Thursday, November 02, 2006

teaching in China

One of the compulsory elements of education in China, at both the secondary and post-secondary levels, is the study of English. Two consequences of this policy are of interest. First, if we are lost during our travels and need assistance we just look for some college students and ask for assistance with the knowledge that one or more of them will have English abilities far superior to our meager Chinese abilities. Second, there is an acute shortage of English teachers in China at all levels. Several strategies are being employed in an effort to bridge this English teacher gap.
One approach is to train more English teachers. Southwest University (SWU) has a substantial program for English majors. Unfortunately, given the Chinese system of university admission, many English majors really don’t want to be English majors but that was the only major they could declare that would gain them admission to the University. In addition, based on a show of hands in my wife’s English class, few of these reluctant English majors eventually want to be English teachers. So the local approach to filling the teacher gap is not sufficient.
An alternative approach is to employ expatriates (i.e., Americans and other English speaking foreigners) to teach English. At the present time, this appears to be the preferred, stop-gap measure. As a consequence, China is awash with young American teachers of English at private academies, universities, and other venues. Southwest University has about twelve hired American teachers on its staff. Some teach at the University and others teach at high schools that are affiliated with SWU. The American teachers of English at SWU are hired on an academic year (ten month) contract that provides free housing, partial travel, a monthly stipend, and free Chinese language courses. Most of these teachers are recent graduates of St. John’s College in Minnesota and have no prior language teaching experience. In fact, their only qualification to teach English is that they are native speakers, you know. Many of them live in the apartment complex where we live, so we have gotten to know them during our stay here. They are very sincere, dedicated young people working in a very difficult environment. Their teaching loads are outlandish; such as 700 high school students per day in one case. [A word of warning: there are lots of reports of English teacher employees making offers to prospective English teachers and then changing the terms of the offer once the teachers arrive in China. From an economist’s point of view this is an object lesson in bargaining power.]
Another stop-gap solution to the English teacher gap is the Peace Corps. The government of China accepts Peace Corps volunteers only if they are English teachers—no other Peace Corps projects exist in China. In Beibei we have two Peace Corps Volunteers who are part of the SWU English program. So far as Peace Corps assignments go, this is a pretty good assignment. SWU provides housing and the Peace Corps pays a monthly stipend while in China along with a $6,000 adjustment payment upon completion of the two-year commitment. In addition, volunteers receive full transportation and excellent health care support.
Last night, we attended an all-American Halloween party hosted by one of the Peace Corps volunteers here in town. The host, Matt, was dressed as an elderly Superman (see photos) who had developed a significant paunch and who could no longer leap over anything taller than grass. We were the only “oldsters” at the party which was a lot of fun. Our Chinese neighbors got quite a kick out of seeing young Americans dressed up in outlandish outfits, including one creative teacher who went as a steamed bun. Some things that are uniquely American are very difficult to explain.
On a slightly different topic, this week I was invited to address a meeting of the Finance Students Club. The assigned topic was “National (i.e., Chinese) Brands in a Multi-national World”. The topic is of immediate importance because China became a part of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in December, 2001. As part of the agreement, China was given a five-year adjustment period to come into full compliance with the free trade doctrines of the WTO. So, next month, China will be open to international competition and multinationals will be free to enter the Chinese market. In light of the changing environment it is no coincidence that Wal-Mart announced this month that it has purchased a local chain store called Trust-Mart for more than $1 billion. Wal-Mart currently has 66 stores in China and Trust-Mart has about 160, so under the new trading environment of the WTO, Wal-Mart is buying its way into the world’s fourth largest consumer market. The Club meeting was attended by about 120 students and resulted in a lively two-hour discussion with a very interested audience. The meeting was concluded by one of the Club officers giving a short presentation on why he thinks continued protectionism is essential for the orderly development of the Chinese economy.
The weather has turned to fall and the air pollution continues unabated. Such is life in Beibei.


Blogger mark said...

Electric Bicycles and Electric Scooters

Elmo The Electric Bike and Electric Scooter Guy

This is an excellent blog for electric bicycles. There are not too many around like this. Thanks for making this such an interesting subject. Oh, by the way, Wired Magazine has a great article on hybrid cars this month. (Jan 2008 issue).

God Bless,

8:36 PM  

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