Thu, Feb 06, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Ministry grapples with English-education plan

By Chang Yun-ping  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Ministry of Education recently decided to cut the number of foreign English teachers it had planned to employ and use the savings to hire teacher-trainers.

The ministry said after a recent forum that it hopes to hire between 400 and 600 foreign teachers for elementary schools instead of the original 1,000 and proposed a remuneration scale for teachers of NT$60,000 to NT$90,000 per month. Vice Minister of Education Fan Sun-lu (范巽綠) has said the salaries of the teacher-training specialists should exceed NT$90,000 per month.

At the forum, members of the ministry's English Education Advisory Committee unanimously disagreed with the plan to hire so many foreign teachers, saying the move would do more harm than good for primary-level education.

Lin Wen-chi (林文淇), an associate professor at National Central University, said the plan to hire foreign English teachers looked like a short cut for improving English-language education. He said the proposal brought with it too many problems and would ultimately fail.

"If the purpose of hiring foreign English teachers is simply to have teachers with native-English accents, I believe that local teachers could do the job if they were properly trained [with programs that] use the money [intended for hiring] foreign teachers," he said.

Sebastian Liao (廖咸浩), chairman of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature at National Taiwan University (NTU), warned the ministry that hiring foreign teachers would not serve as a panacea for problems associated with the provision of successful English-language education or with globalization.

"Some schools in the remote Hualien and Taitung areas have applied to hire foreign English teachers to enhance their students' English skills. Can't our own teachers do the job?" Liao asked.

"These students in remote areas enjoy fewer educational and cultural resources than children in cities. If we expose them directly to a foreign culture, how will they adjust to the cultural differences which might interfere with the process by which they begin to identify with their mother culture?" he said.

Shih Yu-hwei (施玉惠), a professor in the English Department at National Taiwan Normal University, cited problems with Japan's and South Korea's experiences with hiring foreign teachers for primary schools.

"Both Japan and South Korea have reduced the number of foreign English teachers. The problem was that the foreign teachers usually had difficulty in coordinating with the domestic teachers, and were often treated as simply `living recorders' who did nothing but regurgitate native-English pronunciation," Shih said.

"This was a waste of educational resources," Shih said.

She added that local teachers in these countries often ended up being treated as second-rate instructors.

Cheung Hin-tat (張顯達), an associate professor at NTU's Graduate Institute of Linguistics and an expert in child language-acquisition, said the teaching methods of Western instructors and their Asian counterparts can be very different.

"We know from Hong Kong's experience that foreign teachers cannot meet the students' needs in terms of dealing with tests -- a very important means of evaluation in Chinese society," Cheung said.

"Like students in Taiwan, Hong Kong students are under pressure to pass tests in order to get in to senior high schools or colleges. The foreign teachers' schedules and methods prevent them from meeting the students' needs for coaching to pass the tests. Much of the work required to make up for that deficiency then falls to local teachers," Cheung said.

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