New Oriental: How to make private tutoring successful in China?
“At New Oriental, our mission is to inspire Chinese students of all ages to improve their lives and expand their horizons through a lifelong commitment to learning. By empowering students to achieve their potential, build self-confidence, and develop a global vision encompassing both traditional Chinese values and modern thinking, New Oriental is committed to training a new generation of business and community leaders.”
—Mission statement of New Oriental—one of the most successful private tutoring companies in China
Recently, students in Lehigh’s International Education Policy class discussed the issues surrounding private tutoring, also called shadow education. The discussion focused on such issues as the phenomenon of private tutoring becoming worldwide, the equity implications of private tutoring, and the professional ethics of teachers who also work as private tutors. However, the situation of private tutoring is quite different in different countries. For example, shadow education functions successfully in Japan, while in other countries (such as Cambodia) private tutoring is not as successful. Although private tutoring has become a worldwide phenomenon, it is still heatedly debated.
After class, I continued to think more about private tutoring in China, and reflecting on how private tutoring has already been permeated into Chinese students’ common lives. Why do I say this? Because New Oriental—the most successful private tutoring company in China— has close relationship with Chinese students. New Oriental mainly focuses on the English language, and provides all tutoring services related to English examinations such as GRE, TOFEL, IELTS, and SAT. Since New Oriental was founded in 1993 in Haidian Distinct of Beijing, it had built 53 short-time language educational schools, 47 book stores, and 500 learning centers in 48 cities in China, and the 2011 statistics showed that there were about 15,000,000 students who had studied in New Oriental. Now New Oriental is becoming more popular than the regular schools, and after connecting its success with the in-class discussion, I would like to highlight four points that make it successful:
1. Addressing the needs of the Chinese society. New Oriental was founded when Chinese families and students began to be aware about the advantages of the Western education. At that time, the entrance exams such as GRE and TOFEL were seen as obstacles to pursuing education abroad and there was no doubt that the establishment of New Oriental helped those students prepare for the tests. With a good start, New Oriental began to expand its business to more areas, such as SAT training. With more and more Chinese students going to study overseas, New Oriental develops successfully
2. Offering new tutoring modes. “Speed Education”  is a strategy which New Oriental has implemented for many years. It means that most courses provided by New Oriental are short-term and last no more than twenty days during the holidays. At the same time, New Oriental learning centers are all over China, increasing access to tutoring services to students. Students don’t have to squeeze their own time from their busy school schedules; instead, they can choose any learning center which is near their homes. If there are still students who cannot attend the classes, they can choose to use online courses. Moreover, although the courses are short-term, the fees are very high. The high fees put pressure on students who are eager to make full use of every coin they pay. They have clear learning goals and concentrate on the entire courses, often resulting in totally different performances compared to their regular school classes.  At the same time, during the tutoring classes, teachers always tell some interesting stories about what happened to them in order to catch students’ attention, creating lively class discussions and avoiding boredom in their classroom.  Besides, in New Oriental, there is an interesting policy of grading for teachers.  In regular schools, teachers grade students; however, the roles change in New Oriental, where students grade and give feedback on each of their teachers’ performance. This policy guarantees the quality of courses and also is convenient for collecting suggestions from students.
3. Teaching the learning skills. Although New Oriental offers short-term courses, students receive plenty of information and curriculum content in the short period, which means that teachers have to make full use of every minute to deliver their knowledge. To make the class more effective, teachers choose to focus on the skills and not only the content of the teaching materials.  For example, for the reading questions in GRE, teachers will teach students how to exclude wrong answers and choose the right answers. When students participate in the exams, they have learned how to use the skills to answer the questions correctly. The higher frequencies of high scores on GRE or GMAT prove that those skills are more useful than the traditional teaching ways.
4. Raising the quality of teachers. Unlike those regular schools in China, the educational levels of New Oriental teachers are relatively higher and New Oriental has strict requirements for teacher recruitment.  Many teachers graduated from elite universities all over the world, such as Peking University, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, University of Pennsylvania, and others, thus creating an “elite team.” Besides, each teacher in New Oriental should have his or her own featured teaching method,  guaranteeing that every teacher is distinctive and thus ensuring unique learning experiences for students.
Although New Oriental makes much contribution to the development of English in China, its commercial character is geared towards the generation of profit, which is also a reason of high fees. Rather than opening more learning opportunities for all students, New Oriental is only increasing opportunities for students who can afford the cost. This can future deepened social inequities in the area of education.
Furthermore, New Oriental is also criticized for problems in its leadership as reflected in such news titles as “Contradictions appear among administrative leaders in New Oriental”, “More and more teachers leave New Oriental,” and so on. According to the news reports, New Oriental has reached its success because of its collaborative leadership. However, some critics argue that as the company has become more successful and profitable, those leaders have become more arrogant and less collaborative, causing difficulties in reaching agreements and instead insisting on their own thoughts and ideas.  Moreover, many New Oriental teachers are becoming more famous and some students choose New Oriental just because they want to see the popular teachers. Those teachers think they bring much profit for New Oriental and they ask for higher salaries. If New Oriental refuses to meet their needs, they often choose to leave. It is a pity that some teachers have lost their original intention of being good teachers, they want to be more famous and earn more money instead.
Nevertheless, there is still a long way for New Oriental to go, and I also look forward to watching it develop in the future.