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TESOL in the Philippines

Prior to the pandemic, Filipinos were being employed as English language teachers in the Philippines, Japan, China, Taiwan, and Thailand, as well as South America and eastern Europe in government-run programs, but mostly in private language schools. Two large Philippine TESOL training companies, ITECC and TESOL Academy, were training over 500 teachers a month in TESOL in four-week attendance-based courses.

There were over 250 flights a week direct from Korea bringing Korean students to language schools in Manila, Clark, and Cebu. Cebu, a small island of about one million people, saw 90 flights a week direct from Korea, with the majority of passengers being young Korean children coming to “learn” English. Most stayed for 4 weeks. Similarly, there were 40 flights a week from other countries as far away as the Middle East, bringing young learners to schools operated by non-Filipino “businessmen” who realized there were no strictly applied government controls at all to establish a private English language school. A similar number of Japanese students were also coming to the Philippines into schools run by Japanese. Korean and Japanese students tended to stay for 1 month and school fees were around US$4,000, including accommodation.

In Cebu, Clark and Manila, very large online English teaching operations were also set up by Japanese and Korean businesses. Some online entities had over 200 teachers online at any one time, teaching students in other parts of the world. These teachers had little to no qualifications or experience in teaching English. Thus, the Philippines became a de facto location for English language teaching.

“China and the Philippines do not have a cozy political friendship, such as existed pre-pandemic”

However, the downside was that there was no oversight at all on who could teach English in the Philippines. It was clear that a vast number of Filipino English teachers were simply not qualified to the level one would see in such places as the UK. Then the pandemic shut this industry down.

Since then, the online TESOL language industry has now nearly returned to its prepandemic days with students returning to Philippine shores, and 1000s of Filipinos – most untrained to be TESOL teachers – applying for teaching jobs. What is interesting is that China and the Philippines do not have a cozy political friendship, such as existed prepandemic. Filipinos are finding it very hard to secure school-based jobs in China. However, despite China supposedly shutting down online English teaching, we see a plethora of Chinese online English language schools operating in the Philippines hiring Filipino teachers to work as online English teachers. No TESOL qualification is needed, so what we are seeing post pandemic is the return to the Wild West of English Language teaching that will suffer through no oversight or regulation.

But the question surely is, “Why do so many tens of thousands of young ELL learners from all over the world come to the Philippines to learn English; particularly from Asian countries?” There are a number of factors that contribute to the Philippines’ success as an ELL destination; the beautiful English spoken by Filipinos, the very friendly nature of the Filipino population to overseas arrivals, the cheaper cost of education and accommodation than other countries. The Philippines is a nation of islands and beautiful sandy beaches that are never far from where one is and large luxurious shopping malls in close proximity to one’s school.

If we compare the standard and level of professional English that international students will receive in the UK, for example, where government regulations control education entities and English is taught by qualified professionals, the biggest concern in the Philippines is the lack of government regulation and oversight. There are no national standards for TESOL teachers and anyone can open a language school without any prior experience or training. This has led to a situation where schools may offer subpar instruction and ELLs may not be getting the quality education they deserve. Another problem is the high turnover rate among TESOL teachers.

The industry generates billions of dollars in revenue each year and employs hundreds of thousands of people; it is a major source of foreign exchange for the Philippines. Currently, moves are afoot to establish the Cebu hub for English language excellence (CHELE), and the Philippine hub for English language excellence (PHELE).

Image courtesy of Library
Paul Robertson
Paul Robertson
Paul Robertson is the founder of the Academics Education group of research journals. He is currently working on Second Language acquisition projects in China.
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