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Foreign Teacher Training Institutions: The Only Qualification Necessary is a Foreign Face

Domestic English courses in China are mainly divided into two tracks. One track is examination based in which students prepare for the TOEFL, IELTS and other exams. New Oriental is an example of a training center based around this track. The other category is based on applied English. Institutions in this vein include Web International English, EF English First Education, Wall Street English and more. Regardless of the type of English training institution, they all have “foreign teachers” as important symbolic representatives.

For those who do not know the inside story, it seems that all foreigners are natural born “teachers” and that “teacher training” courses with fees often over ten thousands Yuan are just scams.

Over the last month, reporters from the 21st Century Business Heraldfound through an investigation that many formal training institutions seemingly have qualified teachers. The teachers were capable and had met the “requirements” necessary for the job. However, many of these teachers are not actually qualified for the job. Training institutions often have no set curriculum and the foreign teachers do not have the correct qualifications. Some training institutions do this in order to meet the requests of students who wish to be taught by foreign teachers, even if their only qualification is a foreign face. Many foreigners take advantage of this when looking for a teaching job.

Foreigners= Teachers?

Jason (pseudonym) is in his twenties. He traveled from Boston to China over two years ago and is currently a student at Beijing Language and Culture University. In his spare time, Jason tutors English to students in their own homes. He previously taught English in China and worked for a number of different training institutions. Jason said that he once applied for a job at a Beijing English training institution without any of the proper documentation or qualifications. He had not studied anything related to English education while in university and he was not qualified to teach English to Chinese students. However, the training center said that this was “no problem.” Jason easily received a job after his “interview” with the institution.

Enrico (pseudonym) from Italy has a similar story to Jason’s. Enrico told reporters from the 21st Century Business Herald that when he applied at English training institutions, those responsible for hiring “only looked at my passport and did not care about anything else. The contract signed by both sides was very simple and only dealt with things like number of classes taught and payment.”

“Many elementary schools hire foreign teachers. They only care about their ‘foreign’ faces. With foreigner teachers present, students’ parents will feel that the school is both professional and capable,” said Enrico.

How do “foreign teachers” get in contact with schools? Or, how do schools find these so-called teachers to hire? Enrico said that there are specialized agencies that deal with making these connections. Schools also often look for foreign teachers themselves through websites with a high number of active foreigners. The pay for these “teachers” is calculated by the hour. Teachers who speak English as their native language are paid more, usually more than 100 Yuan per hour.

Recruitment based on “judging by appearance” makes it easy for many “false teachers” to succeed in finding employment. This July, according to local media reports, Wuxi experienced a flood of foreign English teachers from different countries. The teachers spoke fluently but in their “local English dialect.” They were not native English speakers and spoke with accents. “Just because a teacher has a foreign face does not mean they are qualified to take on the role of a teacher.”

The report from the investigation criticized the fact the many foreign teachers have no teaching qualifications, no method, no responsibility, and no standardized teaching system. The young students end up imitating the foreign teacher’s strong non-native accent and the overall result is simply “disastrous.”

In fact, a number of training institutions have extremely low thresholds for their teachers. On June 28, a reporter from 21st Century Business Herald traveled to an English training center in Beijing that is known for hiring foreign teachers. The person responsible for recruitment at the center said that the training institution was first opened in China in 2007. The Beijing center opened in 2013 and is the only one in the city. It is mainly for children aged 3-12. The training center’s parent company is a “well-known US educational publishing organization.”

The person in charge of hiring at the center said that those with no teaching experience can work at the institution for a trial period. The trial period wages are only 1000-2000 Yuan. The wages are low during this time because “you are here to learn and you have no experience so the company has to train you.”

However, there are also some schools that do not overstate the qualifications of their foreign teachers. Hampson English, an education and training center, currently has five institutions in Beijing. On June 30, the center’s curriculum consultant told a 21st Century Business Heraldreporter that each campus has 30 to 40 teachers, and classes of both children and adults. “Teaching one class for a year with 72 hours per year, the teacher would receive 28,000 Yuan.” The consultant said that Hampson now has more full-time and part-time foreign teachers than when the center was founded in 2008. “Foreign teachers need to have some kind of certification and other qualifications.”

