Action taken against illegally hired foreign English teachers

A South African woman teaches English at a primary school in Changxing County, Zhejiang Province. [XU YU/XINHUA]

New guidelines target rogue recruitment agencies

Mohsine el Baghdadi always wanted to be an English teacher in China, seeing such a job as ideal.

A friend who taught English in China told the 27-year-old Moroccan that foreign teachers are in high demand, the opportunities are endless and the jobs are well paid.

Baghdadi’s own experience confirmed this. Replies poured in after he posted a message on Facebook, saying, “Hello from Morocco. I’m an English teacher looking for a good job with a good salary in China.”

Most of the responses were invitations to positions from recruitment agencies, while others came from language institutes. For the most part, they told Baghdadi that applying for a job in China was straightforward. All you had to do was submit a resume.

The salary was also tempting. Baghdadi teaches English in Morocco, where he is paid $500 a month. However, those who approached him from China offered him a monthly salary ranging from $1,500 to $2,500, with a bonus.

But he said some of those who responded seemed too eager to hire foreign teachers, and Baghdadi said he had even received “illegal advice” on finding a job.

Foreign Expert Work Permit Regulations state that foreign language teachers in China must obtain a work visa and be a native speaker with a bachelor’s degree or above, have at least two years of teaching experience related and no criminal record.

This means that Baghdadi, who is not an English speaker and does not have enough experience in teaching the language, may never have the chance to work in China as a teacher.

“But some agencies told me that they could help me apply for a Chinese business visa and that I could become a teacher in China come what may,” he said.

Teaching English is a lucrative business in China, as the country’s openness to the world means that more and more people seek to learn the “universal language”. For foreigners, their nationality and even their skin color can sometimes be their ticket to a teaching job.

According to a report from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences last year, 300 million people in China were learning English. There were 50,000 English-language training institutions nationwide, and the training market was worth up to 500 billion yuan ($72 billion), according to the report.

The high demand for English education had made finding a job for most foreigners, especially white ones, little more than a formality.

According to a survey by Banyuetan, a magazine of the Xinhua News Agency, in 2017 more than 400,000 foreign teachers worked in China’s education sector, but only a third of them were legally employed.

In recent years, the country has been rocked by a number of high-profile scandals resulting from a lack of vigilance in hiring foreign teachers. In some cases, people with questionable backgrounds got jobs.

The last such case occurred last month. On July 23, a Colombian English teacher working at Hong Huang Lan Kindergarten in Qingdao, Shandong Province, was arrested for allegedly assaulting a 4-year-old girl.

Earlier in July, 16 foreigners were arrested in Xuzhou, Jiangsu province, for allegedly using drugs. According to Xuzhou police, seven of them work for an education company and the other nine are students.

Media later reported that a number of foreign teachers at the EF Education center in Xuzhou had been arrested by police for allegedly taking drugs. According to the company’s website, EF is an international education company based in Sweden and has centers in many Chinese cities.

In April 2013, media reported that Neil Robinson from the UK had taught at the Beijing World Youth Academy, an international school, for nearly four years while he was wanted for questioning by British police in connection with sexual offenses against children.

Such cases have caused widespread concern among parents and students, with many demanding that the qualifications of foreign teachers in English-learning organizations be subject to national inspection.

On some online expat forums, topics such as “How to become an English teacher in China without a work permit”, or “Non-native speakers can also teach in China” are popular. They offer advice to those who wish to work in the country without the required documentation or experience.

One of the articles stated: “While a Chinese work visa is the only visa it is technically legal to teach on, they may also offer you an alternative instead, such as a student visa or a business visa.

“They are easier and cheaper to obtain, which is why this option is sometimes preferred by schools. Additionally, these visas can also be issued if you do not meet the conditions for a work visa (that is i.e. you don’t have a license Although these alternative visas are technically not legal for work, they will allow you to stay in China for an extended period of time, making it easier to find work as a teacher .

Alan Coleman, an Australian who is a qualified teacher in Beijing, said many people teach because the jobs are well paid and relatively easy. “It’s the schools’ fault because they employ people who shouldn’t be teaching,” he added.

Most teachers are unqualified. For example, they haven’t been certified by an internationally recognized English language teaching and testing program, but still land jobs due to high demand for native English speakers, Coleman said. .

By law, only foreigners with a teaching degree or a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) certificate are allowed to teach in China.

Huang Minjiao, who works for a young English-language educational institution in Dongguan City, Guangdong Province, said, “The truth is that parents rarely ask an agency to look at a teacher, but want to see if the teacher ‘looks like an English speaker’.

“Some families in China spend huge sums on foreign English teachers for their children, but sometimes parents mistakenly believe that any foreigner, regardless of their level of proficiency in the language, can provide a quality education in English” , Huang said.

Coleman added, “Even if someone is a native speaker, I don’t believe they can necessarily become an English teacher. Teaching a language is not easy. It’s very difficult and you have to work hard to to be able to do a good job.”

With over 10 years of teaching experience in Portugal, Sudan and Saudi Arabia, Coleman found his job in Beijing through a recruitment agency.

A report by China Education Daily said the contracts of the majority of foreign English-language teachers in Chinese schools are still handled by for-profit third-party recruitment agencies, rather than the schools directly.

Eager to make money, many such agencies put applicants’ appearance ahead of their teaching qualifications. For them, hiring English-speaking teachers simply means hiring foreigners, no matter where they come from. They often hire in countries like France, Germany or Cuba, then pressure recruits to lie to schools about their origins.

A Ukrainian student who studied in China wrote on her blog that when she was looking for a job in the country, an agency wanted her to “disguise” her identity and state that she was from the UK. A staff member told him, “You’re blonde and pale-skinned. The students can’t tell what country you’re from anyway.”

According to some media, these agencies also offer contracts to foreigners who are not eligible for work visas and ask potential teachers to lie on their visa applications to avoid disclosing their work plans. They also falsify documents to employ teachers with tourist or business visas rather than legally required work visas.

He Chugang, general manager for the South China region at Amber Education, a study abroad consultancy, said, “Chinese parents remain enthusiastic about English language acquisition, for “monotonous” public education cannot satisfy their various demands.

He said this has led to cases of unqualified, unmotivated and sometimes even non-English speaking foreigners tutoring Chinese children.

He Shu, an associate professor at Peking University who teaches English as a foreign language, said Chinese parents often think foreigners can introduce their children to Western cultures and improve their English.

“However, some parents are not educated or experienced enough to tell the difference between a professional teacher and a foreigner who lacks many teaching skills,” she said.

“Furthermore, some non-English speaking parents believe in the stereotype that every foreigner is expected to speak English. This phenomenon is not only common in large cities, where foreign tutors are in high demand among an overwhelming number of foreigners, but l ‘English- language tutors are also in demand in small provincial towns.’

However, the situation should soon change. On July 15, the Ministry of Education, together with five other central authorities, issued new guidelines on after-school training to specify the qualifications, requirements and supervision needed for these services.

The directive states that educational institutions must publicly display the personal information of all foreign teachers they employ, including their names, photographs, teaching qualifications and previous academic and professional experience.

Institutions would have to rectify any “problems” by the end of June next year, or could face penalties ranging from a fine to suspension or closure, the directive adds.