The language training arm of media giant Disney is closing down its operations in China after 12 years.

Disney English opened its first centre in Shanghai in 2008, when its parent, the Walt Disney Company, had sought to offer immersive English lessons featuring storytelling, singing and interactive games.

The firm was forced to suspend operations across its 26 centres in China in January, when Covid-19 began to tear across the country, but did not offer online classes as a substitute until 19 March.

However, citing an accelerated shift to online provision that will likely outlast the pandemic, Disney English has decided not to reopen its centres.

“Over the past few years, we have noticed a shift in consumer preferences toward online learning experiences and this trend has been accelerated by the global pandemic as families are hesitant to resume in-person supplemental learning classes,” said Mahesh Samat, Walt Disney Co’s executive vice-president. “After careful consideration, we have made the difficult decision to not reopen the centers.

“We are ensuring that each family of a Disney English learner is refunded accordingly, and we are taking care of each and every one of our affected cast members.”

Disney English is among a number of language-tuition providers in China that have succumbed to the operational and financial effects of Covid-19.

In April, it was revealed that Wall Street English, which is backed by private equity, would shutter its China centres as it had “been losing a lot of money over the past 18 months and the Covid crisis tipped it over the edge”, a source told this publication at the time.

In many ways, the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility of centre-based education, many providers of which did not have robust online platforms in place before the viral outbreak and have lost customers to more nimble digital competitors. 

Still, some centre-based tuition providers are plotting Chinese expansions, despite continued uncertainty. 

Education First (EF) is set to have “one of its biggest investment years ever” despite the coronavirus crisis, as the language tuition giant draws up expansion plans for its Chinese operation, one of its executives said in May. 

Jacob Toren, chief executive of one of the world’s largest educational travel and language training provider’s China division, said that EF is “confident to open more schools” this year across the country, where it already operates more than 300 centres.

Date published: 25 June 2020

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