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A new day begins as usual. At about 6 a.m. in the fall of 2018, Jordan sat at her desk, put on her headphones and logged in to her VIPKID account. VIPKID, a Beijing-based company, links English-speaking teachers like her to Chinese children for live online video lessons.
Then the marathon started. In a short period of 25 minutes, Jordan greeted several children from 4 to 12 with "Hello" and gave them an English lesson. By the afternoon, she had completed six one-to-one classes, and the day's work was almost over. Her last conversation was with a student she had only met once before.
She felt almost immediately what had happened. The 4-year-old student came out of the dimly lit room, and although it was very inconspicuous, Jordan saw a red dot on his eyebrows. His mother was beside him, answering Jordan's questions in a low voice and yelling at him every time he made a mistake. "She just got more and more angry," Jordan recalled.
Eventually, Jordan was very upset about the mother's behavior, so she contacted VIPKID's 24-hour support team, also known as the Fire Brigade. A firefighter soon joined the class and told Jordan in a chat room that he was investigating the problem. A few seconds later, he checked with her again, but ultimately gave no further instructions.
Jordan continued her lessons, fearing that if she could not hold on for 25 minutes, VIPKID would deduct her salary. Soon, Mother got excited again. This time, Jordan noticed that a boy had been withdrawing, as if waiting for a slap to fall on him. That was the case later. When Jordan led him to sing the alphabet song, his mother came in and hit his son in front of the camera. Jordan paused in frustration to speak to the mother. "I know, Mom," she said. "This mother, I can teach him."
A few minutes later, when the lecture was over, Jordan withdrew quickly. Then, because she cared about the boy's safety, she logged in again. His camera was still videotaped, and Jordan saw the mother beating him repeatedly with a blue plastic hanger. "It was a nightmare," she said of the assault, which lasted several minutes under the camera. "Horrible sobs, screams, right in my ear, terrible... To be honest, it can cause trauma.
At that time, Jordan had just entered the online tutoring industry. After years of teaching in the United States, she recently moved to Central Europe. She says VIPKID allows her to continue doing what she likes best without preventing her from immersing herself in a new culture.
But she was shocked and confused by the experience of communicating with the boy. As far as she knows, VIPKID has no proper system to handle what she sees. Throughout her career, and in all the company profiles she has read, she has never encountered any specific guidance. "There's no manual," she explained. "There's no such thing."
After her second logout, Jordan reported the incident to VIPKID. She then sent a post to VIPKID teachers in a Facebook private group. "Has anyone witnessed child abuse? She asked. She explained what had happened in class. "I've written a complete fact sheet with screenshots of child abuse, but what else can I do here? I'm very sad about that."
Jordan soon found out that her case was not isolated. Some of her colleagues, including VIPKID and other online tutoring platforms, are struggling with the same problem. In her Facebook user base, new reports of parental abuse surfaced almost every week.
Twenty-four people interviewed by the author for this article are onlineeducationAbout a third of the workers said they had never seen any abuse and taught more than 1,500 sessions. Others, however, have encountered stories as painful as Jordan's (some have asked me to keep their names to ensure their safety at work).
A VIPKID teacher once saw a mother pinch her little daughter with her hand and keep throwing her to the ground. "I am sad for the little girl," the teacher wrote. "I want to cross the screen and reach out to stop the mother!"
Hannah, who works as a teacher on a tutorial platform called Qkids, describes that in a class, whenever a girl answers wrong questions, "Mother hits her on the back of the head and pulls her off her seat once." Hannah said she had witnessed up to 10 child abuses in more than 1,000 classes. She also described how some parents hide their cameras before punishing their children. She said, "I can only hear what happened, but the voice was terrible."
A teacher named Maria wrote that she saw the students "slapped and thrown around like a doll because their pronunciation was incorrect. That image will be engraved in my mind forever."
Once, the Idaho teacher, Kayla Nelson, found a lot of scratches on the face of a student in the classroom, asking what happened. ``My mother punched me, '' the student told her.
And Ben Ark (Ben Acker), who unsurprisingly taught 2000 classes, witnessed the "harshest" abuse of a six-year-old student who missed a word in class. Ake said he began to cry and had to end the class suddenly.
