Could it be goodbye to VIPKid, Magic Ears, Whales English, DadaABC, and the like?
Perhaps not, but there is a potentially seismic shift coming to China, affecting all commercial tutoring to children in the country.
So, if you are working in the huge Chinese junior English teaching market, then you need to be aware of what is coming, and what you can do to prepare.
What is changing?
There’s a new ‘720 policy’ relating to the provision of private tutoring to kids, issued by the Chinese State Council. The proposals are far-reaching with major implications for English language teaching and learning in China.
For the ESL industry – and its foreign English teachers, the key measures are:
Why these changes?
The Chinese government hopes to boost the birth rate by making family life easier, cheaper, and less intense academically for kids. To do this, they intend to weaken private sector involvement in education and provide more state-run educational services and after-school options.
They hope these measures will reduce financial burdens on the family, eliminate cramming, reduce academic pressures on students and promote holistic wellbeing. I’ve also read that there is a broader crackdown on the power of private technology companies in China, so these measures fit within this wider narrative.
Are these actual laws, and when will they come into effect?
Since the State Council issues policies, these are not yet laws. However, nine cities have been selected to pilot many of the new policies. These include the major cities of Shanghai and Beijing starting perhaps as early as September 2021.
What next for affected ESL companies and teachers?
It is hard to say. Some of the policies may be open to interpretation by companies and by provinces. For example, the 720 policy is aimed at ‘training companies registered in China'. What about companies outside China, registered as different entities? Could teachers be employed as ‘volunteers’ somehow? Will ambitious parents try and get around the system, using overseas companies, platforms, and freelance teachers?
However these policies unfold, the direction of travel seems clear: the aim is to reduce private tutoring of the kind offered en masse by thousands of online and in-class EFL tutors for huge companies like Whales, iTtutorGroup, and VIPkid, etc. So, at the very least, I’d expect a drop in demand for online ESL tutors and perhaps a drop in pay as demand for tutors reduces.
So, what can be done to prepare?
I've got a few suggestions. so you can start taking action now to protect yourself as an online educator:
'The Chinese and Taiwanese sides of iTutorGroup have split recently. The Chinese company is still run as iTutorGroup and the Taiwanese company is run as TutorABC. I am one of the lucky ones who was invited to carry on my accounts with both companies, with separate emails and accounts, etc. These rules will not come into action in Taiwan so sessions for kids and adults will carry on as normal.'
Whichever route you choose, stay positive. There are a lot of learners out there: Italki alone has 5 million students. This is the tip of the iceberg in terms of language learning.
But what is clear is you can’t sit back. Perhaps now is the time to refine your offering, develop your skills still further and take steps to future-proof your income.
As an online English teacher with my own business, I've seen many changes over the years; it's rarely welcome but it is inevitable – and, if embraced, change can also lead to amazing opportunities.
Is it time to take your online English teaching to the next level? Check out Louisa's 5* online English teacher programme. It's perfect if you want customised 1-1 training by Zoom to build skills and confidence, or if you need marketing and next-step tools and inspiration to set up as an independent.
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