Tuesday, January 17, 2006

English Teacher Program a Failure

The Taipei Times reports that the Ministry program for English teachers in elementary schools around Taiwan is a failure.

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.

No kidding. Who didn't predict this?

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.

Speaking as a former Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya, my heart bleeds for this poor Australian....

An Australian male teacher, who declined to be identified, was sent to Jenai Primary School in Nantou. His arrival coincided with the dry season in the isolated locale, and even taking a daily bath become problematic. The relationship he had with school authorities was also problematic. The teacher therefore applied to terminate his contract, and the MOE accepted his request.

Several years ago, when this program was first proposed, I argued that there would have to an in-depth, US Peace Corps-like training program, that it would have to be administered by foreigners here in Taiwan for the long-term, or else it would fail. I got a lot of abuse from local foreigners for suggesting such a thing. All I can say is: gosh, I'm tired of being right all the time. This program CAN work, but it will require FAR greater investment in training and monitoring. That is all aside from the fact that the program is totally unnecessary and local teachers can do an acceptable job very easily. Have been, in fact.

The next article discusses the experience of an English teacher, Kim Whidden, in a "remote" area "on the outskirts" of Tainan City where she was the only foreigner! ROFLMAO! Remote! Nothing on the west coast plain of Taiwan is "remote," let alone an exurb of Tainan. But note what her complaint is:

The difference between her expectations, based on the scant information provided by the school and the Ministry of Education before she arrived, and the reality of her situation did not faze Whidden, she said, but more could have been done to prepare her for her job.

Damn I hate being right all the time.

If the government is really serious about English, it should require that students be taught it from day 1, and that certain courses only be taught in English, and entirely in English. Taiwan's problem with English is really just a manifestation of the ongoing identity problem with island faces: is Taiwan a globalized multicultural state with links to other nations around the world, participating in the world economy and in world cultural construction? Or is it just an island off the coast of China whose provincials know nothing other than to live out milquetoast knock-offs of Chinese nationalism? If the former, then it needs to start emphasizing English as part of a drive to tie itself to the world order. If the latter, then let's not waste the money on foreign English teachers.

How the foreign teacher program works

* Schools apply for the placement of a foreign teacher.

* Teachers sign contracts with the school authorities, usually through an overseas agent acting for the Taiwanese government.

* The teacher is given a monthly salary. They also receive free flights to and from Taiwan, and a monthly housing stipend.

* A task force formed by the school authorities and the local government deals with any difficulties the teacher may encounter.

* The Ministry of Education supervises the project, interviewing teachers and authorities about the program's results.

UPDATE: TaiwanTroll, a teacher in the program, has some great comments.


David said...

You might be interested in reading Taiwantroll's comments on the program. He was a participant so he gives an insider's view.

MJ Klein said...

as i have said many times, English itself is not important in Taiwan, only bragging rights. again last night in the night market "there's a foreigner SPEAK ENGLISH" (said in Chinese, to which I responded in like "I don't speak English"). as long as a Taiwanese can say enough authentic-sounding phrases to fool his friends, he is getting by and that is good enough. parents just want to be able to point to their kid and beam with pride, but nothing more. i contend that nearly none of the people who waste money on English classes really need it. chatting on MSN seems to be the main use for Taiwanese English.