New Online ESL Regulations in China (Update 2019)

Understand how new online ESL regulations in China are going to affect you

Note: this article will be updated as new information becomes available. Originally published 12/2/2018.

2018 Regulations

A host of new regulations were recently enacted by the Chinese Education Ministry attempting to bring online schools and other after-school programs in-line with standards which conventional schools are held to. While the majority of these regulations will primarily affect the companies themselves and how they are expected to operate and report, there are a number of new regulations which impact teachers.

The regulations dealing specifically with teachers are primarily concerned with qualification levels and set a minimum level of qualification that teachers must meet in order to teach children in China. As such, it is important to understand what these are and what they will mean for you as an online ESL teacher.

A recent article published in November 2018 in the China Daily* (one of the official papers of the Chinese Government) stated:

Online after-school training institutions will be brought under the same regulations as traditional brick-and-mortar ones, the Ministry of Education said on Monday, as it further tightens scrutiny on the sector.

So far, as mentioned, the bulk of these new regulations will impact the companies and the schools and will hardly be noticed by the teachers. These include requirements for online companies to report the class name, course material, and class schedule to regional educational authorities to have on file.

Further guidelines state that all companies will be required to publish the names, photo, credentials, as well as the schedule of all teachers in a visible location on their websites. This is something that many companies are already doing, however, these new guidelines indicate that the Chinese government has online education in its sights and will be seeking to further bring the industry (which till now has gone largely unregulated) in line with educational standards and regulations covering brick and mortar schools in the country.

What does this mean for teachers?

So far, the main change for teachers is that every teacher will be required to meet minimal standards that a teacher working in China would have. This means that all teachers will be required to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in any field, at least 2 years of experience (though this one will probably be more subjectively enforced), a criminal background check, and a TEFL certification.

Most companies have already been hiring teachers with a bachelor’s degree, however, many teachers working in the online industry lack a TEFL certification. Also, there have not been any attempts until recently to require teachers to submit criminal background checks until recently when DaDa ABC required teachers to submit one.

The main thing that companies so far have been concerned with is making sure all teachers obtain a TEFL certification. The requirement by DaDa ABC of a criminal background check could be a sign that this will be the next requirement, however, for now, it seems that the TEFL certification has taken front and center as far as the new regulations go. This has led to many online teachers scrambling to quickly obtain a certification in order to be compliant.

What should you do?

If you are an online teacher then getting a TEFL certification is unavoidable at this point. The regulations are expected to take effect by the beginning of 2019 and as such many companies are pushing for all of their teachers to obtain certifications by the end of 2018 (though a more reasonable timeline for this is going to be March or April of 2019). To this end, there are a large number of discount online TEFL providers which are being used by teachers to quickly and economically obtain a certification.

For right now, you are absolutely fine obtaining a certification from one of these companies. However, something to be aware of is that these regulations are new and they will undoubtedly be updated as time goes on. This could mean that what is and is not acceptable as a certification may be more clearly defined in the future and these discount online TEFL providers may no longer be a viable option.

The primary problem is that these discount online providers do not have any form of in-class practicum and have little to no standards in regards to their material or minimum requirements for teachers to pass. This means that as far as TEFL certifications are concerned, these discount online providers (which primarily advertise on Groupon) are the bottom of the barrel.

Even though they advertise as being accredited, there are no actual internationally recognized accrediting bodies in the TEFL industry. This is different from universities which are accredited by nationally and internationally recognized bodies which have laid forth very strict standards that the university must meet in regards to facilities, curriculum, and faculty and administration credentials. For this reason, there is no guarantee with an online discount TEFL provider that you are actually getting the information you need to effectively teach in the classroom.

As mentioned above, there is as of yet no further guidance on these regulations other than teachers must hold a TEFL certification. So, for now, you will be fine with an online-only TEFL certification from a discount provider. However, it is advised that if you want to make a career as a TEFL teacher that you consider obtaining a 120-hour certification with an in-class practicum. This will show that you have in-class teaching experience and are able to manage the demands of being an in-class teacher.

For further information about TEFL certifications, you can read up on which one is best for you on our TEFL certification resource page.

2019 Regulations Update

As mentioned when this article was originally published, the Ministry of Education is attempting to better regulate after school programs, both online and offline.

The previous regulations were targeted at ensuring a higher quality in terms of highering teachers. The goal was to ensure that teachers hired for after school programs had the same qualifications that teachers being hired at public schools held.

The newest round of regulations, which came out in July 2019, continues this trend.

These regulations target online programs primarily. The primary goal is to provide greater levels of transparency for parents looking to hire teachers.

While the new regulations are quite vast, laying out everything from how long classes can be the requirements for material, there are a few main points that will affect teachers.

Online schools must now clearly publish all of the information pertaining to teachers and their qualifications. This information must be in a clear and easy to access place. The information will include:

  • Copies of qualifications (TEFL, Degree, CELTA, Teaching Certification, etc.)
  • Information about the teacher’s experience
  • Information about the teacher’s background (name, date of birth, etc.)

It is unclear what the longterm effect of this will be. One immediate impact is that teachers who lack proper qualifications will slowly be weeded out.

One other thing impacting teachers will be new limitations to teaching hours. Classes can now only be taught up to a certain time of day (9 pm China Standard Time). This will affect all students below a certain grade level. Also, students under a certain grade level cannot take online classes.

