By Jenina P. Ibañez, Reporter

THE online English education industry is experiencing increased demand as students in China stay home due to the new coronavirus disease COVID-19 epidemic.

51Talk, a Beijing-based education platform that works with more than 20,000 Filipino teachers, has seen teaching hours doubled since February.

51Talk Philippine Country Head Jennifer K. Que told BusinessWorld in a phone interview on Friday that teachers now do more than 30 of the 25-minute English lessons for a month, from 15 previously.

“Due to the situation in China most of the students are at home and our students are kids, majority are kids,” she said.

Reports say that Chinese schools have closed, leaving 180 million students studying from home.

Ms. Que said the increased demand did not cause stronger demand for Filipino teachers, as the platform already looks for 2,000 more teachers each month.

51Talk teachers have reported fearing for their students.

“’Yung isang nakakalungkot (A sad part is), these students would say: ‘teacher, now you see me, if you don’t see me again…’” Ms. Que said.

But she said the teachers are also relieved that the students are safer at home.

“They don’t have school right now so the parents are encouraging them to be also productive and our teachers are providing the fun and fruitful distractions to them.”

Ms. Que said the online platform allowed them to adapt quickly.

“As a platform, we learned that things can change abruptly and you have to be adaptable.”

The online nature of the service, she said, means that disasters impacting Internet connection and power could slow down the business.

She added that 51Talk would continue investing in its platform, including materials and teacher training.

51Talk, however, has not invested in psychological support for teachers who have been working with students amid the epidemic.

“I don’t think there’s an intense need for any psychological support right now,” Ms. Que said.

Confirmed infections from COVID-19 has reached more than 80,000 globally, most of which are in China.

51Talk is listed in the New York Stock Exchange under China Online Education Group (COE).

Shares in COE reached a 52-week high of $37.19 on Feb. 27.