The question of student engagement is more ambiguous admittedly as, on the one hand students are less inclined to distract each other or chit-chat in their native language when they are separated physically, but, on the other hand, you never know whether or not they have another tab or window open on their computer screen to distract themselves. Online games and social media are temptations for the teenage and younger learners and this is tough to regulate in a group setting.
Parents I’m sure were initially skeptical as well about whether or not online lessons would represent value for money as compared with conventional classes. However I think, like teachers, parents may be gradually warming to the idea, as the process becomes smoother and the lessons more productive. There may be convenience for parents too as they save time picking up students from the academy and driving them home. Students too may appreciate being able to learn from the comfort of home.
It is still early days of course and, although the jury is still out (especially for students taking exams at the end of term), I no longer see online as a temporary aberration and believe it will become a permanent feature of ESL teaching. Although classrooms will presumably fill up again after the pandemic, there could be a new demand for online lessons and teachers may find themselves increasingly splitting their schedules between remote and in-house lessons.
From the perspective of schools, priorities include justifying the price of a lesson and striving to make online lessons as effective and engaging as those in a conventional classroom. Looking forward to next term, schools have to make tough decisions regarding classroom space. Some may choose to reduce overheads by occupying smaller premises or using fewer rooms, while making online a larger part of their overall schedules. For those who own or rent classrooms these are major choices and of course the preferences of the students and parents will be a key influence.
Another factor for schools offering online lessons is whether or not to hire teachers who live abroad. Although initially reluctant to do so, I think teachers who work remotely have generally proven themselves to be reliable and the efficiency of online file sharing plus the numerous channels in existence for coordination between employer and employee have facilitated this process greatly. Hence schools may consider hiring remotely on a permanent basis and reduce the number of staff who physically come into the premises. This would coincide with reducing the number of classrooms being maintained by the schools. The extent to which such a trend will materialise is uncertain but we can imagine how ESL schools may look and operate next year or even for many years to come.