Heqing Rong, director of the International Cooperation Department at New Oriental told reporters that the education center does not have any restrictions on nationality when hiring foreign teachers. The teachers, however, must have an undergraduate degree and at least two years of teaching experience. The center also prefers teachers with appropriate certification. However, it is necessary to provide a medical history report and/or criminal background check.

In Beijing, the requirements for foreign teachers at a different self-proclaimed “high-end English training center” are relatively clear. The teacher needs to have finished their undergraduate degree or higher, have English as a native language, have a background in teaching English and in business, possess a foreign expert certificate and hold an internationally recognized teachers certificate. Chinese teachers must have completed their undergraduate degree or higher, have eight years of English specialization and possess extensive experience teaching English. 

Unqualified teachers cannot be ignored

Ms. Wang lives in Beijing’s Fengtai District. She told 21st Century Business Herald reporters that her six year old daughter had been attending English classes at a “Disney English” training center close to their home. The daughter had one lesson a week for about 60 minutes. The annual fee for the classes was about 15,000 Yuan. Ms. Wang said that in the training center, students learn English basics “through play.”

However, Ms. Wang was not satisfied with “Disney English.” Her main complaint was that it seemed like the foreign teachers were always leaving and being replaced. Her daughter had attended the school for six months and two foreign teachers had already been replaced with new ones. She said it seemed like every time she went to the school, another foreign teacher had disappeared. The school would say that the foreign teacher was ill, but the teachers were never seen again. The fees charged by the training institution are not refundable.

“Are you sure these were real foreign teachers? Did you ever ask about the foreign teacher’s qualifications?” A reporter asked Ms. Wang. “No,” she responded.

Foreign countries have strict requirements for teaching qualifications. Associate Professor at Tsinghua University’s School of Law, Cheng Xiao, said that foreigners who teach in China are technically working in China. If they do not have the right papers for this, they are working illegally or it is “undeclared employment.”

Reporters checked the official website of the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs to find the provisions necessary to obtain a “foreign expert” work visa. Foreign experts working in China must hold a work (Z) visa and begin applying for a work permit issued within 15 days after entering China. The foreigner also must bring a “Foreign Expert Certificate” and work (Z) visa to the local police department within 30 days of entering China to apply for a residence permit. The local Bureau of Foreign Experts’ website also listed these provisions as well.

Cheng Xiao said that educational institutions must be regulated in their hiring of foreign teachers. There should also be an established compensation fund, in case the foreign teacher “hits the road.” The relevant departments should also establish a regulatory mechanism and establish a data base through which training institutions can hire foreign teachers.  

 “Qualified Teachers” At Training Institutions

In fact, besides qualifications for the foreign teachers themselves, training centers who wish to hire foreign teachers must have qualifications of their own. This is often ignored or overlooked by school personnel.

In the 21st Century Business Herald’s investigation, not one English training center took the initiative to produce their teachers’ training and foreign teaching expert certificates. At one training institute for young children, the teachers were mostly Australian but the center’s brochure advertised “the same methods that American children use to study English.”

According to relevant regulations, training institutions must hire foreign teachers who have foreign expert qualifications and have achieved the relevant accreditation certificate. Under these provisions, the training institution must also operate normally for more than one year without a major mistake before hiring foreign teachers so that foreign experts have a certain amount of financial security. The center must also have a personnel management system for foreign teachers and a person responsible for foreign teacher affairs.

Take this example from Gansu Province. Statistics from 2012 show that Gansu Province hired 112 qualified foreign experts. 85 percent of these experts are teaching in universities and secondary schools. Numerous privately operated training institutions do not have the appropriate qualifications to hire foreign teachers, and many schools do not hire foreigners.

Data from the Foreign Experts Bureau from Henan Province in 2013 shows that a total of 194 educational institutions hired qualified foreign experts. These institutions include schools, kindergartens as well as training institutions. According to a local media survey, 60 percent of Netizens would not ask about the qualifications of a foreign teacher at a training institution. On top of this, 80 percent of Netizens would not question the teaching ability a foreign teacher.

Experts advise that when choosing a training institution with foreign teachers, students and parents should research whether the agency has been approved by the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs to hire foreign experts and whether the foreign teachers hold the correct certifications.

Foreign teachers and training institutions both need to have the correct qualifications – one cannot function without the other. A qualified teacher should have their information officially on record. Students can also contact the Foreign Experts Bureau in order to investigate themselves.