There has been a wave of panic across the globe as China announced its ban on private ESL tutoring, but it’s not all doom and gloom. While the future of many popular ESL teacher companies like DadaABC, PalFish, and Magic Ears doesn’t look promising, there IS hope. The market is about to become even more competitive so arm yourself with the best TEFL course and get as much teaching experience as possible, be it in the form of finishing your ESL contract (more information on this later) or enrolling on an observed or certified teaching practicum course. Luckily, there are many things you can do as an established or new TEFL teacher to stand out so let’s figure this out together.
How Will China’s Regulations Affect ESL Online Teaching?
With the pandemic affecting how people are learning safely and conveniently, the online teaching sector became a safe haven. One country in particular where online education has a profound market is China. In China alone, around 400 million people are learning English today. However, the $120 billion online ESL industry in China faces a huge obstacle to overcome. This obstacle stems from Chinese regulations which impose a ban on private ESL tutoring.
The Chinese Government announced that they will be placing a ban on companies that profit from teaching school curriculum subjects, including English. In addition, private tutoring companies will be unable to hire foreign teachers from overseas. While the news is disappointing for companies who have a strong presence in the industry, how will the ban on private ESL tutoring affect teachers?
Why Is China Limiting Private Tutoring?
Firstly, let’s understand why the ban on private ESL tutoring is being imposed. While we may be disappointed with the news and what it means for online teaching, the ends may justify the means.
Safeguarding for Children’s Mental Health
It is understood that restrictions are being placed in order to increase the mental well-being of their students. China’s culture and education are undeniably hyper-competitive. With a severe reduction in ESL lessons, children have more opportunities to relax and behave like children.
A good work ethic is admirable. However, there’s a point of diminishing returns. Too much work will lead to lead to mental health problems such as burnout, anxiety, and depression. Additionally, sleep and play deprivation will lead to underdeveloped social skills and too much dependence.
While the decision may affect ESL teachers, we must appreciate the intentions of the ban on private ESL tutoring in this respect. After all, “play is not a luxury, but a necessity.” What use is education if the children can’t enjoy the fruits of their own labor?
An Incentive to Help Families
In addition to these ethical reasons which we cannot help but understand, there are speculations of other reasons which will benefit China in the generations to come. Not only will students’ workloads be decreased, but financial burdens will be alleviated from their parents.
Some parents will spend thousands on their children to study out of school throughout the year. It is reported that parents will spend $40,000 on average on their children’s education from the age of 5 to 18. This is done to keep the child competitive in a ruthless job market where standards are astronomically high. These fees, along with the living costs of living in big cities, mean that some parents are reluctant in increasing their family size. In turn, restricting private tuition will fight a declining birth rate. By having more money to spend, Chinese families may be more inclined to have larger families.
When Might This Ban on Private ESL Tutoring come into Effect?
Essences of the policy have already come into effect. While authorities have not provided a clear timeline, some Chinese ESL companies and ESL teachers have already been affected. China’s government already has a 9 pm curfew for online classes. This has affected the schedule and salary of ESL teachers who have lost students. Additionally, online teaching for pre-school children has been banned outright.
While this is detrimental to those who use online teaching as a primary source of income, it reinforces the harsh and competitive climate that children are put in. Considering they have homework and exams to prepare for in addition to school, they are still expected to work late at night.
How Will This Affect Online ESL Tutors?
Now we know about the ban on private ESL tutoring, how will it affect online ESL tutors? And does it even matter for you if you are an independent online teacher?
While the regulations state there will be a ban on hiring teachers from overseas, there is still some uncertainty. Many Chinese ESL companies have teachers working for them as independent contractors, rather than employees.
However, if a company is offering private tutoring, it will have to register as a nonprofit organization. This will severely affect the business models of Chinese ESL companies. This means even if foreign teachers are able to teach, salaries will be affected. It is also expected that online classes will be unavailable during weekends, holidays, and school breaks.
Affected Chinese ESL Companies
While profiting companies that utilize school curriculums will be affected, what about companies that have their own curriculum? Many Chinese ESL companies specialize in developing spoken English skills. It may be possible that some companies are also exempt from the new Chinese regulations.
Despite the ambiguity, many Chinese ESL companies have already been affected. GOGOKID has suspended the curriculum offered to Chinese students as of August 5th. Zebra English have halted their recruitment and will not continue developing their business due to “recent policies”. PalFish has had to cut teacher pay and reduce its staff.
Chinese ESL Companies That Inspire Hope
On the other hand, there are some Chinese ESL companies that are still operating for now. This includes DaDaABC, VIPKID, and Magic Ears, whose foreign teachers will be able to deliver lessons to Chinese students who have already paid for lessons. Many parents pay for lesson packages months in advance and in some cases even a year. This way, students will have the opportunity to finish their paid lessons, and teachers will be able to deliver these lessons for the time being.
VIPKID presented even more optimism, announcing that they are exploring different business avenues “which could minimize the impact” caused by new Chinese regulations. The company has taken the initiative to expand its international market outside of China. This optimism was reiterated, as they will continue to recruit new teachers for their ambitious development.