Teachers post in these Facebook private groups because they don't know how to deal with it, let alone report what they see. They ask each other the same questions in many different ways: Have you ever met this? Do I feel normal? How should I respond? How will the company deal with this?
Some people are also worried about imposing their values on another culture, but China has begun to restrict parents from beating their children. In 2015, China passed a law that, in addition to prohibiting domestic violence, requires staff of kindergartens, schools, hospitals and other community institutions to report violence against children. Jing Xu, an anthropologist at Washington University born in China, said that in her native country, most parents would be dissatisfied with the way English teachers saw and described the discipline on the screen.
Nevertheless, many American teachers still think they'd better stand by. As Mindy, a VIPKID coach in Michigan, said, "We can go to many parts of the world and children are treated differently. They have no leisure time. In order to discipline children, people will do a lot more severe things.
Jordan is one of about 70,000 VIPKID teachers, mostly Americans, but also some Canadians, who are independent contractors for VIPKID. As an online children's English education company, VIPKID was founded in 2014 and currently serves more than 600,000 children in China. Among dozens of companies competing to profit from the mentoring business, the company is by far the largest and has raised $825 million since its inception. Other major companies in the industry include Jiuyi English, Magic Ears, DaDaDa and Gogokid, all headquartered in China. According to Yiou, a Chinese Market Research company.IntelAccording to ligence, the online tutoring market will reach $11.4 billion by 2022.
These companies are developing rapidly, partly because they provide ideal intermediary services for customers and contractors. Most Chinese students begin to learn English at school from a very young age, but the guidance platform allows them to reach native speakers and help them improve their grammar, pronunciation and listening comprehension. At the same time, teachers are well paid ($14 to $26 an hour), flexible schedules and preview courses.
Almost all the online tutors I have met are or have been classroom teachers. They usually log on to the counseling platform in the early morning, when Chinese families have just returned home. Some people squeeze in time for a few classes before going to work; others take care of their children full-time. They say tutoring is a simple way to bring in extra cash. Through VIPKID, Jordan earns $3,000 a month. Despite what happened last fall, she has no plans to resign. "Sometimes I have to remind myself that this is why I am able to live the way I am now," she said.
However, like all booming young industries, online tutoring has begun to feel serious "growing troubles." "Live video classes have become a trend, bringing extraordinary benefits, but also creating potential problems." Stephen Bargam (Stephen Balkam), founder and CEO of (Family Online Safety Institute), an international non-profit organization with members including VIPKID, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Verizon. All transnational science and technology platforms must learn to adapt to various legal and cultural norms. But VIPKID and its peers face special challenges because they have to "take measures in real time and have real and close contact with their families and their children," Bargam said.
Jordan's experience seems quite typical. Shortly after she reported the incident to VIPKID, she was told that the video would be deleted. (The platform saves the archives of all live lessons.) Beyond that, the company said it had little to do with it because it had no right to advise parents on how to discipline their children.
But nine months later, in July of this year, Jordan was still able to see videos of violations on his account. She can still see the child's personal data. He is still in VIPKID class, but the teacher is no longer Jordan. Now it seems that Jordan is not witnessing an isolated incident, at least not just the boy. In February this year, another teacher commented in their private space: "Mother didn't hit her child today." On June 20, another teacher wrote, "I don't like abuse, nor the threat of beating with a broom."
"the safety of teachers, students and parents is a top priority for VIPKID, and we attach great importance to these things," Adam Steinberg, a spokesman for VIPKID's U.S. office in San Francisco, said in a written statement. Although he was unable to disclose exactly how many reports of abuse the company received every day, he wrote: "We have a procedure to work directly with the parties concerned to address these very rare situations to ensure the welfare of the victims."
Steinberg said the process involves ending classes early, deleting videos within 25 minutes, and following up with teachers and parents on the issue. At the end of last year, about a month after Jordan witnessed the incident, the company also launched a "critical safety concerns" button, which made it easier for teachers to alert "firefighters" when they thought their children were in danger. VIPKID repeatedly refused to give further interviews on the subject, nor did it elaborate on how to report abuses to local authorities.
