The government's proposed program to hire foreign teachers in public schools has proven to be a dead duck. A thousand were promised, but only 22 were recruited ("Ministry battles to find English teachers," July 13, page 1).
The original January 2003 proposal to put foreign English teachers in a prominent role teaching children and training teachers at public elementary and secondary schools was a healthy stew. Under the onslaught of an organized campaign by the opposition and teachers' organizations, it was watered down to a weak soup: "assistant English teachers," like Japan's failed program.
Now, it seems like a few drops of brackish water. This looks like the only part of the Taiwan state that is "withering away." If you ignore that history, the current policy is unintelligible at best: at worst, it is designed to fail.
The government seeks degreed, certified, native-speaking English teachers, less than 45 years old, to serve as assistants to Taiwanese English teachers. Such people have career paths in the teaching profession in their own countries. Why they would want to take a year out of their developing careers to be personal assistants to Taiwanese teachers, who may know less about English education than they do, has never been answered.
Nor is it clear whether Western teachers, with Western training, are suitable for Taiwan's schools. They will probably get on the first plane home as soon as they see classes of 40-plus children, at mixed levels, taught by memorizing local textbooks and using strict traditional discipline, by teachers who care about behavior, maturity and learning attitude, and not just about "providing learning experiences" to be absorbed or ignored at will.
Now the question of why young, certified Western teachers would even want to come to Taiwan has been answered by their absence: they do not want to. The government should indeed be congratulated on finding 22 people who are willing to humiliate themselves and damage their careers for it.
If the government were serious about having foreign English teachers in state schools as a long-term policy, it would recruit the BA degree-holding native speaking English teachers, of any age, with no teacher training, who have shown by experience that they are the ones willing to come to Taiwan.
Secondly, they would offer them a package of five years of full-time English teaching in public schools, initially as assistants, on a full-time Taiwanese teacher's starting salary and benefits. This should be carried out with free enrollment in a part-time program of night classes at a local Taiwanese "Normal" university (or education school), leading to a Bachelor of Education degree (taught in English -- it may be tough but there are Taiwanese professors who could do it), and a certificate in Chinese language proficiency.
Third, give the teachers an iron-clad guarantee, enforceable in Taiwanese courts, that whenever they obtain their BA in education and Chinese Language Proficiency Certificate (CCP), they will be given a full, tenured appointment as a teacher in a Taiwanese public school, in a rural or other poorly-served area, with permanent residency and later citizenship (if they want it).
Such a program would be much like the Singapore Ministry of Education's successful program (http://www.moe.gov.sg/teach/index.htm) to train local people and immigrants to staff its schools.
The money-hungry would not be interested in such a tough program, with a long contract and phased-in full salary: nor are they desirable. For them there will always be bushibans.
The ones who might be interested are those native speakers with non-commercial BA degrees and limited job prospects in their home countries, those with a sincere interest in Chinese culture and language, and perhaps some older, experienced and/or certified teachers in Western countries over the age of 45 who are looking for a mid-life change of career or fed up with the mess that is Western education.
Certainly more than 22 could be found with such a realistically-targeted recruitment plan.
The differences between this proposal and the government's failed policy are: one, it could work. Two, it is cheaper, especially in the longer-term as a cadre of foreign teachers is trained and serves on Taiwanese salaries. Third, it would answer opponents' objections of "foreign teachers are paid more than Taiwanese teachers," and "unqualified foreigners are teaching in our schools." Fourth, it would guarantee enough foreign English teachers more than for a year at a time, but for a generation.
Fifth, it would provide a group of foreign teachers who improved with experience rather than changed completely every year.
Sixth, it would not make empty promises to put foreign teachers in rural schools this year, but would reliably provide them to rural schools after five years' training in cities with "Normal" universities. The government could also arrange the B.Ed./CCP course by distance education, in which case they could staff rural schools with foreign trainees this year.
Indeed, in 10 years, rural Taiwanese children's English might well be better than that of their urban counterparts.
Now let us see whether the government really intends to improve English education or not. It is not really impossible.
Sokcho, South Korea
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