Tue, Jan 17, 2006 - Page 2 News List

English teacher plan falls short

OFF-MARK A program launched in 2003 aimed to place 1,000 foreign English teachers in the nation's public schools, but only 40 teachers have been placed so far

By Mac William Bishop  /  STAFF REPORTER , IN TAINAN, WITH STAFF WRITER

An ambitious and controversial program to fill the nation's public schools with experienced foreign English teachers is dying a quiet death, as it has failed to attract anywhere near the number of required teachers, according to educators and government officials.

When the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced in January 2003 that it would hire 1,000 foreign English-language teachers a year to work in 3,300 schools across the nation, officials cited the need to improve the resources available to rural districts and improve the overall quality of foreign-language instruction programs.

"Though this program, we wish to build a bridge from Taiwan to the world and boost Taiwan's competitiveness as Taiwanese youngsters boost their English proficiency," then-deputy minister of education Fan Sun-lu (范巽綠) said when the program was announced.

Critics ridiculed such comments as rhetoric typical of ill-conceived educational reform plans.

"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," professor Shih Yu-hwei (施玉惠) told the Taipei Times after the plan was announced in 2003.

Critics of the proposal were also concerned that the foreign workers would displace qualified local teachers, and expressed doubt about the plan's ability to noticeably improve the quality of English-language education in public schools.

The MOE's proposal was modeled on that of the National Experimental High School of the Hsinchu Science-based Industrial Park, which brought in English teachers from the UK, Canada, Australia and the US, at salaries of between NT$60,000 to NT$90,000 a month.

But the voices questioning the plan quickly died out after it was implemented in 2004, as it became evident that the MOE faced a serious obstacle to implementing the arrangement: an almost total lack of interest in the program on the part of foreign teachers.

Despite the offer of competitive salaries, housing stipends, medical benefits and free tickets to and from Taiwan, few foreign teachers have leaped at the offer to teach in rural schools on one to three-year contracts. And few of those who have are willing to renew their contracts, while a number of teachers have left Taiwan before completing their period of service.

Although the ministry eventually scaled back the program's requirements from 1,000 teachers to 400 teachers, it still fell dismally short of its goal.

In the end, a mere 40 teachers were brought to Taiwan as a result of the policy, according to statistics provided by the MOE.

Of these, few teachers have decided to stay for longer than one year, and a handful have even canceled their contracts to leave early. They have decided to leave for many reasons, but several teachers interviewed by reporters said that a desire to move on with their careers and their lives played the major role in their decision.

Teacher Clayton Shawn Hull, who became a teacher at Taipei County's Chitan Primary School, established cordial relations with parents and school authorities, but decided not to renew his contract for career and pension reasons.

Diane Bolyard, a 59-year-old teacher from Indiana, said she had truly enjoyed her time in Taiwan, but could not renew her contract because of family commitments back home. Bolyard, who has a Master's degree in education, was popular at her school because of her energetic personality and teaching methods, which put the children at ease and quickly had the students trying out their English.

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