App-based English-language tutors say they frequently witness their Chinese students suffering brutal physical abuse by their parents

There is a booming market for app-based English-language tutors, many in the USA, who serve Chinese families where the parents are eager to have their children acquire English proficiency; these tutors are often also moonlighting teachers, or former teachers, who have been trained to spot and report signs of abuse.

Many of these teachers say that they have witnessed both indirect signs of abuse, as well as directly witnessing horrific acts of on-camera violence in which abusive parents brutally beat their children.

What’s more, the tutors say that when they report this violence to the companies they contract to, like Vipkid, the companies do not take action beyond shuffling which teacher is working with that kid. Using private Facebook groups, tutors have compared notes and banded together to put pressure on the companies to take action.

Corporal punishment is widespread in China, but recent legal reforms have banned most kinds of violent punishments for children. However, if the companies report parental abuse to Chinese authorities, it could undermine their ability to attract and retain clients — narking out the parents who are paying the bills is bad for business.

Edsurge’s Emily Tate contacted many of the leading companies providing these services and while all said reassuring things about the company’s plans to deal with abuse, they were notably short on details and often refused to answer followup questions.

Adam Steinberg, a spokesman at VIPKid’s US office in San Francisco, said in a written statement that “the safety and security of teachers, students, and parents is a top priority for VIPKid and we take these matters very seriously.” Although he couldn’t say precisely how many reports of abuse the company receives each day, he wrote that “we have a process to address these very rare instances directly with the parties involved to ensure their welfare.”

That process, Steinberg said, includes ending classes before the full 25 minutes, deleting the video, and following up with both teachers and parents about the issue. Late last year, about a month after the incident Jordan witnessed, the company also introduced a “critical safety concern” button, which makes it easier for teachers to alert the Firemen if they think a child is in danger. VIPKid declined repeated requests for further interviews on this topic, and would not elaborate on its procedure for referring reports of abuse to local agencies…

…Magic Ears, which allows up to four students in each class, now advises teachers who witness abuse to mute the audio and shut off the camera to block other students from seeing any disturbing behavior. According to a statement provided by the company, teachers can also report the issue through a help button and Magic Ears will follow up with parents “if needed.” (DaDa and Gogokid did not respond to requests for comment.) As Balkam puts it, “We’re making this up as we go along.”

When an Online Teaching Job Becomes a Window into Child Abuse [Emily Tate/Edsurge]