The market for American tutors teaching English online to Chinese children has disappeared, bringing an end to a lucrative side gig for thousands.
The Chinese government announced in August a prohibition for foreign tutors to teach their children online and limited the hours students could take additional classes beyond their normal school hours. The new regulation also declared that all tutoring companies working with Chinese students had to be not-for-profit.
CNBC estimates that the top seven tutoring services hiring American tutors for work with Chinese students had more than 250,000 tutors under contract at the time of the Chinese announcement. American tutors have been making from $14 to $25 an hour through these services. That is the going rate for most agencies, many of which are still hiring tutors for online jobs in the U.S. and to teach English for students in other countries.
VIPKid, one of the primary companies supplying tutors to the Chinese market, had nearly 100,000 tutors from the United States and Canada under contract in 2019. Those tutors were serving more than 600,000 Chinese children.
Some teachers who lost work took to social media to express their feelings. Among them was Ashley Harris of Virigina who tweeted that after teaching 250 classes as a VIPKid tutor, she hoped the Chinese government would change its stance. Saying good-bye to her students was difficult, she tweeted.
Tim Gascoigne is a VIPKid tutor — “until classes disappear” — who also runs Online Teacher Dude and has a YouTube channel to coach tutors in finding and applying for positions, as well as instruction on how to be a successful online tutor.
“I have seen increased traffic initially on my channel and website with teachers looking for non-Chinese companies, independent teaching options, teaching their current Chinese students when the companies collapse,” Gascoigne said.
He said his website traffic increased by 10,000 page views in early August compared to early July. His YouTube viewership jumped 40,000 views in August as teachers were looking for other opportunities to make up for job loss in the China market.
The Promise of Continued Work
The larger and more established tutoring firms expressed little concern over the impact of the Chinese decision on their companies.
“Tutor.com is not seeing indicators that our company has been affected by the new regulations,’’ said Dr. Jane McAuliffe, vice president of learning services, in a statement to The Penny Hoarder. ”We remain dedicated to partnering with institutions and organizations to help ensure that all students can access tutoring support whenever they need it.”
Tutor.com is still accepting applications from qualified teachers for other assignments, the statement said.
In a statement to The Penny Hoarder, VIPKid said the shutdown of the Chinese market will impact their business but they are confident that new programs will help them overcome the loss.
“Over the past year, we have been piloting several education programs outside of China. We are accelerating our efforts on these programs to execute our mission to inspire and empower every child for the future.”
Cutting Back on 16-Hour School Days
After the announcement from the Chinese government, the news agency Reuters reported that “the new rules bar for-profit tutoring in core school subjects in an effort to boost the country’s birth rate by lowering family living costs.” Some Chinese families spend extravagantly on education, pushing their schoolchildren to study as much as 16 hours a day.
The new rules limit online classes to 30 minutes, with no classes to operate after 9 p.m. local time, and no classes to operate on weekends.
The long study days became the norm because Chinese parents want their children to get high marks on standardized tests which determine whether they will be admitted into one of the nation’s top universities.
As a product of that competition, many Chinese families spend so much money on online tutors in after-school sessions that they are unwilling to have multiple children, which China is now endorsing to battle a population decline. In the 1970s, the Chinese government began limiting families to one child. That restriction ended in 2016.
Tutoring Companies Shuttered
Several tutoring services went out of business almost immediately with the government decision, including GoGoKid, operated by a Chinese company which also owns TikTok. GoGoKid issued a statement to its teachers on its website that classes would stop immediately.
ByteDance laid off hundreds of employees and eliminated most of its online education offerings in response to the new regulations. Another large tutoring service, MagicEars, said “we feel confident that we will be functioning well for approximately another year.”
Firms that have stopped recruiting and hiring tutors include Zebra English, Whales English and Landi English. Xueersi Online School 1 on 1 announced it is no longer hiring non-Chinese tutors.
Kent McDill is a veteran journalist who has specialized in personal finance topics since 2013. He is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.