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Online English education in China brings new hope

By Li Zhenyu (People's Daily Online)    18:00, June 24, 2020

In a time of crisis, China hails new opportunities.

China's online English education business is booming, as per two recent reports released by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Huang Pingfang, a resident in Yuping Dong Autonomous County, Guizhou Province, guides her son to learn English on the Internet at home. (Photo/People's Daily)

Online English education in China has become increasingly popular, especially during the period of prevention and control of COVID-19.

"The growing penetration of the internet and rapid development of technologies have reshaped the English education landscape in China. China's English learners have been moving online in recent years," said Zou Yimin, a former staff member at China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and founding editor of China's English newspaper China Daily, who has engaged in English language education after retirement.

A favorable option

Comparing with the traditional offline education model, the online model has many advantages.

It is more flexible and convenient for both teachers and learners, with the ability to select their own schedule without restrictions on time and space, while enjoying the process from the comfort of home.

The online environment is richer in resources thanks to modern technologies, turning the world into a global classroom.

It also reduces the learning cost and could better cater to the learners' personalized needs, with one-on-one teaching being the mainstream.

With the fast development of mobile internet and digital learning technologies, the online education model has become a favorable option for many English teachers and learners in China.

"Education in the internet age can make everyone equal. I believe it will bring a revolution to education," said Zhu Qingshi, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and former principal of the University of Science and Technology of China.

New hope amid crisis

Fletcher was an online English tutor from America, who taught Chinese pupils ranging mostly from 5 to 11 years old. She taught daily conversation expressions, basic grammar and English songs, utilizing her speedy internet connection, web camera, headphones and state-of-the-art laptop.

She was among tens of thousands of native-speaking English teachers who work remotely from home, connecting to a huge Chinese student base facilitated by modern technologies.

Online English tutoring has been among the most typical jobs in the United States that people can perform remotely, and the China-based online English education companies are always hiring native-speaking English teachers, according to FlexJobs, an American job search site.

This trend has created a growing number of job opportunities for people in the English-speaking community. While many people in the Western world lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, China's vast online English education market may bring new hopes for these people.

A booming market

The online education industry in China has developed quickly in recent years, and is becoming a new bright spot for the Chinese economy.

By and large, China has become a worldwide leader in online education and has the biggest market in the world, according to a People's Daily Overseas Edition article on December 2, 2019.

The number of online course users is expected to reach approximately 260 million by 2022, an increase of nearly 95% from 2018, according to statistics from the iResearch Consulting Group, a China-based market research and consulting company, in December 2019.

The market size of China's online education is expected to surpass $104 billion by 2025, as per a research report by the UBS Securities in 2019.

As a sub-sector of the online education industry, the online English education industry in China has also seen an explosive growth over the few past years.

According to Quincy Smith, founder of the online teaching job board ESL Authority, nations such as Russia, Japan and South Korea also have a big market for online English tutoring, but China remains the biggest market.

Children are one of the biggest sub-markets for English language education, with many of the chain brands designed to specifically cater to Chinese children.

"When it comes to learning a foreign language, the younger you are the easier it is to learn to speak the language like a native," said Shi Minghui, a former staff member at the Consulate-General of the People's Republic of China in Toronto and a researcher on language learning. "That's why children are a major marketing objective for the English-language education corporations."

The quality of teachers and cost of the program are two major determinants that influence Chinese parents' decisions in picking the right learning platform for their children.

The Chinese parents, who were interviewed by a study group of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, spend an average of 6,947 yuan (roughly $960 USD) on their children's online English courses on a yearly basis, and approximately 36% of the parents spend 5,001 to 10,000 yuan (between $700-$1,400) a year on their children's online English education, said the recently released report by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The report predicted that more and more offline English education institutions in China will move online, and the online English learning effect will continue to be improved as modern technology progresses.

"A large number of quality native-speaking English teachers are needed in China, which means new opportunities for the world," said Zou. 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Bianji, Hongyu)

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