asia where a short flight can take you to many amazing destinations is one of them. These benefits and others have made China a prime destination for educators around the world to enjoy a career with high paying salaries, long holidays, medical insurance and large bonuses. But is this all about to change? Based on new policies being introduced across China on educational reform, financial benefits (tax rules) and COVID-19 it seems the future of private education will soon be heading in a new direction.
Getting Money Out of Education! Goodbye Private Tutoring
2021 saw a massive rule change in China with a crackdown on private education centers/tutors that have catered to parents desire for further academic studies on weeknights and weekends. For many this came out of the blue and a lot of people both Chinese and foreign lost jobs and money. Overall though, I believe this was a good policy. For too long children's lives have been taken up by after school and weekend classes fueled on this mislead perception children are falling behind and need to catch up. Combined with more academically rigorous early years curriculums, a toxic cycle manifested where children couldn't keep up with the developmentally inappropriate demands of schools and so were sent to training centers to catch up and parents sent their children to training centers to ensure their child was ready or able to keep up with the developmentally inappropriate curriculums of 'academically rigorous' schools.
Refocusing on Public Education!
Another national reform that came at the end of 2021 was limiting the amount of private schools (民办 mínbàn) opening compared to that of public schools. In Shenzhen (where I work) we have seen a number of K-12 schools refused a school license due to this new policy. Some provinces have even set a goal to reduce the proportion of private school enrollments to 5% by 2022 with others sure to follow. For international educators, like myself, this could have both positive and negative effects. On the positive side, less private schools means more rigorous competition for mínbàn and international school jobs, which is needed as the amount of private schools in China has led to unbalancing of the supply and demand chain. Essentially the demand is too high and so many schools resort to hiring any international passport holder they can regardless of qualifications, experience and ability. The negative side is the financial benefit for foreigners staying in China will most likely begin to disappear thus leading to a greater exodus of foreigners in search of other opportunities.
Changing tax rules is also affecting international educators decisions to stay or go. Soon there will be less tax exempt benefits such as housing, child tuition fees etc, that is making educators ask the question "is it time to move on?". The extent to how much this will affect international educators earnings is still unclear.
For students and families this could also be a good thing. Families that can afford private education might no longer have an advantage over families that can't. This could lead to a leveling out in educational and career opportunities. Private schools will no longer be able to hoard the best Chinese teachers by offering higher salaries compared to public schools. Miki (the better half of Barrkinderplay) has sometimes faced the negative side of private education with schools preferring to hire Chinese teachers who have studied or worked abroad as it is a better sales opportunity even though they may have less practical experience and even lower English ability. It's a strange policy that essentially rewards people that come from rich families. It's much like the preference by some private schools to hire white native speakers over better qualified and experienced non native speakers or people of colour. There are also policies in some new areas or districts around China that offer large sums of money to attract talented people. Professionals who studied abroad and achieved high degrees such as PhD's can earn big money by moving to these new areas. Usually these people were only able to study abroad because they came from a rich family and so rich families are financially rewarded for being financially able to send their children to study abroad.
What About Early Childhood Education in China...
Private early childhood education in China is also a big market and though no official national policies have yet come in to place I have some theories as to how it will change going into 2022 and beyond. There has been a massive problem with unqualified international teachers working in the early years. Many kindergartens or K-12 schools across China often have to resort to hiring any foreigner that qualifies for a visa due to the supply and demand problem I mentioned above. Even in international schools, kindergarten can often be a place to put any international teacher regardless of qualifications and experience. These people are often hired as lead or homeroom teachers that make many of the educational decisions in the classroom and who the Chinese co teachers look to for guidance. This hasn't gone unnoticed and in places around China they are trialing policies limiting the amount of foreigners in a school.
If you think an upper school science teacher should have some degree or teaching qualification in the field of science, the math teacher a math background and for every other subject then surely an early childhood educator should have a degree or teaching certification in the field of child developmental and early education? Too many schools simply think having a foreign teacher who is fun, can teach the alphabet and numbers is qualification enough or worse hiring an elementary school educator and putting them in the early years to teach that grade 1 curriculum in prek under the guise of getting ahead earlier.
I believe in the not so distant future further national policies will be introduced that limit the influence of international cultures and education in an early years classroom. Essentially making it illegal to have one international teacher per classroom. Instead kindergartens can hire foreign teachers like a specials teacher who goes in to a classroom once per day for a lesson. It is important to highlight this is conjecture at this point but something I see coming. Also senior leadership positions could no longer be available to international educators to ensure schools are following China's Early Childhood Education Guidelines for 3-6 Years Old, implementing culturally relevant education and other related policies.
If such changes do come into place for many international early childhood educators it will be financially and professional unfortunate, myself included. I must also admit it would/could be a positive change. Too much time is focused on learning English, western culture and listening to unqualified international people in positions they often wouldn't be able to obtain in their home country. For Chinese teachers they often take the brunt of the workload having to come early, stay late or communicate with families and deal with EDB (Education Department Bureau) requirements. With this work comes lower salaries compared to their sometimes less qualified international teaching partners.
I should also mention there are a great many fantastic, qualified and amazing international early years educators and leaders in China but in a country and private market this big, well you know, the supply and demand thing. What do you think? What changes do you see coming? Are the current changes positive or negative?