The Ministry of Education recently decided to implement a pilot project which will introduce foreign English teachers into public elementary and high schools starting this summer.
According to newspaper reports, some elementary school English teachers are angry about the new decision. Their monthly salary, not including benefits and year-end bonuses, is slightly over NT$40,000. The foreign teachers, however, are expected to receive a monthly salary of between NT$60,000 and NT$90,000.
In general, the proper way to treat foreigners is for them to be fairly remunerated according to local standards. No more, no less. The ministry's decision must be reconsidered if not completely dropped.
The time and energy we spend learning English comes from the fallacy that Taiwan needs to internationalize. Our country has not hesitated to discriminate against its own people in the pursuit of establishing and improving English-language programs. Our country, for this reason, has come to a point where the need for internationalization needs to be seriously reconsidered.
Internationalization measures tend to loose sight of the main goal and make undue sacrifices for others. The measures result in an overemphasis on the English language and creation of unneeded incentives for foreign enterprises and foreigners to come to Taiwan.
In order to understand our unique situation, let us compare Taiwan's development experience with those of other countries after the end of World War II. In Asia, only the four so-called Asian "dragons" succeeded in the half-century following the war. Of the four Asian dragons, two -- Singapore and Hong Kong -- are city-states. Because they are also situated at vital transit points, their experiences are quite unique and therefore provide little value as a reference for other countries. The other two dragons, Taiwan and South Korea, have a lower English-language competence than many other countries.
Nevertheless, these two nations succeeded because of their participation in international trade. Former British colonies such as India, on the other hand, are not willing to trade with English-speaking countries. Although India's people have a good grasp of the English language, their fundamental ideology tells them that they will be exploited by Europeans and Americans if they trade with them. Additionally, former colonies such as India stress autonomy. In order to encourage growth, they make use of import barriers to shut out external competition.
This contrast tells us that the key to internationalization is not determined by English-language ability. More important is whether the people are open to sharing profits with trading partners.
Poorer nations tend to fear that Europeans/Americans eat the meat, leaving them to gnaw the bones. They may worry whether there is an open system to encourage their people and the Europeans/Americans to compete on the same stage.
In fact, Taiwan's competitive edge and export trade successes were won because of our willingness to gnaw on the bones. In contrast, the development of our automobile industry is not as desirable. It is therefore shut off from international competition in order to "protect a national industry."
Openness is the main goal of learning and English is secondary. The road ahead can be paved for us if we focus on the objective and make it work. Taiwan lacks the necessary environment for foreign languages to take a strong hold. And because of Taiwan's peculiar international status, it is quite difficult for it to attract foreign investment and tourists in the same way that Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand can. We are far behind Southeast Asian and South Asian countries terms of English-language ability and putting it at the forefront of our internationalization drive.
However, other countries are too far behind to catch up with us on another front of internationalization -- going to other countries if we are unable to attract foreigners to come to our country. The most touching story on our economic development is written about the Taiwanese businessmen carrying briefcases on sales trips. Without the backing of the government and big business groups, many Taiwanese businessmen are willing to travel all over the world for the slightest profits -- even if they are poor in foreign languages.
The above analysis tells us that a positive, enterprising spirit of the people is the objective or essence of internationalization. Learning English is only a minor detail.
People often judge whether a country is internationalized by looking at the number of foreign firms and foreigners in the country. This isn'tt the most accurate measurement of internationalization.
A country has two gateways to achieve internationalization. First, the influx of international capital and human resources can facilitate internationalization. Under such circumstances there are many foreign enterprises and foreigners present in the country. Second, internationalization can be achieved through trade. Taiwan's degree of internationalization is as good as that of Hong Kong and Singapore. The difference is that Taiwan has used trade as the means to facilitate internationalization.
From the perspective of system economics, trade is probably an upper-end means to achieving internationalization. Global investment is a solution to the failure of the market mechanism. If a company is unable to make business transactions, by means of buying and selling, with another country, it will make direct investment in that country.
For example, a company invests in a country in which there are import barriers or there are no credible suppliers. This can explain why the capitals of many countries, which are not as economically developed as Taiwan, project a stronger international image than Taiwan.
In fact, trade as a means of internationalization seems to have a brighter future, because the markets have better potential with regard to integration. Under the influence of the WTO, many countries, for example, will likely bring down import barriers.
So what about English? The above analysis tells us that our road to internationalization does not necessarily need to follow the footsteps of Hong Kong and Singapore. Taiwan's unique way of internationalization is still workable. In fact it may actually be better and more forward-looking.
Chang Ming-chung is a professor of economics at National Central University.
Translated by Grace Shaw
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