Neil Robinson, a former teacher at Beijing World Youth Academy, was arrested this April. [Shanghaiist.com]
Increasing affluence coupled with hopes of a possible future foreign college education has inspired many Chinese parents to send their children to international schools in search of the best possible education. The schools themselves are often just part of the story, with property developers, mindful of increasing levels of affluence, using the promise of international schools as bait with which to tempt eager parents. It was reported that 30 apartments were sold in just one month in Jiangsu Province's Nanjing City after a developer advertised that a famous international school would be built in the community.
The craze for international schools has, however, been tempered following revelations that two foreign teachers working in Chinese international schools had been convicted of child sex offenses in their home countries.
Neil Robinson, a former teacher at Beijing World Youth Academy, was arrested this April after it was revealed that he was wanted by police in the United Kingdom for the rape of a child and distribution of indecent images.
This case was immediately followed by the exposure that a 63-year-old American, who has twice been convicted of child pornography offences in Illinois, was working as an English teacher in Nanjing.
Education experts have commented that the scandals highlight major loopholes in the management of foreign teachers, with parents developing "blind trust" in Westerners in the wake of the surging demand for a Western education in China.
A foreigner who wishes to work as a teacher in China should acquire a foreign expert certificate which is granted by a local bureau of foreign experts affairs and must be renewed annually.
The Beijing Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs told Xinhua's The Globe magazine they had to ask for assistance from Chinese embassies in individual countries if they want to check a foreigner's criminal record, as it is extremely hard to get access to such information once the foreigner has legally entered China.
A member of staff with the Nanjing Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs confirmed that the Jiangsu provincial education authority didn't require foreign teachers to provide a criminal record check as part of an overall individual background investigation.
In the wake of the child sex scandals in Beijing and Nanjing, the State Administration of Foreign Experts urged local foreign experts bureaus to work more closely with local public security and education departments in order to improve the supervision of foreign teachers hired by training institutions and primary and middle schools.
Children study at an international school. [File photo]
Regulations do exist for the hiring of foreign teachers; however they are largely ignored, according to Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the Beijing-based 21st Century Education Research Institute.
The recent trend for overseas study has meant that an increasing number of international schools have been established in Chinese cities. The schools, which for the most part originate from private education organizations, training institutions or companies, are not required to register with local education authorities or be supervised by industrial and commercial watchdogs. According to Xiong, they exist in a "grey zone" where supervision is absent and where it is hard to determine their total number.
In a recent interview with Reuters, Nicholas Brummitt, managing director of the Britain-based International School Consultancy Group, said that the number of international schools registered in the Chinese mainland has skyrocketed from 22 to 338 over the past 12 years, and student enrollment has risen 25-fold in the same period.
Xiong, however, remains skeptical about the figures, insisting that many international schools are not officially registered.
A joint survey by Globe magazine and Sohu.com showed that many people view international schools as little more than a combination of a few foreign teachers, bilingual teaching and incredibly high tuition fees. In short, a money-making machine which deceives gullible parents.
It's a commonly-held belief of many expats in China that, often, you need possess little more than a foreign face to be hired as an English teacher. Some schools and tutoring companies seldom require new hires to have any prior teaching experience and rarely carry out background checks due to the snowballing demand for foreign teachers, according to Xiong.
Shen Zonggang, marketing director of Maple Leaf Educational Systems, argued that international schools should take more responsibility than government departments in rooting out unqualified foreign teachers.
Frank Lu, the general manager of Oxford International Colleges of China, stated that foreign teachers hoping to work in China must be qualified "mainstream teachers" who are looking to spend three or four years of their teaching career in China, rather than individuals who have to teach in China in order to make a living.
The annual salary for "mainstream teachers" is usually between 30,000 to 40,000 pounds (US$ 45,878-61,171). "Those who find 10,000 pounds (US$ 15,292) a year acceptable are often far from outstanding, and would be rejected," said Lu.
According to Lu, tuition fees at Oxford International Colleges of China are about 140,000 yuan (US$ 22,834) a year on average, the majority of which is paid to foreign teachers. "If we pay less, there is no way to get good teachers," Lu explained.
There is a concern, however, that stricter requirements for the hiring of foreign teachers in China could eventually result in a lack of foreign teachers.
One graduate from the international department of the High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China told The Globe magazine that most of her classmates were critical of the competence of their economics teacher, adding that it was impossible to replace him because only three foreign economics teachers had been recruited. She also complained that annual student evaluations of their teachers' performance carried little weight as she had never heard of any foreign teacher being dismissed.
To improve the quality of education at international schools and reduce the prospect of future legal issues, Xiong suggested that local governments establish corresponding approval and supervision systems. He added that parents should exercise greater care in choosing an international school for their children.
It is clear that international schools in China have a lot of work to do if they are to solve these teething problems and ensure their sound development in China.