As unemployment rates continue to soar, unemployed Batswana youth are turning to online English tutoring to earn a living.

During the lockdowns of early 2021, *Katlego, a 24-year-old economics graduate from the University of Botswana, came across YouTube videos of influencers showing a seemingly easy way to make money from online tutoring. At first, she assumed it was just another online scam like many others which were prominent during that time. But, after the lockdowns were lifted, Katlego researched more about online tutoring, and in 2022 she decided to get into teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) herself, eventually getting her certificate in October of that year. 

Katlego has been teaching English online to Asian students for a year now as that is the target market of the tutoring platforms she uses. According to recent data, almost 400 million Chinese citizens are in the process of learning English, creating a huge market for online ESL tutoring services. Reasons for learning English include better career prospects in China as more Western companies move into the country as well as learning the language in order to migrate to the West.

Katlego’s typical prep for a lesson includes hours of going over her lesson plans, ensuring that her laptop and headsets are working correctly, and saying a small prayer that her internet and electricity would stay on for the duration of the one-hour lesson. Should anything go wrong, she will lose the $5 she charges per lesson. According to her, she can make as much as P4,500 (~$330) a month on the job. 

She is one of a growing number of young Batswana who have turned to online tutoring to earn a living as the unemployment rate continues to rise in the country. “It’s a great and easy way to earn a living because all you need is an internet connection,” she tells TechCabal. “It’s better than sitting at home and waiting for a nine-to-five job, which is scarce.”

Data from the World Bank shows that Botswana’s youth unemployment rate currently stands at over 44%, as of 2023. Platforms like Preply, Native Camp, TutorOcean and Cambly, among many others, allow people from countries with English as an official language to tutor students via the platforms. What makes the service attractive to young people in Botswana is the low barrier to entry, with most platforms only requiring English proficiency and an internet connection to onboard tutors. Once onboarded to the platform, tutors conduct one-hour one-on-one lessons with students for rates of between $3 and $7. A tutor’s rate is determined by their experience as well as ratings from students on the platform, and payments are done via PayPal.

Sarah Moitse runs a Facebook page, “ESL Teaching with Sarah”, and it has over 1,500 followers. She tells TechCabal that the interest from young people has been astounding. Some of the services her page offers include step-by-step tutorials in setting up tutor profiles, making lesson plans and advisory on attracting students. She offers all the services for free. It’s not just unemployed youth who are trying to get into tutoring. Some are doing it as a side hustle as “most jobs here don’t pay enough”, adds Moitse. So rewarding is tutoring that some of the young people end up quitting their day jobs to tutor full-time.

Twenty-year-old economics graduate *Kefilwe tells TechCabal she only started online tutoring in October 2023 and makes as much as P2,000 (~$146) a month from the seven students she has. “Only four of my students consistently attend classes so you see that there is potential to make more,” she said. “It is just about taking it seriously and being patient.” 

Moitse tells TechCabal that, for beginners, the going rate on most platforms is $3 per hour. As a tutor gradually gains experience and gets good ratings, they can get rates as high as $7 an hour. The number of students a tutor can have is only limited by how many they can accommodate.

Challenges in online tutoring in Botswana

For some tutors who spoke to TechCabal, although offering online tutoring is a straightforward exercise, there are some annoyances. One of these is racism by some of the tutored students. According to 22-year-old *Kagiso, she had a racist encounter in one of her first classes. “On the platforms, we have our cameras on and sometimes students say racist things, but you just take it on the chest and focus on your work,” she told TechCabal. 

Another challenge for tutors is internet access. Botswana has one of most expensive data prices on the continent, and most homes do not have broadband internet. To get through that huddle, some tutors have struck deals with internet cafés to use their computers to do work. *Maatla, a tutor who conducts his classes at an internet cafe, says the arrangement is convenient because the cafe owners understand his line of work and give him a secluded spot to work. “It’s a win-win situation because the café gets a regular customer and I get a nice work environment,” he tells TechCabal. Although he currently has only four students and does tutoring part-time, Maatla says he plans to have as many as 30 students and do it full-time as soon as he makes enough to afford internet at home.

For Moitse, one of her main challenges is misinformed people who think ESL tutoring is a quick money-making scheme, thanks to ESL tutoring influencers on social media who give that impression. She adds that when they fail to make what they thought they would, some of the tutors end up giving up altogether and call the tutoring a scam. Some pages of the influencers seen by TechCabal show tutors earning as much as $4,000. “Tutoring is like any other job so you have to work hard to earn a lot of money eventually,” Moitse says. 

The future of online tutoring

With youth unemployment not showing any sign of slowing down in Botswana, alternate ways to earn income like online tutoring are becoming wildly popular. According to Moitse, in addition to the 1,000 followers she has on her Facebook page, she also has over 800 contacts on her WhatsApp whom she advises on getting into ESL tutoring. 

On Facebook, some ESL tutoring groups have as many as 275,000 members. They all purport to show members ways to get into the profession and make the most out of it. Kagiso tells TechCabal that the fact that she can earn a living shows the power of the internet in providing sustenance.

“Most young people use the internet to complain about lack of jobs on social media,” she says, “when they could be using that same internet to create jobs for themselves.”

*Not their real names

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