The country's efforts to compete with China in the market of international Chinese language instruction by certifying elite teachers are set to expand overseas, as the global proliferation of "Confucian Institutes" and China's standards of Mandarin instruction boost China's "soft power" and threaten to further marginalize Taiwan, a senior education official said yesterday.
A Chinese pedagogy test unveiled by the Ministry of Education last November will be administered overseas for the first time this summer to aspiring Chinese language instructors in Vietnam and Thailand, said Chang Chin-sheng (張欽勝), director of the education ministry's Bureau of International Cultural and Educational Relations.
"China's influence in the global Chinese-language instruction market is, of course, tremendous," Chang said. "But Taiwan still has a chance to fill a niche in the market by providing elite instruction, and increase the international community's understanding of Taiwan by doing so."
The Chinese government has founded Confucius Institutes -- internationally based schools that provide foreigners with affordable, private Chinese-language instruction.
A growing number of US academics accuse the schools of being international nodes of ideology and influence for the Chinese Communist Party.
Chang said his ministry seeks to introduce the test -- which Chang said are infused with Taiwanese culture and worldviews -- abroad, beginning with Thailand and Vietnam, where the demand for Chinese pedagogical certification is high, he said.
"China has its system of Chinese instructor certification, and now he have ours," Chang said, adding that the test helps to ensure that Taiwanese government-certified instructors -- or teachers who have passed the test -- are "high-caliber" Chinese-language teachers.
"Our standards are higher [than China's]; the quality of instruction is higher," he added.
Only 71 testers of more than 2,000 examinees passed all five sections of the test last November to become fully certified Chinese-language instructors in the eyes of the Taiwanese government, Chang said.
Indeed, being certified according to exacting and official standards, he added, could mean the difference between a teacher landing or losing out on a coveted teaching position.
"We won't guess how many people will take, or pass, the test in Vietnam and Thailand because it's a very difficult examination," Chang told the Taipei Times.
For Ann Chen (陳立元) -- a seasoned Chinese-language instructor and a consultant to Chang's bureau, which designed the test -- the test's difficulty is necessary to ensure that certified teachers are elite.
"We told the ministry that it must be difficult. There's this misperception out there that any native Chinese speaker can sign up for this test, pass it, get certified and scope out lucrative teaching jobs in the US, and that's just not the case. This test is a filter to sift out elite professionals," Chen said.
A Chinese pedagogy specialist, Chen said Taiwan's churning out crack Mandarin teachers would help it to foster closer ties with the international community, while allowing the country to capitalize on the global craze for Chinese instruction.
"It's more effective than more official means of diplomacy," she said, referring to the deepening of cultural understanding between nations that foreign language instruction brings about.