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