A Comment on King Car’s Experiment in English Education

One of my more emotional topics has been the place of the King Car Educational Foundation in Taiwan education. King Car has been involved in a variety of educational projects, but the ones that have attracted my attention are those using volunteers recruited through Christian missionary organizations. Unlike some of my readers, I have little concern about the moral implications of this. I am much more concerned about the impact of a private organization outside of either government, professional groups, or taxpayers gaining a policy changing role on public issues. I have said several times that the English instructors involved in King Car’s are involved in work that if done by others would be illegal. This is the key point of my concern about the organization’s work. This is particularly of concern to me when they appear to have the ability of bending the interpretation of the law. I want to elaborate on this point.

Stretch your memory back to when all of this began. It was back in 2004 that the King Car Educational Foundation announced they would be providing missionary/teachers to rural regions of Taiwan. It was also during the June of this year that Scott Ezell was deported from Taiwan for performing services outside the scope of his visa. At the time, a great deal was written about this in the English-language media. I’ll provide links to some of this, but the coverage was extensive.
Singing the deportation blues
Scott Ezel’s letter to the Taipei Times
Discussion on Forumosa.com
While the case of Scott Ezell is probably the most significant in the context of my discussion, it is hardly the only case of its kind. Very recently, a Hong Kong rights worker ran into trouble for supporting residents of the Losheng Sanatorium (樂生療養院).

My point is that the majority of us live here under some degree of threat for working outside the specifications of our visa.

Back in 2005, I was in touch with a volunteer in the King Car program who brushed aside my concern with the fact that her job description stated,

We are not considered English TEACHERS just English ASSISTANTS. We are responsible for HELPING the Native English Teacher with pronunciation, and whatever else they want us to do. Our job is to help the TEACHER. The fact that we do NOT have a degree ensures that we do not have the ability to take the jobs of the native English teachers.

I suppose she could be excused for not knowing that this is exactly the job of any foreigner who teaches in a public school. In the ROC, only citizens can be the legal teacher responsible for a class in a public school. I doubt this surprises any of my readers and points to some lack of connection of those employed more conventionally as English teachers.

Keep in mind that this missionary/teacher had already detailed to me that they do not work anywhere near for free.

Yes, in fact we do get paid about $600 dollars a month. (that averages out to about $6 a class). Yes, we do teach in public schools. yes, we do receive free housing. (we live in school dorms). We do pay taxes.

Of more concern to me is that the legal status of missionary/teachers has changed significantly over time. In an e-mail dated July 2004, a different King Car worker stated to me,

I’m also not here on a worker’s visa but am required to leave the country to renew my visa.  At any time, my visa can be denied and it has happened to King Car teachers before.

The refusal to allow missionary/teachers to reenter the country was also reported by a Studio Classroom worker in a blog linked to by Michael Turton which I can not longer find. Apparently all this has been addressed and there have been no problems entering the ROC for years now, although it is still not clear to me how all this happened.

King Car has repeatedly demonstrated their ability to influence government regulation and intervene in what is more conventionally regarded as the domain of the State. King Car apparently believes their project to be a huge success and is planning more of the English Villages they have recently opened in Taoyuan. It is not clear to me how they plan to finance this given the troubles experienced by similar projects in Korea. It is worth repeating my earlier point from Johan at Talking Taiwanese concerning the cost of operating an English Village. Quoting the official website of the  U.S. Department of Education, he states,

Park Chung-a reports that an increasing number of local governments in Korea are withdrawing or overhauling their plans to build English-language villages since their profitability is being questioned. In the recent local elections, the boom in learning English had led a large number of local government leaders to make campaign pledges to establish such villages equipped with English immersion schools and academies. But despite strong demands by residents, many local governments have decided to either give up or downsize their villages due to growing doubts over profitability. Now, more than 50 local governments across the nation, which had planned to establish such villages, are likely to re-examine their plans…Recently, there have been erected English towns or villages, but the original model was ours. However, according to a recent report, there will be no more English villages in Korea because Gyeonggi Province went thirty billion won into the red last year. Kim Munsoo, governor of the province, is seriously considering how to keep the village running. Kim Jinpyo, the former Minister of Education asked for no more English villages in Korea.

I can imagine that Mr. Sun of King Car foresees a virtually endless army of free or low cost labour. With his ability to influence government decisions, I can only cringe thinking of what might come next. I’m just guessing, but my greatest fear would be that somehow he wrangles out the government permission for his missionary/teachers to be able to work outside the project for market wages. The damage this would do to the industry would be catastrophic. Let’s just hope this is just one of those pessimistic things I’m prone to write about.

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