How Will It Affect Freelance Teachers?
If you’re an entrepreneur of sorts and your business specializes in teaching English, you may not have to worry. While the new Chinese regulations are a blow to ESL teachers and Chinese students, you may be exempt if you aren’t teaching curriculum-based subjects. Additionally, you could expand your market towards students of other nationalities.
What’s the Advice For Now?
Before you grab your bells and chant ‘the end is nigh’, there are still options you can take. If you are with a company that can honor contractual obligations and finish lesson packages you may have more time to consider your options before taking the next step.
However, change can be a good thing. When one door closes, another one opens. This can be the push that you’ve needed to branch out and develop professionally as an ESL teacher. So, what are the options?
By going freelance, you will be your own boss. Not only that, but you’ll have access to an international market and teach students from anywhere. You will teach your own lessons, set your own rates, and acquire your own students. While it may require more work than working for a Chinese ESL company, the payment will be vastly superior. In addition to the pay difference, you will be teaching your own lessons, rather than from a school curriculum.
This is also a step away from teaching General English, which could be far more rewarding. There is a high saturation of general English teachers, why not stand out? When you become a freelance online teacher, you will need to develop and market a USP. By defining your niche, you market yourself as a valuable asset to students who want to learn English for Specific Purposes (ESP). When presenting yourself as an English speaker with specific skills (e.g. business, cooking, etc.), you’re making yourself more valuable.
When going freelance as an online teacher, you will need to consider how to market yourself as an online teacher. You’ll need to think about how you will acquire students, content management systems, whether your website is multi-regional, and so on. In addition to this, you will need to know which software will facilitate your lessons. You can learn about how to teach online independently and which software to use here.
Teach a Different Demographic!
If becoming an independent online teacher doesn’t appeal to you, you don’t have to take the leap. You can continue working for online ESL companies without worrying about the new Chinese regulations. Students come from each corner of the world, you don’t have to restrict yourself to one avenue.
The word student carries the connotation of a child or a young adult, however, this isn’t always the case. This is especially true when you work for a company such as iTutorGroup. While iTutorGroup does (or did) teach young Chinese students, it also has a vast audience of adult learners. These adult learners come from China, Taiwan, Japan, and they may be professionals seeking to improve their business English or they may be studying for fun. Speaking of business English, we have six 30 hour TEFL-Pro specialist courses to help you develop that niche. Some of these are even included in course packages like the 240 Hour Level 5 Hybrid TEFL Course and 310 Hour Hybrid Master TEFL Course with Observed Teaching Practice.
These students are also very driven, as they already have the foundation of an extreme work ethic, meaning there will be no shortage of classes to teach. At iTutorGroup, you will teach a diverse range of lessons, from grammar to topics such as marketing, geography, sports, and so on.
Explore an International Market
While the ESL market may have been booming in China, there’s a whole world out there. Why let one avenue’s obstacles limit you from applying your skills? Here are some of the companies where you can teach students outside of China.
Cambly & Cambly Kids (Worldwide)
With Cambly, you can teach students from all over the world without a Bachelor’s Degree. You can work as little or as many hours as you want! You can earn $10.20 an hour teaching with Cambly or $12.00 an hour teaching with Cambly Kids!
Teach as many hours as you want, for however much you want to students from over 180 countries with Preply. With the ability to work as many hours as you want and to set your own rates, you can truly be your own boss.
Open English (South America)
By teaching with the leading online English company in South America, you can choose to teach adults and or children on a 1-1 basis or in group classes. There is also room to develop professionally with training and networking with other teachers within the Open English community.
English Hunt (South Korea & Japan)
If you’re a North American teacher and want to continue teaching Asian students, you can teach for South Korea’s leading video education provider. The company provides online English education for individuals and business professionals of all ages across South Korea and Japan.
Teach whichever language you like with Lingoda to students all over the world! At Lingoda, there is a wealth of motivated adult students seeking to learn many languages. With no minimum hours required, you can choose to work whenever you like.
Remember, these are five of many companies that specialize in teaching online to international students. With some research, you will be able to find plenty of more to select a suitable platform for your skills.
C’est La Vie, Que Sera, Sera, Life Goes On!
Remember, your language skills are valuable for students of all nationalities, not just in China. It would be counterproductive to let the restrictions of one market determine your success in a blossoming industry. If anything, it could be the start of something wonderful for your journey as an ESL teacher.
You could decide to teach a new demographic, whether they are of different ages or different nationalities. By teaching business professionals, you can offer more. You can offer English education within the context of business or interests, which would make you desirable as a teacher. The more teaching experience you have, the better your chances are of landing a job in the competitive TEFL jobs market. Invest in yourself and your abilities with observed teaching practicum with real ESL students and virtual tutor training.
Alternatively, you could take the entrepreneurial approach, and create your own private ESL business. Here, you have the immeasurable potential for your business and your earnings to soar.