China plans to toughen rules for foreign English teachers
China recently released new draft rules aimed at tightening the scrutiny of foreign teachers in the country, requiring them to undergo ideological training sessions and creating a new social rating system to monitor their conduct.
Arrests and deportations of foreign teachers in China have skyrocketed since 2018 amid a broad crackdown on teachers without proper work visas and pressure from Beijing for a more patriotic education system.
Analysts told VOA that this was partly due to deteriorating US-China relations and China’s relations with other English-speaking countries. Yet parents say they are still interested in their children learning English.
The Measures for the Employment and Management of Foreign Teachers, released by China’s Ministry of Education on July 21, was submitted for public comment until August 21 before final approval.
The draft guidelines recommend that Chinese education authorities establish a social credit system for foreign teachers. Teachers whose behavior is deemed to be in line with Chinese laws and who teach ethically and well will see it recorded in the social credit system, and those with unfavorable behavior will also see it.
The social credit system aims to normalize the behavior of citizens. People with low social credit scores in China and designated as “untrustworthy” could be denied train or plane tickets.
Foreign teachers for the first time should receive 20 hours of ideological training on the Chinese constitution and regulations. Foreign teachers would also be prohibited from “illegally engaging in religious education”.
In 2017, China’s Foreign Expert Affairs Administration estimated that of the 400,000 foreign citizens teaching in the country, only a third had valid work permits.
Authorities launched inspections of training centers across the country at the end of 2018, which have intensified over the years to create a “cleaner educational environment”.
VOA contacted two major agencies, Go Overseas and Teach English Global, to find out how the new draft regulations would impact their foreign teachers in China. The two service agencies did not respond to VOA’s comment for the request.
Want to stay in China? watch what you say
Qin Weiping, a US-based political commentator, said the tougher rules had something to do with current US-China relations and ideological differences between the countries.
“The Chinese government believes that these foreign teachers bring free ideas and universal values. The authorities must prevent ideas such as the color revolution or peaceful evolution that can be transmitted through learning English,” he said.
“Color Revolution” is a term used to describe grassroots protest movements around the world that have ousted governments from power.
Reuters news agency quoted Nick Baker, an Australian teacher who recently left China after working for six years in international schools, as saying he was told “not to discuss the protests in Hong Kong because we were watched by the authorities”.
He said his school had been ordered to present the curriculum materials to local authorities for review.
Foreign teachers in China said they were ordered not to discuss anything sensitive in class, including the Tiananmen massacre, Taiwan’s status and China’s oppressive behavior in Xinjiang.
“If teachers want to stay in China, they just have to be careful what they say,” Baker said.
Zhan Jiang, a journalism professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, told VOA there was a problem ensuring the proper qualifications of foreign teachers in China.
“But all these years, we haven’t encountered any major problems, because these teachers have sufficed the need of Chinese people to learn English, especially in second- and third-tier cities,” the professor said.
Lack of protection
Along with the lack of academic freedom, experts warn that foreign teachers lack adequate legal protections in terms of visas, employment contracts, medical care and landlord issues.
Grace Yang, a lawyer specializing in international affairs and Chinese law at the Seattle-based law firm Harris Bricken, told VOA that teaching in China is risky for foreigners.
“They don’t have a lot of income. If they are involved in employment contract disputes, they often cannot afford to hire lawyers to represent their interests,” Yang said.
According to Go Overseas, an online resource for teaching, studying, and volunteering abroad, the typical salary for a first-grade ESL teacher in China is $1,200 per month, with salaries ranging from 2,800 to 4,300 dollars if one lands a job in a private sector. or international school.
Yang added that the work contract is a big challenge for foreign teachers. “You should review not just one but both English and Chinese versions of your employment contract. Sometimes a foreign teacher finds out that the version they think is legitimate is not applicable under Chinese law,” she told VOA.
Dan Harris, a leading authority on Chinese law and an attorney at the same law firm, wrote an op-ed in 2019 urging Americans not to teach English in China. He said since 2018 there has been a huge increase in emails from foreign teachers in China seeking legal help with visas, employment contracts, medical issues and landlord issues.
How about learning English?
Teaching English has a huge market in China. The China Science News reported that more than 300 million people in China are learning English. English classes, mandated by the Ministry of Education, cost nearly 164 billion RMB (about $24 billion) per year.
Yet as China’s relations with the United States and other major English-speaking countries deteriorate, some fear that the situation mirrors what happened in the 1960s, when the passion for learning Russian fell sharply after the deterioration of ties between Beijing and Moscow.
Commentator Qin Weiping said English may be less important if China maintains its aggressive foreign policy and is further isolated by the United States and other major economies down the road.
Professor Zhan Jiang disagreed, saying the current situation was temporary.
“Some children can’t go abroad and some international students can’t come back. There are many reasons – COVID-19, China-US relations. But I think most Chinese students will still learn English as a second language. This trend will not change,” he told VOA.
Li Ping, a parent of a student from Beijing, told VOA that he always wants his child to learn English well, so he has the option of going to the United States to continue his education. He added that he believes China’s current foreign policy and international environment will one day change. “We need to invest in education,” he said.