The abrupt closure of non-university training centers raises questions

Hundreds of families in central China’s Hubei province have been scrambling to get refunds from a well-known early childhood education franchise that shut down abruptly overnight this week, raising questions about the sudden closure.

Parents in the city of Shiyan told Sixth Tone that they found the local Gymboree Play & Music center vacant on Wednesday, saying it had closed without providing any information. They said the center was open until the previous weekend and parents were encouraged to prepay for lessons at discounted rates.

A mother named Chen said she paid more than 10,000 yuan ($1,500) for 70 lessons for her child last week. She said there were about 200 parents in an online chat group discussing how to get refunds, some of which were as high as 20,000 yuan.

“Their sales staff pressured us to prepay for additional classes at discounted prices,” Chen said. “I had no idea they could get away so quickly. From what has happened in other cities, there is hardly any chance of getting our money back.

Gymboree Play & Music was founded in the United States 45 years ago – it was sold to a Chinese entrepreneur in 2016 – and specializes in educational activities for children up to the age of 5 and has franchises around the world. There are nearly 600 Gymboree centers in more than 200 Chinese cities since its first center opened in the country in 2003, according to the company’s website.

The abrupt closures of non-university training centers come just a year after authorities targeted the university training sector. The ‘double cut’ policy has sent shockwaves through the country’s nascent tutoring industry, stoking anxiety among parents and students, shutting down major education powerhouses and leading to mass job cuts.

The non-university training sector, valued at more than 600 billion yuan, is now facing uncertainties, as authorities step up their monitoring of prices and operations and hint at a regulatory mechanism. Data collected from 10 cities – including Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen – in May showed that prices for such courses such as music, dance and arts rose slightly from April to a maximum of 300 yuan a year. hour.

In April this year, Gymboree centers in Jinan and Zaozhuang in the eastern province of Shandong were also closed without warning or refunding customers.

Sixth Tone’s call to the Gymboree center in Shiyan on Thursday went unanswered. Its Shanghai headquarters said it could help register complaints from families, but their issues would be handled by local franchises.

In recent weeks, several other non-academic training centers have also closed. The My Gym pre-kindergarten training center in the northeastern city of Dalian closed in May without notifying or refunding parents, despite the company promising to refund any amount owed.

“They didn’t just hurt my purse, they hurt my children’s feelings too,” said a mother who shares her experiences online. “My kids loved the place. I don’t know of any other way to protect my rights than to express my anger on social media.

The mother claimed to have lost 18,000 yuan due to the sudden closure.

In addition to pre-kindergarten services, a well-known music education company, Little Musician, also sailed in bad weather. The company has reportedly not paid its teachers for months.

In mid-June, the Little Musician founder penned an open letter to parents and teachers, acknowledging the capital flow issues and operational challenges of the business. Founded in 2015, the company connects 300,000 private music teachers with 4 million students for online and in-person lessons.

A parent from Shanghai told Sixth Tone that his child had more than 30,000 yuan from lessons with Little Musician.

“It’s not the first time I’ve lost money because of a tutoring center suddenly going bankrupt,” she said. “Last year it was an English tutoring centre. I don’t know what to trust now.

Publisher: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: Children learn to dance at a training center in Lianyuan, Hunan province, July 7, 2021. VCG)

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