ESL hit hard by pandemic; players seek resumption of int’l flights

IMPACT. The Covid-19 pandemic has severely affected the booming English as Second Language (ESL) industry in Cebu. With only 10 ESL schools partially operating, stakeholders in the industry pin their hopes on the government’s recovery measures such as the gradual reopening of international flights and stricter health and safety measures to regain ESL students’ trust and confidence to travel and visit Cebu again. (SunStar file)

DUE to the Covid-19 pandemic, only 10 of the 80 English as Second Language (ESL) schools in Cebu are left operating, leaving 5,000 to 6,000 employees jobless.

These 10 schools use the online platform for their classes.

During the Department of Tourism’s (DOT) Philippine ESL Industry Situationer, Eurena Geralla, academic director and general manager of Idea Education-Cebu, said they are waiting for the government to reopen international routes as most of Cebu’s ESL schools offer face-to-face learning.

“Cebu has made it to the top with a large number of tourists for many years, and a good portion of it is coming from language academies. However, it is with a heavy heart to discover that the tourism industry together with the ESL industry have dropped dramatically due to the pandemic that all of us have been fighting against,” she said during a webinar Friday, July 10.

Cebu has approximately 110 registered ESL schools, but only around 80 are active under three associations—Cebu Association of Language Academies, English Philippines and Department of Affiliates English Academies in Asia.

Thirty percent are big and notable centers, 60 percent are small ones and only operate during peak seasons, and about 10 percent are unregistered and non-accredited.

ESL markets

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Cebu was enjoying a good number of ESL students from South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, Cambodia, Germany, Spain and Italy, among others.

These students usually stay a week to three months to learn the English language. They are granted by the Bureau of Immigration a special student permit.

Cebu is a dominant ESL player in the Philippines. It first offered services to Koreans, and eventually diversified to include other non-English speaking markets like Japan.

Its proximity to the beaches, presence of direct flights to Asian destinations, cheaper ESL rates and highly qualified English teachers make the province attractive for non-English speaking students.

DOT 7 Director Shahlimar Tamano said ESL is an important segment in tourism because it somehow 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. “Their coming here to learn English means they are ambitious and that they want to become big someday.”

However, at the onset of the pandemic in the Philippines at the start of this year, Tamano said, the ESL industry was immediately affected following the flight cancellations. The government-imposed lockdowns also hampered the operations of the industry.

Geralla said their plans and activities for recovery under the new normal in the reopening of schools include getting approval from the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority to implement the approved standard measures for all ESL schools to level the playing field.

The 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 can also conduct free webinars for students or offer free open campus trial lessons to promote the ESL program.

Geralla said they are also mulling to adopt a skeletal workforce as a way to keep their employees. This will be done in coordination with the government to ensure that safety and health protocols will be strictly enforced.

To regain the confidence of foreign ESL students, there is also a need to make sure that medical facilities in Cebu are efficient to secure the students’ safety and security.

“With the measures being implemented, we can’t assure that all schools can reopen. Some may just give up for good. However, many schools will still reopen,” she said.

Reasonable flight fares

The ESL industry in Cebu also called for a possible coordination with airline players to offer reasonable flight fares for businessmen, tourists and students.

Geralla said there should also be a resumption of international flights as soon as possible.

Moreover, a good amount of investment for stronger promotional activities from the DOT and if possible, free swab test kits for schools, will also be helpful in the recovery of the ESL industry in Cebu. (with KOC)


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