The Uncertain Future

UNCERTAIN. This word best describes the uncertain future of Cebu’s hard-hit ESL industry. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, 6,000 people lost their jobs with only 10 ESL schools are operating. The crisis had a powerful blow on the ESL industry in Cebu suspending all offline ESL. classes. The operating schools are now doing their operation by having online classes.

Since March 25, 2020, Offline ESL Schools stopped its operation because of the rise in COVID-19 infections in the Philippines. As a result, ESL students flee back to their respective countries to avoid lockdown. The first quarter of the year is by far the hardest period for all ESL schools in Cebu.

Annually, the booming ESL business attracts thousands of students to study English in the province. This trend in educational tourism provides livelihoods to the locals and generates millions of income for the industry. However, the pandemic damaged the economy due to the closure of hundreds of business establishments in the country.
Department of Tourism (DOT) 7 Director Shahlimar Taman said that the onset of the pandemic in the Philippines at the start of the year following flight cancellations. Furthermore, government-imposed lock-downs affected the operations of the industry, provided that most of these ESL schools offer face-to-face learning.

Only a Few Operations

Only a few ESL schools are currently operating since the start of the pandemic. With 110 registered ESL schools, only around 80 of these ESL schools are active under three associations — Cebu Association of Language Academies, English Philippines, and Department of Affiliates English Academies in Asia. Thirty percent of this figure is big and notable centers, 60 percent are small ones and only operate during peak seasons, while the other 10 percent don’t have accreditation and registration from TESDA (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority).

For more than a decade, Cebu has been the leading destination for learning English in the Philippines. The largest province in the Philippines’ Central Visayas welcomes thousands of tourists across Asia, Europe, and Latin America to study English and enjoy its tourist destinations.

Despite the industry’s uncertain future yet, Director Tamano highlighted the significance of ESL in tourism by saying that it deepens the connection between Cebu and other foreign markets through education. “A bond with the school is formed, inspiring the foreign students to keep coming back. And this is good for tourism,” said Tamano.

However, the soaring COVID-19 infections in Cebu province standing at 15, 480 as of July 29 continue to pose a peril on the industry’s uncertain future with tight quarantine restrictions since March 25.

The pandemic has put the future of ESL to an uncertain situation. This crisis has arguably become a big challenge among ESL managers citing the possibility of retrenchment on its employees. Moreover, the crisis might also lead to bankruptcy.

“It is with a heavy heart to discover that the tourism industry together with the ESL industry has dropped dramatically because of the pandemic,” Eurena Geralla, academic director of Idea Education-Cebu stated during the Department of Tourism’s (DOT) Philippine ESL Industry Situationer webinar last July 10.

The New Normal

She further enthused that their plans and activities for recovery under the new normal in the reopening of schools. The measures include getting approval from the TESDA to implement the approved standard measures for all ESL schools to level the playing field.

QQEnglish, the biggest ESL school in Cebu, has launched new online study programs for its students. The school is using its Offline curricula to conduct 50-minute classes online. They have also recently launched the International Online Kids Camp for young learners. Uncertain as the future may sound, the company still does its best to provide teaching services to its students globally.

Other ESL schools are also looking at creating a new curriculum and offering more interesting courses. Individual schools may offer online courses to at least keep a few workers. They also plan on conducting free webinars and free open campus trial lessons to promote the ESL program.

With the infection rising, ESL schools are still uncertain about their future. “With the implementation of several measures, we can’t assure that all schools can reopen. Some may just give up for good.,” Geralla added.