Chinese ban hits foreign guardians, cultural ties
By Laurie Chen and Poornima Weerasekara / AFP, BEIJING
Every morning, Sam Josti would go online from his home in the United States 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.
However, tutors like Massachusetts-based Josti suffered a financial blow after Beijing’s harsh crackdown on extracurricular classes lowered the blinds to 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. .
That ended last month when Beijing announced education reforms banning tutoring companies from hiring teachers from overseas.
The rules – which have also forced tutoring platforms to turn their nonprofit businesses and ban certain classes on weekends and holidays – are defined by Beijing as necessary to ease stress on overworked students and reduce stress on overworked students. education costs.
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 divide between the two countries, and it seems to have stopped before we can complete it,” she said. “On a personal level, it’s heartbreaking.
Cindy Mi (米雯 娟), founder of the online learning platform VIPKid, told Chinese State TV in March that her company had 800,000 Chinese students, in what she called a ” world class’ online.
However, 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.
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 said.
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 Chinese President Xi Jinping’s political ideology (習近平) to be taught in all schools.
Chinese leaders “pay attention to several factors such as socialist values, patriotism and educational sovereignty,” said Claudia Wang, partner and head of education in Asia at Shanghai-based consultancy firm Oliver Wyman. “Maybe it’s hard to count on an American or European teacher to teach a Chinese child about history or patriotism.
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 state media investigation – although some expats have since relocated due to the COVID-19 pandemic and strict border controls.
“Most of the kids I know still have a way to learn English and buy whatever they need,” Jessica said.
Many Chinese parents prefer foreign teachers for conversational practice and especially for spoken English, mother Wang Xiaogui said.
“My daughter misses her teacher a lot,” said Wang, whose 14-year-old daughter Wendy, from Shaoxing City, regularly took classes with an American teacher.
“The teacher really cared about my child,” she added.
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