Teaching English as a Foreign Language in China has been popular for a number of years already. With such a large population and the increasing need to be able to speak English to participate on the global stage, there has been a massive demand for TEFL teachers in China. In fact, with an estimated 400 million English language learners, there were approximately 400 000 foreign teachers in China in 2017. Maybe you even know one of them!
But times they are a-changing.
Recent regulations passed by the Chinese Ministry of Education have caused huge reactions all across the world as they look set to change the face of teaching English as a Foreign Language in China.
So, what’s changed?
Teaching English in China
First, let’s look at the requirements for teaching English in China.
In order to teach English in China, you need a Z-visa. In order to get a Z-visa, you need:
- to be a male younger than 60 years old or a female younger than 55 years old
- to be a citizen of one of seven countries (the UK, Ireland, the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa)
- to be a native speaker of English, or have a very high (proven) level of English
- a bachelor’s degree (in any field)
- a TEFL certificate of at least 120 hours
- a PU, a letter of invitation from a school offering employment
- a clean background check
- a clean medical exam
Read more: 11 Weird and Wonderful Things about China
Where can I teach English in China?
The majority of jobs in China are in schools. You can teach in government or private primary and secondary schools. You can teach in kindergartens and universities. You can teach in private language schools which offer extra lessons to schoolchildren.
However, one of the biggest markets for teaching English in China is now, thanks to the last few turbulent years, teaching English online to learners in China.
Teaching English in China during COVID-19
As we all know, China was the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak. That’s why China closed its borders to foreigners – teachers and travellers alike – on 28 March 2020. Work permits were not issued or renewed, which forced many foreign teachers already in China to return to their home countries – which many wanted to do anyway.
China basically came to a standstill.
Schools were closed and learners were home-schooled, often by their parents. They attended online lessons with their classmates and, as well did, tried desperately to keep to the usual curriculum. However, with the extra time Chinese learners found they had, they turned (even more than before) to online English learning, often topping up their English studies with online learning through companies such as VIPKid and Magic Ears.
Schools have since opened up again. However, Chinese borders still remain closed to English teachers as they are not yet issuing work permits for TEFL teachers. For the foreseeable future, only the TEFL teachers already in China will be able to continue working there.
How have things changed?
Recent legislation has been put into place which bans private education companies from making a profit. This affects private schools which teach core school curriculum subjects. In other words, this directly affects private language schools which provide extra lessons in English to Chinese learners. In addition to this, these schools can no longer teach in the evenings, on weekends or during holidays. Online tutoring is forbidden for children younger than six years of age.
This is apparently a result of the competitive nature of education in China. Excessive tutoring placed severe cognitive and emotional demands on students, while simultaneously placing financial demands on Chinese parents. All this served only to exacerbate the inequality in society, with education becoming expensive and the average salary being low. This meant that the more well-off students who could afford extra tuition were doing better in exams, being admitted into better universities and getting better jobs.
At the same time, the Chinese government has stated that they would like to increase the birth rate in China, which was severely affected by the one-child policy of the 1970s. President Xi Jinping hopes that these restrictions will save parents money, so they are more likely to be able to afford to have bigger families.
But the regulation which will affect the TEFL industry the most in China is the banning of hiring foreign teachers outside of China to teach in profitable companies. This means that no new foreign teachers will now be hired to teach English in China for private language schools, including online teachers living outside China but working for a Chinese company.
Bear in mind, this applies to extra-curricular lessons which teach one of the core curriculum subjects. In other words, this affects children of Young Learners and school students and not teachers of adults.
What does this mean for you?
At the moment, you can still enter China but you won’t be able to get a work permit to be able to work legally. Plus, you will need to quarantine for 14 days at your own expense.
When the borders open up you will be able to find a job in a state school or in a private language school teaching adults.
If you are an online teacher who is not living in China, you won’t be able to get a job with an online company teaching Chinese learners. If you are already teaching Chinese learners, you will be able to complete any lessons already paid for by your students or their parents. But you won’t get any new students or contracts.
However, while many Chinese online companies look set to close, many others are simply looking elsewhere for students. If you are already working for a company, no doubt they will have already explained their situation and the future of the company.
In a nutshell, if you are not currently living in China, don’t set your heart on teaching English online to Chinese learners. If you are going the online route, you will need to set your sights on students of other nationalities. Luckily for us, there is no shortage of those!
If you are interested in living and working in China, you will need to wait until the borders open fully, and then find a job in a Chinese school or in a language school. And, of course, there are still opportunities for internships in China.
Please note: This information is correct at the time of posting. We are keeping an eye on developments and will update this post when or if regulations change.