(LIANG LUWEN / CHINA DAILY)
On Aug 2, Mayorga Heredia Daniel Oswaldo, a teacher at a kindergarten run by RYB Education in Qingdao, Shandong province, was sentenced to five years in prison for molesting a female student.
"It is difficult and costly to find qualified foreign teachers, yet we are willing to shoulder the cost and employ only the best to give our students a good education."
Yang Ming, officer at New Channel International Education Group
The Colombian national was given the sentence by Laoshan District People's Court in Qingdao for abusing his position and molesting the girl during nap time in January, the court said in a statement. He will be deported after he has served his sentence.
Video footage showed the 35-year-old entering a classroom at about 2 pm on Jan 25, and putting his hands under the girl's quilt for about one minute while the caretaker visited the bathroom, according to a statement released by RYB Education, a preschool education provider headquartered in Beijing.
Earlier last month, another incident involving foreign teachers caused outrage, when 16 foreign nationals－seven teachers from the Xuzhou branch of EF Education First and nine students from nearby schools－were among 19 people detained in Xuzhou, Jiangsu province, during an anti-narcotics crackdown, according to the local public security bureau.
EF Education First, an international company that specializes in language training, issued a statement saying that it forbids employees to possess or use narcotics or controlled substances, and the contracts of the teachers would be terminated if they were found to have been involved in illegal drug use.
The incidents triggered a flood of posts on social media platforms, with some demanding that the establishments be closed, while others called for the teachers to be deported.
But even if that happens, more foreign teachers will follow in their wake because the soaring demand for English-language teachers means that finding a job is little more than a formality for many foreigners.
Last year, 300 million people in China were learning English, according to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, which noted that there were 50,000 English-language teaching establishments in the country and the market was worth as much as 500 billion yuan (US$71 billion).
However, according to the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs, of the 400,000 foreign nationals working in China's education sector in 2017, more than 60 percent were reported to be illegally employed.
According to a regulation issued by SAFEA, all foreign teachers must hold a valid work visa, be a native speaker with a bachelor's degree or higher and have at least two years' related teaching experience. In addition, they must not have a criminal record.
Though RYB Education claimed that Oswaldo has a valid work visa, the regulations mean that as a Colombian citizen whose mother tongue is Spanish, he is ineligible to work as an English-language teacher.
An undercover investigation by China Central Television recently showed that salaries paid to foreign English-language teachers are much higher than those for Chinese nationals doing the same job.
For example, at one training institution in Beijing, a Chinese teacher of English can earn 300 yuan an hour, while foreign teachers can earn as much as 1,800 yuan per hour simply by talking to the students.
When the undercover reporter asked to see the qualifications and working visas of foreign teachers at one training institute, his request was refused because it "violates the teachers' privacy". A different institute refused to show the reporter the relevant documents because it was a "business secret".
At another online English training institution, the reporter discovered that two of the English-language teachers were Portuguese nationals, even though the institution repeatedly assured him that all of its teachers were native speakers.
Chu Zhaohui, a senior researcher at the National Institute of Education Sciences, said the market for foreign teachers is like a gold rush, with abundant opportunities, few regulations and big profits for those who want to make a quick buck.
"For foreigners, applying for jobs in English-language teaching at training establishments is straightforward－often, simply submitting a resume is enough, and usually they are not required to undergo background checks, provide references or proof of qualifications," Chu said.
He added that parents and students are more forgiving of foreign teachers' lack of teaching credentials, especially if they are white-skinned native speakers, because they assume that all foreigners have the ability to teach their mother tongue.
The incidents involving Oswaldo and the teachers in Xuzhou show that the education authorities and training institutions need to introduce more, stronger regulations for the rapidly growing sector, he added.
On July 15, the Ministry of Education held a media briefing at which it pledged to strengthen oversight of foreign teachers at after-school establishments, and said any teacher found to have violated laws and regulations would be punished according to the law, no matter who they are.
Speaking at the briefing, Lyu Yugang, director of the ministry's Department of Basic Education, said establishments that hire expat teachers should abide by the relevant regulations for foreigners employed in China.
The teachers they hire should be registered with the local education authority, and provide basic personal information, employment history, educational background, teaching credentials and other qualifications, he said.
In addition, training institutions should publish background information about all of their teachers, Chinese or foreign, and the files should be available to the public, including parents and other interested parties, he said.
Yang Ming, chief human resources officer at New Channel International Education Group in Beijing, said the company strictly follows the regulations related to foreign experts' work permits, and those who fail to meet the requirements are not hired, irrespective of their teaching prowess.
"The regulation is the red line for all companies, and none of them should cross it to hire foreign teachers illegally," he said.
In addition, New Channel has imposed its own regulations to oversee foreign teachers. For example, those who are late for class or leave early will receive a fine ranging from 100 to 2,000 yuan and they must apologize to their students. Moreover, they should refrain from smoking, drinking, chewing gum or playing with their cellphone during class, Yang said.
Members of the management randomly inspect classes to monitor foreign teachers' performances, and assistants ask students to provide feedback about teachers, he said.
"It is difficult and costly to find qualified foreign teachers, yet we are willing to shoulder the cost and employ only the best to give our students a good education," Yang said.
Qiao Lei, CEO of BlingABC, an online English teaching platform in Beijing that is a subsidiary of New Oriental Education and Technology Group, said the company has maintained strict qualification requirements for all foreign teachers since it was founded two years ago.
All teachers must be native speakers, hold a bachelor's degree along with CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults), TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL(Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certificates. In addition, all their relevant information and qualifications are open to general scrutiny on its platform, he said.
The company has adopted an evaluation system based on credit for its foreign teachers. Points are deducted from those who violate company regulations, such as arriving late or being the subject of complaints from parents, which will affect their salary and position, Qiao added.
Kelly Hong, director of Bling-ABC's Center of Foreign Teacher Management, said the company records all classes on its platform and they are reviewed by staff members and parents.
"Some parents may have low requirements for foreign teachers and think that native speakers should be able to teach English well, but that's simply not the case－just like not every Chinese person is able to teach the Chinese language," she said.
Hong added that establishments still need professionals who know how to manage a class, understand body language, can energize students and know the basic principles and methods of teaching a second language.
Qiao noted that the high demand in the sector resulted in several English-language platforms being founded almost every week last year. However, many subsequently closed because the teachers they employed did not meet the stringent quality standards.
"The market has a way of weeding out companies that engage in malpractice. At the end of the day, parents still prefer foreign teachers who can offer high-quality English tuition to their children."
Zeng Jiru contributed to the story.
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