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Is this the end of online English to kids in China?

Is this the end of online English to kids in China?

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:

  1. ESL companies will have to register as non-profits. This means commercial investors will leave the sector

  2. No weekend or holiday classes. 30-minute classes only for juniors and all classes to finish by 9m. Parents and schools to encourage kids into sport and other activities to promote good mental health

  3. The public sector to be involved in providing good quality classes, and wrap-around after school care to fit around parents’ jobs, rather than the private, commercial sector

  4. Institutions should not hire teachers from outside mainland China

  5. Online training for pre-schoolers (up to around the age of 6 or 7) will be outlawed

  6. A ban on foreign curriculum and textbooks


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:

  • Be the best you can be. Take pride in your work. Stay positive. If a partial cull comes, they will keep the best. Global English graduate, Lea Hook has worked hard to maintain a good reputation with iTutor group. He says of the new legislation:

'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.'

  • Diversify. This could mean seeking work with companies that serve other markets online, promoting yourself on 3rd party platforms to new students and nationalities. Verbling, Preply, and italki. Discover whether your existing employer offers classes to adults – how could you get an ‘in’ if so?  

  • Set yourself up as a freelance English teacher. This is not easy at the beginning but there are some simple ‘mindset and marketing' things you can do to ensure you attract students and keep them. It may mean finding a niche to stand out. Could you teach exam English, business English? I teach both – and it has helped me stand out from the crowd.


Conclusion

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.

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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.

  • Author: Louisa Walsh
  • Date: Thursday 5th August 2021

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Is this the end of online English to kids in China?