- Qualified teachers in China can typically find ESL jobs with ease, earn a competitive salary, and receive awesome perks such as free housing, medical insurance, reimbursement on airfare, and even contract renewal bonuses.
- In past years, China’s online ESL teaching market has skyrocketed. However, the Chinese Government has proposed bans restricting companies from hiring foreigners to teach private ESL lessons to Chinese students. They have also enacted other restrictions such as a ban on online tutoring for students under the age of six and the introduction of 9pm lesson curfews.
- Due to preconceived misconceptions of what an “American English teacher” should look like and lack of exposure to diversity, race-based hiring practices still exist. However, the number of BIPOC teachers being hired in China and throughout Asia has been slowly rising over recent years, as teachers can "wow" employers with certifications and experience.
With a booming ESL market, growing economy, and a large population of students eager to learn English, China has continued to be a major hotspot for ESL teachers looking for a job abroad.
Qualified teachers in China can typically find ESL jobs with ease, earn a competitive salary, and receive awesome perks such as free housing, medical insurance, reimbursement on airfare, and even contract renewal bonuses.
However, the ESL industry in China is rapidly changing, especially with the recent ban on China’s online ESL market. For many aspiring (and current) teachers interested in teaching in China, it can be hard to keep up.
Wondering how exactly the ESL industry China is evolving, and what it means for teachers? Let’s break it down.
The market continues to grow, despite major changes and restrictions
Over 10 years ago, only about one-fifth of China's vast population was studying English. Today, there are estimated to be around 400 million people in China learning English, which happens to be larger than the entire U.S. population.
Studies report that the English-training market in China is expected to reach a value of $80.54 billion USD during 2021-2025, as it continues to grow.
Over the years Chinese schools have begun to raise salaries, offer more benefits, and follow government regulations to attract more teachers and lure them away from other popular teaching hotspots like Japan and South Korea.
However, the pandemic has definitely affected the teaching industry scene in China. Wall Street English, one of the largest private language institutions in China, filed for bankruptcy after news of new government restrictions banning online, private ESL tutoring were announced. Still, the market in China is expected to continue to grow, due to high demand of students and families eager to learn English.
Students are learning English at a younger age
ESL students in China are getting younger by the year. Public schools have switched from starting English education at age twelve to age nine, and some schools in China's larger cities start teaching English in kindergarten.
While ESL schools were first established to teach English to adults, in the last decade the demand has shifted to parents who are willing to spend up to half of their household income on language classes for their children. Many private academies are taking note of this transition, offering more specialized classes for children. For example, English First's Shenzhen school used to contain primarily adults, however now more than 70% of their students are children.
Disney English had discovered that classes aimed at toddlers and preschoolers are one of the biggest areas of growth, but in 2020, the company decided to shut down and close its chain of language schools in China.
There’s been a major crackdown on the online ESL market and private tutoring in China
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the online ESL teaching market skyrocketed, raising concerns from the Chinese government and eventually, leading to a strict teaching ban on companies that profit from online teaching in China, including companies that run private ESL tutoring like VIPKID.
This tutoring crackdown, enacted by The Chinese Ministry of Education, proposes a ban on companies from hiring foreigners, and instead focuses on giving teaching roles to China-based teachers.
In addition to the ban, more rules were added such as 9pm curfews for online students and restrictions on online tutoring for students under the age of six.
If you’re an online ESL tutor -- don’t sweat just yet, there’s still opportunity to keep doing your job! However, you may encounter salary cuts and lose the chance to teach during weekends, holidays, and school breaks.
"Expat Jobs" are highly desirable, but also become more competitive
With China’s growing economy booming over the years, the country has become an increasingly attractive spot for expats looking for career opportunities overseas.
Before, roles in marketing, copywriting/editing, and teaching made up a large population of expat jobs. However, with an abundance of foreign companies and corporations looking to expand operations in China, there has been a large increase in managerial expat positions over the past few years, in major countries such as Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou.
However, competition for these roles are fierce, as applicants must be highly experienced, especially when competing with professionals based in China. Many local businesses prefer hiring Chinese candidates with overseas experience or knowledge, placing foreigners at a disadvantage in the application process. With more Chinese adults obtaining English fluency, there's less room for "expat jobs" in Chinese companies.
Many expats in China have also turned towards teaching. These qualified workers with years of experience in China are snapping up some of the best-paying teaching jobs in China, making teaching positions much more competitive. Now the best ESL jobs in China are demanding years of experience, accreditation, and possibly Chinese language skills.
Stricter Visa requirements are being enforced
A decade ago, pretty much any foreigner, native speaker or not, could get a job teaching English in China. However, requirements have continuously gotten stricter over time.
If you want to obtain a legal work visa and residence permit in China, you must be a native speaker with a college degree and a few years experience or a TEFL certificate. Slowly but surely, China is approaching the standardized model of South Korea and Japan, ensuring that the full-time English teaching professionals in public schools are qualified.
For individuals who aren't native speakers or don't have a college degree, you will still be able to find a job teaching in China. However, your salary may be lower and you will have less job security. Your company may also claim you're American when you're really from Austria, or say you’ve graduated from UCLA, when you only have a year of community college under your belt. This way they can command a higher fee from parents and students while paying you a lower salary than they would pay someone with the correct qualifications.
Overall, while China is creating stricter visa requirements for those who choose to work through legal channels, the practice of working outside of those remains common.
The good jobs are becoming more secure
While China may still be rife with teach abroad scams and schools that are looking to cheat foreign teachers, many schools are realizing the value of providing stable, secure jobs for their employees. They've realized that parents are wary of high turnover, and that it's easier to renew a residence permit than to pay for a new work visa.
For example, my company recently had a large turnover of foreign college counselors for various reasons. Many of the parents were concerned, hinting they may move their children to a rival company. Because of this, I have noticed that my current company places a very high value on my happiness and job satisfaction. They encourage me to speak up if I am having workplace issues, and they provide bonuses and raises for foreign staff who say for multiple years.
Compared to many of my friends teaching at other schools in China, I feel lucky to have such a stable and secure position. However, I have met many other people who have also noticed this shift in attitude towards providing positive, secure positions to their foreign teachers. Personally, I'd predict that this will be the new trend in the upcoming decade.
Race-based hiring is still an issue, but there are ways around it
Due to preconceived misconceptions of what an “American English teacher” should look like and lack of exposure to diversity, race-based hiring practices still exist. While BIPOC ESL teachers may have just as many qualifications as their white counterparts, they may face difficulties finding jobs, or be offered lower salaries.
However, if you’re a BIPOC teacher looking to teach in China, do not be discouraged. You can still “wow” employers with your certifications and experience. Also, the number of BIPOC teachers being hired in China and throughout Asia has been slowly rising over recent years.
China is still the future!
Overall, China has become the future of ESL. For those with the necessary qualifications, China is a "teacher's market," offering free flights, visas, housing and bonuses to foreign teachers. For those who can't find jobs in more selective countries like Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, China still offers opportunities to teach without a degree or teach as a non-native speaker.
For anyone interested in teaching English in Asia, China is an amazing place to start. However, it’s important to note, the job market may become more and more competitive! (*hint hint* you can start looking at teaching jobs here!)