Original URL: http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/edit/archives/2003/01/07/190092

Editorial: A lot to learn about teaching English
Tuesday, Jan 07, 2003,Page 8
Taipei Times

With a view to improving English proficiency in coordination with the Executive Yuan's "Challenge 2008" plan, the Ministry of Education has decided to spend NT$1.3 billion hiring foreign English teachers to teach at state-run elementary and high schools and to help train local teachers. The plan will begin this
summer. The target will be to recruit 1,000 foreign English teachers per year at salaries ranging from NT$60,000 to NT$90,000. This is a major change. Foreign teachers naturally have a better command of English, but that does not
necessarily mean the teaching results would be better.

In the same vain, Taiwan used to be known for high TOEFL scores, but high TOEFL scores do not necessarily represent high proficiency in English. After TOEFL changed its test format to include essay writing, the test scores of Taiwanese students are now ranked 14th in Asia, better only than Japan. Such
results naturally worry a government eager to internationalize. Now English courses have been moved ahead to begin from elementary school instead of junior high. But the problems in Taiwan's English education lie not with how early it begins, but with the syllabus, teaching methods and learning
environment. English education in Taiwan places too much emphasis on memorization. Consequently, the learning results are poor.

Hiring foreign teachers at high salaries can only resolve part of the problem. The good points of foreign teachers are: they know the correct pronunciation; their teaching methods are lively; they can link the lessons to daily life; they can help students get over the apprehension of speaking to a foreigner. The
drawbacks: foreign teachers have difficulty communicating in Chinese; they cannot explain lessons in ways that are easily understandable, leading to a great deal of guesswork for students. All in all, hiring foreign teachers is very costly and the quality of the teachers can be very uneven. At the kindergarten and advanced levels, they have much to offer that local teachers cannot. However, at mid levels, there are both advantages and disadvantages to hiring local or foreign teachers.

Hiring foreign English teachers would not be a problem if the government were financially healthy. But everyone knows that the government is in a budget predicament. A foreign teacher costs twice as much as a local teacher. Besides, hiring foreign teachers at high salaries will not only have a crowding-out effect on local English teachers, but will also seriously affect job opportunities for other foreigners in Taiwan. Last year, the Executive Yuan considered making English the country's second official language and trained
more than 3,000 English teachers. Many of those teachers are still jobless, and yet the education ministry is trumpeting its plan to hire foreign teachers, thereby seriously affecting the local training programs.

This newspaper recognizes the contribution of foreign teachers to English education, but the ministry should first justify the demand for English teachers, plan training programs and arrange for an appropriate division of labor between local and foreign teachers. Ideally, it should give priority to hiring foreign trainers to train local teachers, and hiring foreign educators to compile teaching materials. This would make good use of the foreign teachers' skills -- a good justification for hiring them at high salaries. This will also divide the work between local and foreign teachers and avoid a mutual crowding-out effect between local and foreign teachers.

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