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Double Reduction: China’s Flawed Attempt at Mitigating its Academic Competition and Costs
By Oulai "Audrey" Pan
Oulai "Audrey" Pan is a first-year student at the University of Pennsylvania's College of Arts and Sciences who plans to study political science and economics.
For a nation that is notorious for academic competition, China’s announcement of its “Double Reduction” policies came as a surprise for many.
In July of 2021, China announced resolutions imposing numerous restrictions on its test preparation industry, estimated to be worth over $100 billion, as well as the amount of schoolwork students can receive in a given week . These new regulations were collectively dubbed the “Double Reduction.” More specifically, it entails the following:
The complete policy document,“Opinions on Further Reducing the Burden of Homework and Off-Campus Training for Compulsory Education Students,” also claims that public schools will now be mandated to provide after school childcare services and classes to make up for the time students would’ve spent in private extracurricular tutoring. Teachers from competitive school districts will also be rotated to less competitive ones in order to mitigate the emergence of magnet-esque schools, and homework will be redesigned to be more diagnostic . Though these changes may be beneficial, the feasibility of implementing such services is still in question.
The Chinese government claimed that “Double Reduction” was proposed to improve the mental and physical health of school children by alleviating the high competitive pressure they face while also reducing their parents’ financial burden .
That said, the actual motivation behind such a policy is likely China’s falling birthrate and the government’s distrust of large corporations. Despite revisions to its One-Child Policy, China has not seen a rise in birth rate, fueling concerns over an aging workforce . In fact, when China moved to allow families to have three children instead of two, the policy was not welcomed but instead met with anger due to the high costs of raising children . The Chinese government has also moved to regulate large private corporations in recent years, and the crackdown on tutoring companies follows that trend .
Nonetheless, to understand the implications of “Double Reduction,” one needs to first be acquainted with the Chinese education system, defined by the gaokao—the standard college entrance exam taken by all high school seniors who wish to matriculate into university. In fact, for the vast majority of Chinese universities, students’ scores on the gaokao is the sole factor considered for admission .
This test-based system has driven middle class families to spend a substantial amount of their income on extracurricular academic tutoring. In an effort not to “lose at the starting line” families have increasingly pushed their children into rigorous academic courses before they have even entered elementary school . It would be extremely rare to find students not in such afterschool programs, assuming that their families can afford them. Thus, unlike in the United States, attending tutoring was not a way to get ahead but instead the only way to keep up with one’s peers. As a result, a large tutoring industry emerged in China—estimated to be worth $100 billion before “Double Reduction” was unveiled .
Therefore, the Chinese government is right in identifying that the pressure to enroll one’s children into extracurricular courses is a significant financial burden on parents, and is likely discouraging them to have larger families. However, “Double Reduction” is not the solution.
On the surface, it may appear that “Double Reduction” would alleviate the financial stress of middle class Chinese families while promoting equality, since affording after school classes would not be a problem if they ceased to exist. However, “Double Reduction” does not alter the inherently competitive nature of the Chinese college-entrance system, nor does it diminish the importance of attending high-ranking universities in the job-search process. A large number of students will still be vying for a very limited number of spots at select universities, and attempts at closing test prep centers or limiting homework can not change that .
Thus, instead of alleviating financial stress, “Double Reduction” will only add to it, since families will now be scrambling to find private tutors who are far more costly . Though many parents do spend much of their income on after school tutoring programs offered by test prep corporations, they are still considered affordable for middle and even lower-middle class families. This then offers a pathway to social mobility if their children perform well on the gaokao.
“Double Reduction” takes away those relatively affordable preparatory programs and leaves families with two options: hoping that the government follows through with promises to establish free programs at the school their child attends, or paying for private tutors, which most families may not be able to afford. Thus, such policies will only solidify the upper class’s status and influence in Chinese society; they would become the only people who can afford private tutors for their children, who can then go on to achieve high scores on the gaokao and attend the most prestigious institutions. On top of that, the countless jobs provided by tutoring companies will vanish as they face government scrutiny and are forced to move away from academic subjects . Despite these consequences, “Double Reduction” has not faced any notable legal challenges, and likely will not in the foreseeable future due to China’s authoritarianism and censorship.
In sum, the unreasonably high pressures faced by Chinese students and their parents is undoubtedly a problem that requires further examination. However, proposed solutions such as the “Double Reduction” may achieve the opposite of their intended effect and instead serve to stratify inequality and lower educational accessibility.
The opinions and views expressed in this publication are the opinions of the designated authors and do not reflect the opinions or views of the Penn Undergraduate Law Journal, our staff, or our clients.
 Stevenson, Alexandra. “China Moves against Private Tutoring Companies, Causing Shares to Plunge.” The New York Times, July 26, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/26/business/china-private-education.html.
 Yu, Shan. “中共中央办公厅 国务院办公厅印发《关于进一步减轻义务教育阶段学生作业负担和校外培训负担的意见》” 中华人民共和国中央人民政府, July 24, 2021. http://www.gov.cn/zhengce/2021-07/24/content_5627132.htm.
 “Chinese Birth Rate Falls to Lowest in Seven Decades.” BBC News, January 17, 2020. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-51145251.
 Wang, Vivian. “Have Three Children? No Way, Many Chinese Say.” The New York Times, June 1, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/01/world/asia/china-three-child.html.
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 Zhou, Viola, and Qin Chen. “Chinese Colleges Tried Admitting Students the US Way. It Didn't Work.” Inkstone, March 15, 2019. https://www.inkstonenews.com/education/us-college-admissions-scandal-prompts-discussion-chinas-own-meritocratic-system/article/3001859.
 Stevenson and Li, “China Targets Costly Tutoring Classes. Parents Want to Save Them.”
 Li, Xiaoyang. “New Policy Relieves Student Burden and Changes the Landscape of the Tutoring Industry.” Beijing Review, September 10, 2021. http://www.bjreview.com/China/202109/t20210910_800258050.html.
 “China’s Education Crackdown Pushes Costly Tutors Underground.” Bloomberg, August 12, 2021. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-08-12/china-s-education-crackdown-pushes-costly-tutors-underground.
 Ye, Wendy. “China's Harsh Education Crackdown Sends Parents and Businesses Scrambling.” CNBC, August 5, 2021. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/08/05/chinas-harsh-education-crackdown-sends-parents-businesses-scrambling.html.
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