According to VIPKID, these policies have been communicated to teachers through weekly communications sent by the company. Teachers can also see the content through the support page in the platform's online portal. But several teachers who spoke to me said that they had never noticed any such policy. Even teachers who read every state's correspondence carefully are no exception. One of them finally found a description of the key security concerns button in his weekly newsletter on December 11, 2018. This is the seventh item in the e-mail, and the information before it also covers new VIPKID brand goods, new augmented reality sticker notifications, and a competition to create "the most interesting holiday season classroom background". In addition, the announcement did not explain what measures the "firefighters" would actually take.
However, the industry seems to be coping with the challenges it faces. Last month, Jiuyi sent an e-mail to teachers reminding them to report abuse "strictly in accordance with the requirements". But the e-mail added that in order to protect students'privacy, teachers who report misconduct will not receive any follow-up information from the company. "We assure you that our team will solve any problem in a prudent manner." The email said.
Magic Ear has up to four students in each class. It now recommends that teachers who see abuse silence the microphone and turn off the camera to prevent other students from seeing any disturbing behavior. According to the statement provided by the company, teachers can also report problems through help buttons. "If necessary," Magic Ears will follow up with parents. (Dada English and Gogokid did not comment.) As Balgam said, "With our development, we are trying to solve the problem."
Many online English training teachers, especially those who have received formal classroom training, are familiar with the concept of mandatory reporting. As in many countries, U.S. law requires teachers who see abuse or suspect child abuse or neglect to report it to the designated authorities in their states. However, the boundaries between corporal punishment and abuse are subjective and cultural.
Psychologist Robert Geffner (Robert Geffner), founder of the Institute for violence, abuse and Trauma, a non-profit organization, said China was "too late" to acknowledge the harmful effects of excessive corporal punishment. These hazards include increased anxiety, distracting attention, increased criminal and violent tendencies, and reduced academic performance. But China's attitude is changing.
Xu Jing said that as early as 2015, before the adoption of the domestic child abuse law, parents began to accept more Westernized disciplinary measures and parenting methods. In the 1980s, when Xu Jing grew up, it was common for children to be hit by teachers and parents. She said they thought it was "a kind way to care, teach and raise children."
Although the laws have changed, Xu Jing feels that they have not been adequately publicized. She says many people don't even know that child abuse at home has been banned. An analysis of UNICEF's China office in 2015 found that more than a quarter of children aged 17 and under had been physically abused. Other studies give much higher figures, especially for younger children.
Some of the teachers interviewed in this article believe that no matter where the students are, they have a responsibility to report abuse. "I've seen a lot of people in the Facebook group say,'it's just a cultural issue,'" said Kella Nelson (Kayla Nelson), a teacher from Idaho who has also seen injuries to his students' faces. "who cares if it's a cultural issue? This is just not possible. Elizabeth Gershhoff (Elizabeth Gershoff), a psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, specializes in the effects of parental discipline on child development. He says many studies support Nielsen's point. "there is no evidence that it is good for children simply because it is common in a culture." She pointed out.
It's also not good for teachers, even if they're on the other side of the computer screen thousands of miles away. In fact, some of them may suffer alternative trauma from witnessing child abuse. "It's like the first responder to a disaster," Jeffner explained. "It's almost as traumatic as you are in the same situation." He added that the more teachers did not know how to correct the situation, the more helpless and hopeless they felt.
Experts believe that in addition to mandatory reporting, VIPKID and other companies can develop policies to protect children and teachers. For example, Gershhoff says they may follow the example of many hospitals, schools, churches and other community centers across the United States by setting up special corporal punishment zones. Despite the differences in laws on corporal punishment in different states, there are many grey areas, but these places insist on special protection. Gershhoff suggests that online counseling companies can formulate a policy to express the view that "if we see or hear abuses or threats, we will end the course and not give you money back."
Businesses should also teach their teachers how to identify abuse and neglect, according to Gershhoff. "Just like the training received by the teachers in the classroom, they should report it once they find it." Enterprises can even start a project to provide training for parents on different parenting methods, including corporal punishment, so that they can understand what corporal punishment is, what research conclusions about corporal punishment are, and whether corporal punishment is effective. (Actually, it didn't work.)
Jordan recently returned to the United States to teach classes, while reducing the time he spent working on VIPKID. In her view, these proactive strategies may be useful. "It would certainly be better if I felt I could tighten my grip on the situation." She said she did not like "sitting there helplessly, watching this terrible act happen." (Smith Woodcutter)