An Industry Run Amuck?
by Niu Qiang, PhD & Martin Wolff, J.D.
ESL is Big Business
In 1862, under the Great Qing Dynasty, the first English Language School was officially opened by the Chinese Government to train ten men for the newly created diplomatic corps. (Deyi, Diary of A Chinese Diplomat, 1992 Panda Books) Now, China annually recruits 100,000 "Foreign Experts" (FE) to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) (source: http://www.chinatefl.com) with an accompanying 10 billion Yuan price tag. (ChinaDaily, Hong Kong Edition, October 9, 2002.) According to one Internet recruiting web site there are 150,000 foreign ESL teachers working in China.
No Central Government Policy
It does not appear that the Chinese Central Government has issued any formal Resolution or Position Paper authorizing, condoning or supporting the current ESL revolution in China. Rather, it has been allowed and even encouraged to just evolve. Other than standardized testing for College entrance, the Central Government seems to have no set educational policy or curriculum for ESL. There does not appear to be any Central Government regulation of this "big business," except for some limited guidelines for inviting Foreign Experts (FE), which has and will continue to allow for many deficiencies and abuses.
This article will examine the various existing ESL school management models; the varied curriculum models; the ESL teacher recruitment process; the common problems encountered by the recruited native ESL teacher with analysis of how the existing system fosters these; the mentality of the various Chinese student groups and how this effects ESL teaching methodology and results; and suggestions for improving the existing system.
II. Management Models
ESL is taught throughout China in both public and private kindergartens, primary schools, middle schools, high schools, universities, colleges, private business institutes and training centers. There is no uniform management or administration model for the various schools or programs and neither school Administrators nor FAO Directors are required to have any minimal education, training or experience in education administration, business management, human resource management, or cross-cultural relations. FAO directors in public universities and colleges are required to have a Bachelors degree in English.
Public schools have everything from informal English programs (primary, middle and high schools) to English departments within foreign language departments (universities and colleges). The public primary, middle and high schools generally do not have any Foreign Affairs Offices while both public and private universities and colleges usually have a formal Foreign Affairs Office. The FAO is charged with everything from recruitment of Foreign Experts to arranging their visa, foreigner residence permit, foreign expert certificate, arranging housing, and providing for the safety and care of the foreign expert while they are in China. The FAO are sometimes staffed with novices who provide less than adequate services but more often than not, at least public universities and colleges have very professional staff who do a quality job.
Public Schools With Private Contractors
Many public primary, middle and high schools utilize agencies to recruit and care for the needs of the foreign experts.
Some universities and colleges partner with private educational corporations to provide an English Department. The private corporation recruits the foreign experts and provides for all of their needs. The private corporation develops and implements the curriculum.
There are many private schools that are primarily owned and managed by Chinese who lack any education, training or experience in Education Administration, Business Management, Human Resources Management or Foreign Affairs Office Administration. By far this type of management model is the primary source of FE complaints.
Private Schools With Western Management
These schools are few and far between. The school has western managers and directors of curriculum. Usually these are international schools with operations in many different Countries.
Private Schools With Western Director
Dual management or complimentary Chinese and Western management sharing. The Chinese management is responsible for recruiting students, all financial matters, physical plant management and maintenance. The western director is responsible for teacher recruiting/termination, class scheduling, teacher assignment, curriculum design and implementation and also acts as the go between with the Foreign Affairs Office staff that is on the Chinese side of management. This type of school is usually in partnership with a Public University and provides classes to the non-University private sector as well as servicing the University's needs.
This type of school relies upon the university to provide the degree, physical plant and the bulk of the students who basically pay all overhead expenses. All of the private sector students are pure profit for the school. Therefore, all university students are treated to a special educational bonus, i.e. they can fail every course for three straight years and still earn their diploma. A teacher's failing grade is administratively converted to a passing grade so as to not offend the university.
The western director is often just a figure head because the Chinese marketing staff sells classes at a particular time slot (western manager does not need to schedule classes, only make the written schedule), sometimes for a particular FE (western manager does not need to assign FE), and if the students do not like their FE the FE is terminated (western manager has no choice but to terminate the FE), and since the FAO director is Chinese, the western manager merely directs the FEs needs and concerns to the Chinese side. The western manager does have a say in curriculum but that usually must be a consensus decision with the Chinese management that is in charge of ordering textbooks (budget issues may dictate the chosen text and the Chinese side is responsible for all financial matters). The students even go around the western manager, directly to the Chinese manager, with their complaints. Often times the western manager is also told who to hire.
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