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Ethics of Private Cram School Advertising Practices Questioned

The use of college entrance exam high-achievers to promote private cram schools harms equality, fuels anxiety and could even violate the law, a commentator has argued.

By Xu Mouquan Updated Sept.13

A number of private, for-profit exam coaching schools boost their brands by using the image of top performers in China's cutthroat college entrance test, interviewing them, live-streaming them teaching courses and even giving them titles like "chief learning officer." But recent commentary suggests the practice not only harms equality and fuels social concerns about education, but could also violate the law.

Lawyers say such marketing efforts could violate China's Advertising Law because some institutions engage in deceptive practices – like retroactively fabricating relationships with top performers who had never attended their schools. 

In a column for Shanghai-based news site The Paper, commentator Xi Po said the practice threatens education equality, and complained that these top achievers had become advertising billboards for the companies. "The money they pay the examinees is in effect an endorsement fee, with only one aim – follow their choice and choose us," Xi said. Even if they really did attend the private schools, asked Xi, could the top scores of those high achievers really be attributed to such institutions instead of their school teachers? 

He said the situation differed from regular celebrity endorsements because in the case of training schools, students and their parents might actually believe the institutions really did train the best students. He said China's turbulent college entrance environment would be further commercialized as a result, further fueling the stress and anxiety suffered by parents and students.