Key facts about the Chinese online teaching market
Many online English teachers have no idea about the size of the market they are working in. According to data published by the Chinese company Tencent, the total number of young Chinese students learning English online grew from 5.7 million to 15 million in 2018 alone. Their estimates say that the Chinese market has the potential to expand to 145 million online English language learners. That’s more than twice the size of the entire UK population. Unsurprisingly, the exponential growth of online English lessons in China has catalyzed several transformational shifts in the global ESL industry. One upshot of these changes is that many novice and experienced teachers are swapping the classroom for the computer screen. But it is not only full-time English teachers who are taking advantage of the opportunities provided by the emerging market in China. In the era of the side-hustle, more and more people are looking to online work to supplement their existing income. But how many of these eager webcam educators know the cold hard facts about the irresistible spread of Chinese online teaching companies?
In 2015, the online English teaching market in China was valued at $670 million. By 2019 that number had risen to over $7 billion. A few industry leaders — VIPKid, 51 Talk, Dada, and vipJr (iTutorGroup’s service for under 18s) — share 93.5% of the market for young learners. Clearly, these giants overshadow the smaller companies. But that hasn’t stopped 100+ challenger companies springing up in recent years. Of course, it is unlikely that all these smaller enterprises will survive. In a YouTube interview with ESL Authority, online teacher and industry whiz Daniel Didio compares the current state of the Chinese online teaching market to the infamous dot-com bubble of the second half of the 1990s. It is too early to know who will emerge after the current boom as the industry leader. One of the current outliers, iTutorGroup, recently announced that it is now valued at over $1 billion. Such mind-boggling numbers are a striking testament to the growing importance of China’s e-learning giants. One thing is certain: for ESL teachers all over the world, Chinese online teaching companies are now too large to ignore.
Over the last 40 years the so-called ‘Opening of China’ has coincided with the emergence of educational policies that put learning English at the center of China’s national curriculum. Chinese students learn English continuously from their first week of kindergarten until they graduate from university. The Chinese government’s economic reforms have made it imperative for Chinese citizens to speak the language of global business, whether to pursue foreign investment or to attend prestigious English-speaking universities. One effect of the standardization of the English curriculum in Chinese schools is that parents are increasingly turning to extra-curricular lessons to help their children excel in a competitive academic environment. At the forefront of this trend is the array of e-learning companies offering online English lessons delivered by overseas teachers. Hardworking Chinese parents have embraced the efficiency of online lessons, not just because their child benefits from one-to-one access to qualified English teachers, but because online lessons are much easier to fit into the average family’s hectic daily routine.
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