Aside from this, there are many other regulations about the type of information companies are allowed to teach. Technical requirements that they must come in-line with. As well as requirements for the companies to follow standardized accounting procedures.

Companies must also very clearly layout class cost as well as any fees and must have a clear refund policy. More importantly, the method and procedure for the refunds must clearly be identified and displayed for parents.

All of this combined will most likely put greater pressure on companies. It is expected that some companies will fold (as some already have). This will have a short term impact of creating a glut of teachers looking to work with other companies.

Part of these new regulations is to implement an investigation into online companies. The results of this investigation are to be completed by December 2020. Expect an update to this article as new information becomes available.

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Comments (7)

  • Marwa Zanial March 26, 2019 at 12:27 pm

    Hello Devin,
    I have been teaching online with EF for 5 yrs. i have 3 AA degrees, 150 hr TEFL certificate and many years of experience including in a community college language center. Is it possible to continue teaching students in China with my qualifications? Please advice.


    • Devin Hargrove March 26, 2019 at 10:30 pm

      For online work, you will be just fine with your current qualifications. The online companies have been primarily focusing on having their teachers obtain TEFL certifications. As of now, some companies are still hiring teachers who do not have a bachelors degree. You will, however, run into issues if you try to find work at a physical school in China. This is because one of the requirements for obtaining a Z visa (work visa) is at least a bachelors degree. It would be illegal for you to work without the proper visa and you can get in serious trouble if you try and are caught. If you have any further questions please don’t hesitate to ask!

  • Erica December 12, 2018 at 7:01 am

    Thank you very much. I will be contacting them. I appreciate your guidance.

  • Erica December 11, 2018 at 4:04 am

    Thank you Devin! This is what I needed. Yes I would like to know more about the International TEFL.

    • Devin Hargrove December 11, 2018 at 10:19 am

      No problem. ITA is based out of Chicago and has been around for quite a while. The reason we work with them is they are a level 5 qualification under the UK government standards. What this means is that the course is the equivalent of a university-level course and meets the UK Government’s minimum level of certification to work professionally. They are also recognized by the better business bureau. This is in contrast to many other TEFL programs which are simply accredited by random accrediting businesses.

      Another benefit of ITA is that they have lifetime assistance for teachers in finding work. This differs from job placement in that you can find where you want to work and they will help you with things like resume creation, ensuring that the job isn’t a scam, and helping you to prepare for the job. This is for anywhere in the world whether for the jobs you are looking for in the States, or if you ever decide to teach abroad.

      The course itself is 130-hours. This includes the online material you will complete and then the actual in-class teaching. I will say that this course is highly intensive and one of the hardest that I have been through. At this point, I have evaluated four different TEFL courses for this website.

      I recommend that, if you are interested, you contact their admissions counselors. You will be required to speak with a counselor prior to admission into their program to evaluate what you want from the program and to ensure it is the best program for you (another thing I like about ITA). You can use this link to get in touch with them. The link will take you to a download for a brochure with more information about the program. Also, you can use this discount code for an extra $50 off the program (code = ESLJobExchange). Anything else you need please let me know. The best way to get in touch is through our contact page which goes right to my email.

  • Erica Delp December 8, 2018 at 10:01 pm

    Devin, could you weigh in on the TESOL/TEFL from Arizona State University? I am in the process of choosing a program with the goal of being able to maintain my jobs at VIPkid and GOGO kid. I also would like my certification to enable me to apply for Community ESL teaching jobs in the state of Pennsylvania. I have a Bachelors Degree in Youth Ministry and Communication and a Masters degree in Human Services. I have many years of teaching experience in nonprofit sector. I have not taught in public school. Thanks for your help. I enjoyed your forthright and balanced perspective.

    • Devin Hargrove December 9, 2018 at 9:59 am

      There are two different components to this question. For right now you will be fine getting an online-only certification to bring you in compliance with new regulations from China and meet the requirements for both GoGo Kid and VIPKid. I can’t speak about the Arizona State University certification specifically as we have not yet reviewed it (it is on the list for a future date). However, what I can say is that it is not cheaper than other online certifications and the fact that it comes from a US university does not hold more weight than other online certifications as far as meeting requirements for online teaching (at this time). For now, you can get away with any cheap certification online and that will be optimal for bringing you in compliance. This may change in the future, but, for now, you will be fine.

      The second part of your questions is Community ESL teaching. For this, you are going to want to take a certification course with an in-class practicum. This can be accomplished either through blended learning, where the material is online and then you gain teaching experience in the classroom or through an on-site certification, where everything is done in the classroom. This in-class experience is going to be a requirement for most ESL jobs and many places will not accept online experience as proof of in-class experience. A blended or on-site certification is going to be a bit more expensive, however, this will be the most thorough option (short of a CELTA or Trinity TESOL which in this instance I believe to be overkill).

      As I stated, for now, you will be fine with the online only for just staying at VIPKid and Gogo. But, for a more longterm strategy and for teaching online the blended learning will be your best option. If you do decide to go this route, we have partnered with International TEFL Academy which has offices throughout the United States. They offer a number of benefits which I talk about in this interview. We can also provide you with discount codes to help so please send a message if you want to know more.

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