The Ministry of Education is to be lauded for finally thinking about doing what many foreigners have suggested for years -- establishing a formal program for employment of native English speakers in local elementary and secondary schools. Properly handled, such a program could result in nothing but benefits for the country and its people. However, it appears that the ministry has not given the issue the kind of consideration it deserves.
Large-scale employment of foreigners in Taiwanese schools may require the establishment of a centralized body at the ministry to handle this program, similar to the program at the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) for handling foreign laborers and servants. This program should be staffed entirely by long-term foreigners who speak and read Chinese and have some familiarity with the school system, with branch offices in the major cities and on the east coast, to handle the conflicts that are inevitably going to arise. It should be supervised by an interagency committee composed of English-speaking representatives from the CLA, MOFA and MOE.
Such a centralized oversight body should also be responsible for training programs. The MOE's current suggestion, that such programs be two weeks in length, is laughably inadequate; at least four weeks, six days a week, 12 hours a day, is the minimum acceptable for such a program. Trainees should receive at least four hours a day of intensive Mandarin, four to six hours a day of teacher training, two hours a day of cultural, legal and administrative training and driver training. The training center should be located in a medium-sized city such as Fengyuan or Hualien, where costs are lower and trainees will be forced to navigate in Mandarin. This will also give them a taste of what Taiwan is really like.
Since not all recruits will be posted to large cities with good transportation systems, they should also receive driver's licenses that restrict them to 50CC scooters. Inevitably trainees will skip out early from the program. For that reason, the MOE should withhold at least half their monthly salary for the first six months or so, and pay the balance plus interest if they finish the first year. After that, trainees can go on the regular salary. A system of pay raises will have to be implemented to give foreigners an incentive to stay in Taiwan. A regular system of performance reviews should also be established, with scores determined by outsiders in consultation with the local school. The program should be absolutely ruthless in eliminating incompetent and lazy foreign teachers, and should be given the power to withhold salary and revoke visas.
The media has been filled with misplaced and exaggerated outrage at the mere idea of this program. If it sources services from international markets, Taiwan must pay international prices. Those who rant and rave about job losses should consider that expansion of English programs in the schools will only stimulate further demand for local English teachers as assistants and subsidiary teachers.
Currently, numerous foreigners already teach in Taiwan's primary and secondary schools on an informal basis. Despite legalizing this practice, the MOE has not yet granted schools the authority to apply for visas on behalf of their foreign teachers. It should take this important step to facilitate a formalization of these teachers as well.