China's Educational Changes after Introducing its Double Reduction Policy - Papers & Essays



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China's Educational Changes after Introducing its Double Reduction Policy


In July 2021, the Chinese government introduced the Double Reduction Policy.*1 This policy was formulated with the intention of easing the excessive burden of homework and after-school tutoring for young children. To date (November 2023), about two years have elapsed . In this article, I will explain why this policy was introduced and whether it has successfully reduced the Chinese children’s learning burden. In addition, I will discuss the overall impact and future challenges of this policy.


Double Reduction Policy, China’s education system, homework, burden of after-school tutoring, declining birthrate
What is the Double Reduction Policy?

In July 2021, the General Office of the Chinese Communist Party and the General Office of the State Council jointly announced the public notice titled "Opinions on Reducing Young Children's Burden of Homework and After-school Tutoring at the Compulsory Education Stage." Since then, the Chinese government has implemented a series of ordinances relating to the Double Reduction Policy. The main points of the policy can be summarized as follows:

Reducing homework burden

  • Elementary first- and second-graders: No worksheets for homework or tests.
  • Elementary third- to sixth-graders: Only homework to be given that can be finished within 60 min.
  • Junior high school children: Only homework to be given that can be finished within 90 min.

∗The policy recommends ensuring sufficient sleep time for young children (for example, bedtime for elementary school children should be 21:00 ; the amount of sleep per day should be 10 hours for elementary school children, 9 hours for junior high school children, and 8 hours for high school children).*2

∗The policy encourages children to engage in appropriate exercises and cultural/artistic activities. It is also considered desirable to control the time spent using digital devices and thus ensure a well-balanced lifestyle, considering their eyesight and health.

Reducing after-school tutoring (cram schools/private tutoring schools)

  • The opening of new after-school tutoring classes is prohibited in all areas.
  • Existing after-school tutoring service providers are required to re-register.
  • After-school tutoring classes are prohibited on Saturdays, Sundays, national holidays, and summer/winter school holidays.
  • The duration of online after-school tutoring classes should be no more than 30 min. with at least 10 min. break time and end by 21:00.
  • Online tutoring classes for three- to six-year-old children are prohibited.
  • Preschool tutoring classes (including foreign languages) are prohibited.

The scope of restriction on after-school tutoring includes "academic subjects" required for school entrance exams, such as national language, mathematics, geography, and history. Other subjects not required for entrance exams, such as music, art, and sport, are classified as "non-academic subjects" and outside the scope of restriction ("Notification on the criteria of compulsory and non-compulsory subjects for after-school tutoring at the compulsory education stage" announced by the Ministry of Education of the People's Republic of China on July 28, 2021).*3

Background and purpose of the Double Reduction Policy

In China, children have to endure considerable competitive pressure due to school entrance exams. School teachers tend to give children excessive amounts of homework, which is intended to improve their academic skills to pass the exams. Children also need to have after-school tutoring, which is the cause of several problems, such as shortened free time and insufficient sleep/exercise.

Such excessive pressure is deemed to harm children's physical and mental development. That is why the Double Reduction Policy was introduced. The primary purpose of the policy is to reduce the children's burden of school homework and after-school tutoring, thereby relieving them from high-pressure circumstances.

In addition, in modern society, it is considered critical to foster creative human resources instead of focusing solely on entrance exams and rote memorization of facts and figures. The policy intends to promote children's physical/mental health and autonomous learning apart from entrance exams. The Double Reduction Policy also aims to reduce parental anxiety and concerns over child-rearing as well as alleviating their financial burden due to rising education costs. This policy was formulated as part of various countermeasures against the nation's declining birthrate. The Chinese government has been implementing a strict one-child family policy for more than 30 years since 1979. Partly due to this family policy, the number of births fell below 10 million in 2022 and is projected to fall below eight million in 2023. Considering the size of the total population, the number of births in China is declining at a higher rate than that of Japan. The factor of rising education costs is one of the major causes of the declining birthrate. According to the "2022 Report on Child-Rearing Costs in China," the national average of education costs (until a child reaches 17 years old) is about 485,000 Yuan (equivalent to about 9 million yen as of October 2023).*4 This figure tends to be higher in metropolitan cities. For example, in Shanghai, it is estimated that one million Yuan (equivalent to about 20 million yen) is required, the highest education cost among all other cities. In addition to kindergarten and elementary/junior high school fees, parents have to invest a considerable amount of money in after-school tutoring and home education to help children pass competitive entrance exams.

Consequences of the Double Reduction Policy

After-school tutoring service providers facing serious damage
The Double Reduction Policy substantially affected after-school tutoring service providers. The stock prices of major after-school tutoring service providers dropped sharply. For example, The stock price of "A" company providing online after-school tutoring had dropped by 63.26% as of July 23, 2021, while the stock prices of "B" company and "C" company, the largest after-school tutoring service providers in China, had dropped by 54.22% and 70.76%, respectively (Source: "After the Implementation of the Double Reduction Policy: 2021 China Education and Training Research Report").*5

In response to such adverse conditions, most after-school tutoring service providers shifted their services from exam-oriented education to "quality education" that focuses on holistic education. While after-school tutoring services for compulsory subjects (entrance exam subjects) are prohibited under the Double Reduction Policy, non-academic subjects such as STEM, music, art, and sport are outside the scope of policy restrictions. Therefore, non-compulsory subjects have become the last resort for these providers to survive. Some providers have given up on the education industry altogether and shifted to other industries, such as online selling.

