Published: 15:17, June 3, 2024
Young people enrolling in night school to expand horizons
By Tan Yingzi and Deng Rui in Chongqing

Competitive job market spurs candidates to broaden skill sets

Students at Jiulongpo Youth Night School learn about the craft of making rubbings at the Wanxiang Bookstore in Chongqing's Jiulongpo district on April 3, 2024. (YANG DUODUO / FOR CHINA DAILY)

At 7 pm sharp on the evening of March 20, a bevy of 40 young people gather at a bookstore in downtown Chongqing to learn how to step into the world of livestreaming and e-commerce.

The sight has become a familiar one in recent times, as young people flock to the store to diversify their skill sets to gain an edge in China's competitive job market.

One of the beneficiaries of the e-commerce night course is Luo Peng, who as a result of picking up new skills has embarked on a side hustle selling products on his own livestreams.

"I used to hang out with friends, eating and drinking in the evening. But attending night classes is a more productive use of my time," Luo said.

The e-commerce night class is free of charge and is run by Jiulongpo Youth Night School and sponsored by the local government.

Jiulongpo Youth Night School is one of many night schools that have sprung up in recent times, encouraged by action taken by the Communist Youth League of China, a mass youth organization with over 74 million members aged between 14 and 28 as of last year.

Topics associated with night schools have regularly ranked among the most trending on social media over the past 12 months.

Buried among the threads are comments from many users who complain they are tired of some of life's mundane activities such as shopping, watching TV or browsing their mobile phones, and yearn for self-improvement.

Unlike night schools of the past that may have only focused on traditional crafts or arts, many of the latest raft of classes have a more modern bent to them, featuring short-video production, livestreaming and artificial intelligence, to name a few.

The early signs that night schools were becoming a thing among young people came in Shanghai in autumn last year when more than 650,000 people attempted to enroll in 10,000 places available in night schools. So many people attempted to enroll at the same time that the enrollment platform crashed at one point.

A guest speaker shares his thoughts in a night school class on literature appreciation in Chongqing on March 6, 2024. (YANG DUODUO / FOR CHINA DAILY)

Night schools have been rapidly springing up in other big cities such as Shenzhen, Beijing and Chongqing. Most night schools are organized by local committees of the Communist Youth League of China, community centers and nonprofit organizations.

Jiulongpo Night School opened in March, holding classes every Wednesday evening ranging from livestreaming to healthy living, mobile phone photography to making floral displays.

"Our courses are very popular, with over 200 people signing up for the classes in a very short time," said Chen Qian, an official from Chongqing's Jiulongpo Committee of the Communist Youth League of China.

The students, aged 18 to over 40, come from all walks of life and include college students, civil servants, teachers, doctors, bankers, journalists, factory workers, housewives and freelancers.

"We wanted to establish a platform for young people to have fun, improve their knowledge and skills, expand social connections and be involved in city management," she said.

As nonprofit programs run by public institutions, many night schools invite top teachers and professionals from various fields to give high-quality lessons.

Guanyinqiao Youth Night School is located in Chongqing's vibrant Jiangbei district, where a lot of the municipality's nightlife is.

Since opening in August last year, more than 400 night courses have been organized in 19 communities throughout Guanyinqiao subdistrict in Jiulongpo.

"Attending night school has reignited my long-lost motivation for learning. Not only can I break the bad habit of staying at home and just scrolling through my phone after work, but I can also acquire new skills and more like-minded friends," said Fu Xiaofeng, a student at the school.

Night school students listen to a lecture on new media and livestreaming e-commerce on March 20, 2024. (YANG DUODUO / FOR CHINA DAILY)

For Fu, 32, an administrator at a local hospital, Wulidian Hezuocun Night School in Jiangbei is an ideal place to spend the nighttime.

She said the courses that she has signed up for — Chinese calligraphy and boxing — cost 50 yuan ($6.92) each, and are affordable and worthwhile.

"It opens another door for me. I feel fulfilled and enjoy balancing both learning and entertainment by meeting people from different backgrounds and with the same hobbies," she said.

Huang Jianhua, a professor at the Department of Sociology and Social Work at Southwest University in Chongqing, pointed out that the rapid development of youth night schools across the country confirms German sociologist Hartmut Rosa's analysis of social acceleration.

"Scientific and technological progress has promoted the rapid development of society, but it has also sped up the pace of our life and work," she said.

"Our time is squeezed and everyone becomes anxious, lost and conscious. It is very hard for us to slow down and concentrate on one thing at a time."

Fu said young Chinese are facing many problems in the fast-developing society, and one of them is the inability to communicate with others.

"The popularity of night schools means that they are still seeking a better life despite their spare time being limited," she said.

"It is very good that the government is promoting night school programs, and I hope they can last as long as possible."

The professor also noted the higher proportion of women in the classes.

"In some classes, the male-to-female ratio was as much as 1:9," she said. "I think it is because many women feel more pressure and have less time to themselves, as some may have two or three children nowadays. So they attend night schools to make themselves better and make their lives more balanced."

Students at Jiulongpo Youth Night School make rubbings of stonework in Chongqing on April 3, 2024. (YANG DUODUO / FOR CHINA DAILY)

Youth development

As the trend of young people attending night schools sweeps across the country, the issue of how to properly manage these schools and meet the demands of the youth have become a pressing issue for local governments.

Chongqing, a mega city of 32 million people, has about 9 million people aged between 13 and 35. Thanks to its sound economic development, vibrant urban life, affordable living cost, unique landscape and rich history, the city has become a major destination to work and live for young people across China.

In March, the Communist Youth League of China Chongqing Committee released a guideline on setting up and managing night schools, the first in the country.

Chongqing will open an additional 30 night schools across the city this year, focusing on improving skills in entrepreneurship, digital work, manufacturing, the platform economy and modern services, according to the guideline.

It encourages young people to develop interests in modern and traditional art, music, sports, dance, drama, calligraphy, flower arrangement, tea ceremony and yoga.

"Youth night schools are a new way of cultural consumption, which has become popular so quickly because of its low threshold for access, low cost and diversified courses," said Li Hongshen from the youth development department of the Communist Youth League of China Chongqing Committee.

"There is no specific government regulation or guideline to manage this emerging business, so the committee has shouldered the responsibility to aid the development of night schools."

In 2022, 17 ministries and commissions, including the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, the National Development and Reform Commission, and the Central Committee of the Communist Youth League of China jointly released a document titled Opinions on the Pilot Construction of Youth-Development-Friendly Cities.

The opinions put forward in the document extol the urban development philosophy of making cities more friendly to young people and enabling the youth to achieve more in cities.

Jiangbei and Shapingba districts in Chongqing were among the first 45 pilot areas to carry out the plan.

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