ESL China Update: Three Months On

ESL China Update: Three Months On


It`s been three months since the shock announcement by the Chinese government in July, effectively banning foreign teachers from teaching from outside China. Since then many online teachers’ lives have been turned upside down as they contemplated their next move. 

Some held tightly to the raft, waiting for the bitter end, many chose to jump ship before it sank; joining the mass exodus to other companies or branching out on their own, and others tried desperately to maintain contact with their former students, hoping to continue classes and maintain the bond they had formed over the years. Let`s look at some of the recent developments and examine where we go from here. 

The Parents

Education in China is highly prized and fluent English is perceived by many to be the key to university and a prosperous future. According to the South China Morning Post, many parents are still hiring private foreign tutors, prompting the ministry of education to reiterate its ban on even small scale private tutoring. 

Despite this, many teachers report receiving an influx of messages from parents desperate to continue private classes. With much of western social media banned in China and difficulties in transferring payment overseas, this is no easy task. 

The Companies

The new regulations have also been catastrophic for the once mega-successful Chinese EdTech companies. With 50-80% of their revenue coming from a tutoring sector that has now been banned, the stock of New Oriental and Technology Group fell by 86% and rival TAL Education Group by 93%. As a result of the changes, some companies such as GOGOKID and Zebra English have already ceased operations, while others continue to forge ahead in a desperate attempt to turn things around. 

On October 5th, in a statement released on their teacher portal, one-time industry giant VIPKID appeared to do a U-turn on their previous pledge to continue classes for at least six months stating that; 

“Students in the Chinese mainland will no longer be able to take classes with foreign teachers living outside of China” 

They added, 

“We are disheartened and sorry to share this update as we know it will immediately impact the livelihood of teachers in the community and we know that you treasure your teaching relationships with your students in China,” 

On October 25th, Koolearn Technology, the online education arm of New Oriental announced that they will no longer offer tutoring to students between kindergarten and ninth grade. However, Bling ABC, part of New Oriental made no comment about this in their recent teacher`s newsletter and a recent post on their Facebook page suggested that the company is already beginning to expand into markets outside China. 

“We have students in the USA, Canada, and Thailand! We will continue to expand this program while exploring other avenues to share language, culture, and experiences with students around the world.”


The Teachers

Understandably many teachers have already moved to pastures new, be it in online teaching or another industry. Many more have put in place a plan B in anticipation of what`s to come. 

A Facebook poll across nine Online English teachers groups asked the following question:  

Have you seen a change in the number of classes you are being scheduled since the changes in online education in China?

The results were as follows:

  • 6% of teachers had noticed an increase in classes, (possibly due to the number of teachers leaving the company) 
  • 18% reported no change in the number of classes
  • 14% had experienced a slight reduction in classes.
  • 52% said they had had a significant reduction (less than half the previous amount)
  • 10% of teachers stated that they are not receiving any classes

In conclusion, while some teachers are lucky enough to still be getting classes, for many of us the bubble that was the Chinese online teaching industry has already burst. There are whispers, especially among the larger companies, of moving online education into different areas such as teaching adults or selling packages outside China, but whispers do not pay the bills and when this is your main source of income it’s easy to see why many teachers are choosing not to stick around. 

“I felt sad when I packed away all the props I`d collected and made over the years,” says *Eva, an ESL teacher for the past three years who has since returned to work in a brick and mortar school.  “But it’s time to move on.”

“I`ve joined three new companies,” says *Tina, a former VIPKID teacher who`s been teaching online for the past year, “The money is less, but the kids are great and it’s nice to have that sense of security again, knowing that I`ll still have a job when I wake up”

*Dan, an ESL teacher for five years puts it differently, “I have no regrets about the past five years” he says, “I had the best time, met some great kids, and learned the skills I needed to branch out on my own. Now I set my own schedule, charge my own rates, and teach students from all over the world. Life has never been better”

How has your life changed since the new regulations were introduced? Leave a comment below!

*Names have been changed. 


Related Articles

Am I fired? What does the future hold for the Online ESL industry in China?

The rumors have been circulating for a while now. Brief ripples in online ESL groups along with the usual, “Which online schools are the best?” “What kind of headset do I need?” and the ubiquitous debate on native vs non-native teachers (yawn).

Then on 20th July 2021, the tidal wave finally hit, and I like millions of other online ESL teachers stared at the headlines and asked themselves the same question, 

“Am I fired?” 

Is Online English Teaching the best job in the world?

I never wanted to be a teacher. My background was in healthcare, first as a nurse and later as a medical translator where long hours, heavy workloads, late nights, and early mornings were the name of the game. Then life and circumstances brought me to Spain, and without the necessary language skills to continue in my chosen field, I had to start again.


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  1. I am sorry. But we didn’t go anywhere, “Where do we go from here” (Line 7.) and you did not leave any alternative plan or advice, [In conclusion, while some teachers are lucky enough to still be getting classes, for many of us the bubble that was the Chinese online teaching industry has already burst]. So, it would seem to me this is an informative piece rather than an action piece. Your words are pretty boldly misaligned, as I have stated.

  2. I think we can all say that the industry suffered many obstacles in the past.
    One thing that happened that we should have seen as negative was the constant over hiring of companies, ignoring qualifications in favor of non-degree applicants with a TEFL over license qualified career teachers, the market saturation began lowering wages, age became an issue, young and pretty was the new image over quality and education being replaced by dog and pony shows.
    This was an indication that troubles had already began years ago. These companies were trying to put a new face on an old proven system to grow at the expense of reputation, lively hoods, and with no benefits we became slave to the fear of penalties. These of course were designed to keep you on your phone for updates classes and sitting by your computers most of the time.
    Companies are a lot more the blame than the government. The government say profits at the expense of learning/life balance. In essence, the companies made too much money at the top and it had a great effect on the bottom end of operations.
    Yet, TEFL raiders and Referral Monkeys are still touting they can get you a job in a market that is basically non -existent at present for many.
    I have been applying for more work for 2 months. All I get are we are not hiring, based on your information we have decided not to proceed with your application, or nothing at all. Especially, with a picture and date of birth on the information you must be ready for the image discrimination, age discrimination or race discrimination. What surprises me is that the US and European companies that are required by law not to be racist, ageist, or must have the qualifications to teach in a classroom are ignoring these laws and getting away with it.
    It surprises many that some US based companies have not been sued for ageism, or sexism.
    All in all it was a good run. I think we can say it is over and kapoot. Even with Covid and students at home it is nearly impossible to find a job teaching them as these require licensed and teachers with educational degrees.
    To sum it up. I am have a degree in education, over 30 years experience in the classroom and 8 years online teaching, licensed in two countries including the US. It is not an easy rode for many of us.
    I join you in lost savings, eviction, and I cannot cross the border to go home. Keep the faith but run away from teaching online. It is dead for anyone over 35 in my opinion.
    OH, and if you think Europe is the new cornucopia think again. Anywhere the UK has a company involved it is almost guaranteed an American will not be hired.

  3. My comments have many grammatical mistakes. I can admit it. It is 3 am and this article just inspired me to free write my thoughts.