Chinese government provides online classes led by skilled elementary/junior high/high school teachers
In contrast to these for-profit service providers, the government provides online learning content free of charge. It began with the COVID-19 pandemic. All schools were closed in response to the pandemic in 2020. To address children's education at home, the government established a platform that provides online tutoring led by skilled teachers from elementary, junior high, and senior high schools under the slogan of "Never stop children's learning (停課不停学)." Even after the pandemic, the government continues to maintain and makes further enhancements to the online tutoring platform. Currently, the platform is used by teachers and children when preparing or reviewing their classes.

Parents' anxiety about their children's education is reduced?
The Double Reduction Policy successfully eliminated all service providers that offered after-school tutoring with excessively crammed schedules in pursuit of their profits. As a result, positive outcomes were reported. According to the "2021-2022 Report on the Trend of Physical and Mental Health of Chinese People" published by the Chinese Academy of Sciences in January 2023, the school children's homework burden (in particular, elementary school children) was reduced.*6 So, how has this affected parents' anxiety about education? According to the survey of 510,000 Chinese parents in 31 cities across the nation conducted by the Communist Youth League Of China (China Youth Daily, Social Survey Center), 86.8 % of respondent parents answered that they agreed with the Double Reduction Policy, and 72.7% answered that their anxiety regarding children's education had eased.*7

However, the survey also revealed parental anxiety and concerns as follows:

  • I don't know how to instruct my child to study appropriately. (73.2%)
  • I am worried my child will be unable to keep up with other children in the class without after-school tutoring. (53.1%)
  • I cannot provide a good education for my child due to my low income. (48.7%)
  • Considering highly competitive entrance exams for junior high and high schools, I am afraid that my child will not be able to go to university. (48.2%)

Most parents of elementary school children consider not only "academic performance" but also "personal quality" to be important. However, as their children grow older, parents are more likely to focus on "academic performance" for their higher education in the future.

Experts pointed out both positive outcomes and some other issues
One of the researchers I interviewed pointed out that reducing the need for after-school tutoring could alleviate the root causes of current educational issues. To do so, radical reforms are required for the entrance exam system, exam contents, and assessment methodologies. In this way, they believe children's burdens can be reduced. On the other hand, however, reducing the children's burden might deprive children of an opportunity to receive adequate education. Therefore, it is an urgent necessity to address the reallocation of educational resources, educational fairness, and enhancement of public education quality while considering the balance between reducing children's burden and educational reforms.

Challenges for the future

About two years have elapsed since the implementation of the Double Reduction Policy. Obviously, the children's burden of school homework and after-school tutoring has been reduced, and the amount of free time increased. However, many parents are worried about the use of children's free time. They are not sure whether children will be OK by just playing freely without studying at home or whether they should receive after-school tutoring. In fact, my Chinese friend told me, some parents have children receive after-school tutoring in secret. Even the Chinese media reported on this phenomenon. To address this issue, the Ministry of Education of the People's Republic of China announced the new ordinance "Interim Measures for the Administrative Dispositions on After-school Tutoring" on October 15, 2023.*8 This ordinance imposes severe penalties on individuals and organizations for their after-school tutoring by breaching the provisions of the Double Reduction Policy.

In China, the unemployment rate for young people currently exceeds 20%. The prospect of finding a job after university graduation continues to be uncertain. In addition, a new system for choosing a higher education path has been introduced in junior high schools. This system will change the traditional success story of "advancing to a good-level high school, then to a good-level university, and joining a good-level company" among Chinese people. Parents face a crucial crossroads in deciding on their children's education path for their future success.

This new policy will further affect and change parental perspectives on child-rearing. At the same time, children may have more difficulties receiving after-school tutoring in preparing for entrance exams. One scenario is that schools will shift from "exam-oriented education," which aims to develop children's skills to pass exams, to "quality education," allowing children to choose an education path commensurate with their abilities . The other scenario is that exam competitions will become more intense, and parents will secretly pay more money for after-school tutoring for their children. This may result in a widening educational divide among children. We need to wait and see the outcome and effects of the new policy. In addition, the government has been implementing the policy of "Made in China 2025" for eight years since 2015. Currently, the national strategies to make a prosperous country through science and technology draw heightened attention from the public.*9 The government promotes the education areas of science, art, sport, and STEM to develop human resources focusing on a high level of imaginative skills and creativity.

As with China, Japan also faces a major turning point regarding the nation's declining birthrate and educational reforms. Japan should be able to gain some valuable insights from the initiatives of the Chinese government.


aiping_liu.jpgAiping Liu

CRN Senior Researcher, Benesse Educational Research and Development Institute (BERD) Senior Researcher, Japanese Society of Child Science permanent board member, and a toy consultant.
Her main research and publications up to now are as follows:
"Children in Societies with a Declining Birthrate: The View of Child Science" (2006), "International Perspectives on Early Childhood Education" (East China Normal University, 2007, p 262 - 277, translation), "Recipes for Play (DVD)" (2011), "The Child Science Exchange Program in East Asia" (2007 - 2014), "Research on ECEC (Early Childhood Education and Care)" (2013 - 2015), and "Child Research Network Asia (CRNA)" (2016 - ).