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Government launches investigation into weekly educational publication
Authorities are investigating a popular English-language study guide that is alleged to have used discounts and kickbacks to promote sales in Hubei province.
English Weekly, a study guide in the form of a newspaper, has the largest circulation of its kind in China.
"We are highly concerned with the case and are working with other ministries to investigate," the Ministry of Education said on Monday.
English Weekly declined to respond when contacted by China Daily.
According to the publication's website, the paper had a circulation of 16 million among students in China in 2006.
"No one can advertise or promote study guides at school in any form, and anyone who receives kickbacks when buying such guides will be reprimanded by higher educational authorities and held accountable," said the Ministry of Education.
A researcher at the National Institute of Education Sciences who asked to be identified only as Meng, said that misconduct in sales is common in the study guide market.
"Publishers often collude with schools and teachers to promote sales of their study guides," he said, explaining that agents may offer the materials to a school or teacher at a discounted price, which are then sold to the students at full price.
Agents even give kickbacks to teachers to facilitate sales, said Meng.
Publishers are required to register with local authorities before they can publish and issue in the city, Meng said. "However, as far as I know, some study guide publishers haven't registered, which makes it easy for them to evade supervision and leaves holes for illegal business."
Since an unregistered publisher can circumvent supervision and deal with teachers directly, illegal practices such as bribery are unavoidable, he said.
The General Administration of Press and Publication did not respond to a request from China Daily for a comment.
However, in a previous statement, GAPP raised concerns that many widely used study guides had been found to offer substandard content, some even filled with spelling and grammatical mistakes.
"Demand from students and a lower threshold for market access have resulted in an increasing number of study guides in the market, which leads to fierce competition for market share within the industry," GAPP said.
An evaluation by GAPP released in May found 44 of 67 study-guide newspapers tested were low quality.
"My son has been ordering at least six types of study guides for various subjects under his teachers' instruction every year for the past several years," said Li Guoqiang, a government employee in Beijing's Chaoyang district.
"I was also confused to see my son have to buy so many extracurricular books," he said. "But I know all of his classmates are doing the same, and if he did not follow suit I am afraid he will fall behind."
On April 5, students at No 1 Middle School in Jingshan, Hubei province, burned magazines, test papers and books they had been forced to buy by the school to protest the school charging fees for the materials.
The principal and the head of the county's education bureau were later suspended.