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Tutoring companies fined for false ad info

By ZOU SHUO | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2021-05-11 09:09
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Beijing-based online tutoring companies Zuoyebang and Yuanfudao were each fined 2.5 million yuan ($390,000) on Monday by the city's market regulator for false and misleading promotion and advertising, the State Administration for Market Regulation said in a statement.

A joint investigation by the national and Beijing market regulators found that Zuoyebang falsely claimed on its website that it is cooperating with the United Nations, and falsified the teaching experience of its teachers and users' evaluations, the statement said.

Yuanfudao falsely claimed it offered one-on-one tutoring by school head teachers and also falsified the teaching experience of its teachers, it said.

The two companies also misled consumers by claiming the price of its online courses before discount was much higher than it actually was, it added.

Zuoyebang said in a Weibo post on Monday that it accepts the punishment and has conducted comprehensive rectification on improper promotion and pricing.

In a separate Weibo post, Yuanfudao said it has conducted self-examination and changed all misleading information.

The new punishment was part of the government's efforts to rein in the sprawling after-school training companies to reduce students' excessive academic burden. China's online tutoring industry experienced rapid growth last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reaching 257 billion yuan in 2020, up 35.5 percent year-on-year, according to Shanghai-based market consultancy iResearch. The report estimated the industry would reach 490 billion yuan by 2024.

In April, the Beijing municipal administration for market regulation handed out fines of 500,000 yuan to four online education companies for misleading customers with false advertising.

GSX Techedu, Xueersi Online School, Koolearn and Gaosi were given the maximum fine for labeling their online courses with misleading prices, the administration said.

Earlier this month, Chongqing municipal education commission and administration for market regulation published a list of 18 tutoring companies for behaviors violating government requirements for after-school training.

They include teaching students too advanced material, false advertising and promoting, and hiring teachers without teaching credentials.

The government has taken various measures to regulate after-school training institutions. They include banning middle and primary schools from taking students' extracurricular qualifications into consideration during school enrollment, forbidding tutoring companies from exam-oriented tuition methods, teaching advanced materials outside the national syllabus or hiring teachers from public schools.

The Ministry of Education last month also asked tutoring companies not to assign any homework to students and asked them to end training before 8:30 pm.

Chu Zhaohui, senior researcher with the National Institute of Education Sciences, said tutoring companies are expected to face greater scrutiny as different government departments take concerted efforts to implement regulation guidelines issued previously.

However, as students are evaluated mostly by academic performances, they are still motivated to attend tutoring courses, so the key is to increase the quality of school education, he said.

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