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Chinese Parents Seek Standards for Foreigners Teaching in China

Many middle and primary schools in China try to attract students by conducting bilingual teaching and engaging foreign teachers. With the influx of more and more foreign teachers, concerns are beginning to be expressed for the first time by Chinese parents' concerns about foreign teachers' qualifications for teaching. Do these foreign teachers who come from all over the world speak correct English? Will their temporary stay in China affect the study of students? Do all foreigners teaching in China have qualifications for teaching? These are all extremely important questions to Chinese parents, and with them in mind, a reporter recently conducted interviews at several middle and primary schools of Beijing.

Several hundred foreign teachers in Beijing are employed at over 100 middle and primary schools in Beijing certified by the Ministry of Education to hire foreign teachers according to a set standard relating to the quality of their building space as all well as management and teaching.

However, many children are telling their parents that they have few chances to speak to foreign teachers during once-a-week classes given by them. Many students are showing no obvious improvement in their English.

Some primary schools have set up after-school English classes given by foreign teachers for which every student is charged 500 yuan (US$60) every semester. The required textbook is called Cambridge English for Children. Parents worry about whether these foreign teachers know about pedagogy when they find the foreign teachers have no newer or better teaching methods except reading entirely from the text. Some Chinese teachers even find the pronunciations of some children are affected by the different accents of their foreign teachers. Parents who are spending a lot of money on their children's English education don't demand their children's English reach the standard required for living abroad, but they do wish their children to have a fairly solid grounding in spoken English and do not want them to go astray in childhood. Parents worry that foreign teachers are not obviously making a difference in their children's progress in English while on the other hand the same foreign teachers seem to be making big progress in their Chinese..

Beijing 21st Century Experimental School specializes in bilingual education. According to Mr. Hu, the dean of the school administrative office, besides some necessary procedures, the school mainly depends on the recommendations of international intermediate organizations such as the English Language Association of America when they employ foreign teachers. Such academic organizations are able to conduct some training course for the foreign teachers they recommend so as to make sure that they are qualified in teaching when they come to China.

The school will award foreign expert certificates from the Ministry of Education and the municipal government of Beijing after receiving all materials from foreign teachers. Some senior teachers in the school take charge of the appraisal of foreign teachers as well as arrange their classes. Usually, the school will sign a one-year contract with foreign teachers. By the end of the semester, the school will conduct an appraisal on their work. The intermediate organizations will make arrangements for those foreign teachers if the school decides not to engage them anymore.

Intermediate companies operate at uneven in levels. Some are not recognized by the Bureau of Foreign Experts of China. Therefore it is possible that the foreign teachers they recommend are not qualified in teaching, said Mr. Hu.

A reporter attended a class as a trainee teacher conducted by a foreign teacher at a middle school in Beijing. Almost all students had portable electronic dictionaries in their hands. The students were busy looking up the words they wanted to say with this translation machine while the foreign teacher kept encouraging them to talk. Chinese students are very shy when they speak to foreign teachers. They often dare not speak to foreign teachers, afraid of losing face in front of teachers and students, according to the English teacher of this class.

Foreign teachers' ideas about teaching are very different from that of most Chinese, according to one person in education circles: For example, they attach more attention on fostering students' feel for the language rather than on correcting mistakes word by word. To many Chinese teachers, it seems foreign teachers are less serious or less responsible in their work. In fact, it is just a difference between teaching methods.

Ding, a teacher from the administrative department of the Education Commission of Beijing, said foreign teachers in Beijing are usually engaged by the schools themselves. But once schools decide to employ a foreign teacher, they need to go through some related procedures in the Ministry of Education. The ministry needs to investigate the schools' applications to make sure their physical grounds and teaching quality have reached a certain level.

According to standards set by the Ministry of Education, foreign teachers must have a university degree or above and some experience in teaching as well as a recommendation letter. Those foreigners who hold a travel or a student visa cannot work in Chinese schools. The schools can set their own standards to evaluate the teaching quality and the qualification of foreign teachers. Most schools will conduct an oral exam for them. An official in charge of the Education Committee of Beijing acknowledged it is possible that some schools do not appraise foreign teachers when the schools are in a rush to start classes.

(生活时报 [Life Times] translated by Wang Qian for china.org.cn, May 2, 2002)

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