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Asia ESL industry native English teacher pipeline “empty”

Until China announced it would be closing its borders to non-citizens, schools in the country were doing their best to try to recruit new foreign English language teachers for public schools and training centres, with one chain offering recruiters bonuses of over £800 for every teacher that started before May.

English language schools that cater to a younger clientele might find it hardest to resume business as usual. Photo: Needpix

One ESL chain offered recruiters bonuses of over £800

As schools in China’s western provinces reopen and the travel ban takes effect, recruiting English teachers from outside the country is going to be significantly more difficult for an industry that already suffers from a severe shortage of qualified staff. It’s an issue that is likely to impact the ESL industry across Asia.

According to the International TEFL Academy, around 100,000 ESL jobs open up every year – a large proportion of which are in Asia – with only half of all teachers renewing their annual contracts. In China and South Korea, around 1,000 new teachers are hired every month.

“There’s hundreds and thousands of small schools that rely on native language foreign teachers,” explains Jean-Pierre Guittard, owner of edtech company

“You can reopen your school, but where are the teachers going to be?”

“Often these are young people with a technical certificate [TEFL, CELTA, etc.]. Those people are suddenly without employment so they’ve all gone home. And so the concern is, what happens afterwards? You can reopen your school, but where are the teachers going to be?”

Guittard tells The PIE News that his company’s virtual classroom platform has seen a “substantial” increase in interest from ESL schools in Asia.

While some have switched online and been able to keep their teachers employed, institutes are now looking ahead to when those contracts end. Travel bans, lockdowns and unwillingness to travel are going to diminish the number of teaching job candidates.

“They’re gonna have to work harder to recruit new teachers,” he says. “It’s a huge process involving work permits, filtering applicants and training. It’s not simply putting an ad out like here in San Francisco, where I can find a qualified teacher, interview them and if they’re good, they can start in a few days or the next day.”

“It will take months to revamp and to rebuild their staff. Those schools always had an ongoing pipeline of people coming in. That pipeline is empty now.”

How schools react to coronavirus is also going to impact their reputation. Teachers working for some schools – including top brands – have reported being fired and unpaid as a result of the outbreak.

Several reviews from one major chain’s employees claim that the company “took half of every staff member’s February payment with only one week’s notice”.

“You can’t have a four-year-old kid sitting in front of a screen for two hours”

An article from the Japan Times noted that some employers there had also refused to pay foreign teachers (in violation of local law) and that the coronavirus has exposed gaps in Japan Exchange and Teaching contracts that don’t offer staff any protection in the case of serious illness or natural disasters closing their workplace.

In Vietnam, the business model of schools is largely determining their outlook. Those catering to test preparation and older students are finding adopting edtech easier and are able to keep their staff on.

At the English language chain YOLA, where Nam Nguyen is general director, the transition to online learning has been relatively painless. Although some teachers have left, the majority have stayed on.

“We’ve got about 350 teachers in our centres and about 30 teachers have left the country. The majority have returned to their home countries rather than looking for work somewhere else,” Nguyen tells The PIE.

“Others have also resigned from YOLA and taken work with Chinese companies online like VIP Kid but they are still based here. So some of them are waiting out the crisis and then people will be offline again.”

But Nguyen adds that schools who are more reliant on foreign teachers – YOLA has a roughly 50:50 split between foreign and local ones – and those that cater to younger students are seeing their business suffer most severely.

“You can’t have a four-year-old kid sitting in front of a screen for two hours. Classroom management is a whole new sort of dynamic for that type of teacher,” he said.

Although schools are due to open in Vietnam in April – it is likely to be pushed back, however – some parents have also decided they will be keeping younger children at home for the rest of the semester. In this case, it may give some schools a breather.

“So there may be a demand for teacher recruitment in more specialist subjects,” Nguyen says.

“But I can’t imagine kindergarten teachers or general English teachers for younger students being in high demand because of consumer behaviour.”

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8 Responses to Asia ESL industry native English teacher pipeline “empty”

  1. Given the shortage of EFL teachers do you think there’s a chance at all of getting around the age limit I am 68 but fully fit and working as well as English I speak German and also teach opera to professional opera singers

    • I think the age limit is an effect of the visa policy not the employer. Maybe we will get some good news after this current legislative session. Just be wary of schools offering to find “solutions” to visa problems.

    • Depends on the country, but in my experience if you are a food teacher and you look good, meaning you are smarly dressed, polite and follow the rules you’ll get a jib in Vietnam.

  2. Interesting as this age limit of 60 might change after this pandemic is over, it was bad enough before and now virtually impossible to hire any foreign teachers coming in from outside due to border closures so all schools have right now are the teachers already employed or teachers within China! I’m currently in China right now and will be 60 in three years, interesting to see what happens then due to this chronic shortage of teachers! Let’s see

    • You say the age level might change after this pandemic is over. Has it occured to you or anyone else here that once this pandemic is over, there will be plenty of people able to come and teach here. In other words it is only this pandemic that is giving older teachers a foothold here

  3. Suzhou, China has indicated the age limit will be raised to 70 for select positions, though I would imagine some schools will be able to take advantage.
    Suzhou is a very nice city near Shanghai.

  4. There is another foreign teacher at my school who is 62 and still working…they are currently asking him to sign on for another year
    If schools like you and you bring in the students, the age factor becomes more of a technicality really.

  5. My wife and I owned a school in Haidian with 100 families from Renda, Beida, Tsinghua, 101 etc. most going to top universities. We had 10 years left on our business license. When I turned 69 the central government, not Haidian, to us that we could continue to own the company but not work in the company we owned or live in China. I don’t think any foreigners can plan to teach beyond 70. You are already well beyond China retirement ages and this does create problems.

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