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.
China is by far the largest ESL market both in terms of classroom-based ESL learning in China as well as its rapidly emerging online learning market. Its large population coupled with a high emphasis on English language education has created numerous opportunities for English speakers to teach English online as a way to earn an income. However, the Chinese Ministry of Education has attempted to bring the online ESL industry in line under tighter scrutiny, and align hiring requirements with existing regulations for employing foreign language teachers in China.
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 our extensive guide to TEFL certifications.
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 (university degree, TEFL certificate, or teaching certification)
- 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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