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Alexa Hansel, 22, has for a year now, taught online English courses to students in China. Hansel is photographed in Toronto, Feb. 13, 2020.

Cole Burston/The Globe and Mail

With millions of Chinese students stuck at home because of school shutdowns and quarantines during the novel coronavirus outbreak, Canadian ESL teachers are being recruited to meet a growing demand for online classes.

Some companies have begun offering cash incentives to attract new teaching talent and persuade existing Canadian staff to take on heavier course loads.

“We’ve seen a lot more action from our schools overseas for the demand for teachers on the online side specifically,” said Dave Frey, chief executive officer of Teach Away, a Toronto-based international teacher-recruiting company. “We expect that to continue to pick up over the next few months."

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Schools in China, as well as in Hong Kong, Vietnam and other parts of Asia, have been closed since the Lunar New Year holidays in late January in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus, named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization. In China’s Hubei province, roughly 50 million people have been quarantined and face school closings and travel restrictions.

Chinese officials have urged schools to come up with online curricula to keep students engaged during the shutdown, but families are also turning to China’s established e-learning industry for more ad hoc lessons, said Brett Isis, president of Teaching Nomad. The American company does physical teacher placements abroad, as well as recruitment for e-learning companies such as China’s VIPKid.

“Since the coronavirus outbreak in China, my hours have doubled,” said Alexa Hansel, a student at Ryerson University in Toronto who has been teaching English through Qkids, an online school based in China, for more than a year. She now teaches up to 60 half-hour classes in an average week.

Qkids pays teachers a base rate of US$8 for each half-hour class, with potential bonuses based on performance, according to the company’s website. Ms. Hansel said the company began extending class hours in January, while offering teachers an extra US$2 a class if they taught more than 30 classes a week. The school also started offering teachers US$200 to sign up other people to teach.

In addition to an increase in demand for online teachers from Chinese companies, Mr. Isis said many teachers who would have gone overseas for physical placements are instead opting to teach online as a safer alternative.

China’s English-as-a-second-language e-learning companies typically recruit native English speakers from North American or Europe to act as tutors and instructors for kindergarten to Grade 12 students, using premade lesson plans and online tools to teach English basics.

Some Canadian schools are now trying to capitalize on the demand as well.

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London, Ont.-based London Language Institute has sped up the rollout of its online platforms to help its Chinese partner schools do one-on-one language training during the outbreak, LLI director Justin Wismer said. LLI recently hired more teachers to get the web-based programs off the ground.

Languages Canada, an accrediting organization for Canadian language programs, said a number of its member schools have begun offering new online language platforms. “[China is] a very special market," executive director Gonzalo Peralta said, adding he believes those schools will benefit from increased enrolment from China, at least for the time being.

For Canadian language schools, the sudden spike upward in demand for e-learning has highlighted a gap in the market and is forcing them to shift online sooner than expected, Mr. Wismer says.

“Instead of something that’s going to transition over the next two or three years, it’s going to happen in the next two or three months,” he said.

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