Middle States Commission on Higher Education and the Accreditation of Ming Chuan University

April 11, 2009

Many universities in Taiwan are currently implementing programs with the purpose of attracting foreign students and developing networks with foreign schools. The most frequent strategy has been the use of English-medium degree programs aimed at students for the most part from underdeveloped nations; offering them good quality education at an attractive price. I have written about the iMBA at National Cheng Kung University and described the strategic policies used by Dean of Business Dr. Henry Wu to promote this program. Using data provided by Dr. Wang Jin-Long and Dr. Nathan Liu, I have also written about international programs at Ming Chuan University.

In this post, I want to write about some of the ground-breaking work going on at Ming Chuan that will transform the kind of education we offer. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that if all goes as planned, what is happening now will have a significant and lasting affect on all post-secondary education in Taiwan. Over the next few years, Ming Chuan will be seeking accreditation through the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), a USA-based accreditation body. While there are individual departments at Taiwan and Asian universities that have accreditation from professional bodies in particular academic fields, no university has accreditation from an America-based accreditation body. When this process is completed, it will make MCU the first school in Taiwan and East Asia to have accreditation of this type. In fact, it is much stronger statement than even that. Outside of a handful of Spanish-medium universities in the American territory Puerto Rico, there is no other non-English medium institution in the world that has such accreditation.

Introduction to Accreditation

Historically, the title of ‘university’ has been awarded after examination by the Ministry of Education of the Republic of China. To meet this standard, the Ministry has historically audited schools to assure they meet the guidelines described in the ROC University Act and other related legislation. Ming Chuan has, of course, been granted the right to use the title ‘university’ by the MOE, but, in fact, this examination is more like licensing than accreditation. So, in addition to this licensing from the MOE, MCU hopes to attain recognition from an external body based in the United States, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education or MSCHE is one of the ‘Big Six’ regional accreditation organizations. Founded in 1919, the MSCHE is a voluntary organization composed of colleges and universities of the middle states region. Its members include what are basically the major public and private post-secondary institutions within this region. In addition to this, the MSCHE has chosen to take on the accreditation of institutions outside the political borders of the United States, including institutions in Europe and the Middle East.

Accreditation from the MSCHE is in many ways a matter of common sense. You can read all about the process in documents contained on their website, but in particular, I recommend Candidacy Handbook for Applicants and Candidates for Accreditation and The Characteristics of Excellence in Higher Education. Central to this process is the mission statement of an institution and the institutions accountability to this. For example, is it possible for the school, given the resources and structure at their disposal, to realistically achieve that mission. Seattle University is accredited by the Big Six, Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. The website of the school identifies the school’s mission in a rather long statement that you can view here. The fact that Seattle University has received Northwest Commission accreditation points to their assessment that the school is realistically capable of achieving this mission.

Keep in mind that accreditation is not a guarantee of quality. It is more like a statement of accountability; that the school can be and is accountable to its mission statement.

MSCHE Accreditation at Ming Chuan University

Currently, Ming Chuan is in the process of preparing its application for candidacy for membership in the MSCHE. This is the first step in attaining full membership. The key person in MCU’s application is Executive Vice-President Robert Yien. On January 24, I spoke with Dr. Yien about the accreditation process and what it will do for the school. Dr. Yien is the former Vice-President of Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) in Michigan. He was born and raised in Taiwan, but after completing a PhD at Michigan State University, he was offered an appointment at SVSU. Through Dr. Yien’s presence, SVSU has developed strong connections with Taiwan and over the years has educated hundreds of Taiwanese alumni. MCU currently maintains its own formal connections with SVSU that are reflected in among other things the exchange program between Saginaw Valley State University and Ming Chuan University.

While working as a professor at SVSU, Dr. Yien was invited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Universities (HLC), one of the ‘Big Six’ accreditation agencies, to take part in their special training course for examiners and subsequently to be an examiner for them. On behalf of the HLC, Dr. Yien has taken part in the examination of over 40 universities in the United States. It would be safe to say there is no ROC citizen or Mandarin-speaking person in the world with more knowledge of the American accreditation system than Dr. Yien.

Following a chance meeting at an academic conference in Taiwan, Dr. Yien was invited by Ming Chuan University president Dr. Chuan Lee to assist us in our application for accreditation through the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

What Will MSCHE Accreditation Do For MCU?

The process of application for membership in a US-based accreditation body is long, complex, and costly. The benefits would have to be substantial to make it worthwhile. Dr. Yien explained to me the significant and lasting affects accreditation holds for students at Ming Chuan.

Perhaps the most important advantage attained from accreditation is course equivalency. Currently, students who have studied at a Taiwanese university have great difficulty getting their courses recognized in American and Canadian universities. For example, if a Taiwanese student wants to study at a university in British Columbia, Canada, graduates of some universities can apply for programs on the basis of their degree completion. While BC schools recognize some degrees as equivalent, the degrees of other schools are not accepted.

But this does still not completely solve the problems of many students. Many professional programs have course requirements. Taiwanese students can either retake these courses or petition individual schools to recognize what they think may be equivalent courses they’ve taken. Of course, the students themselves would be responsible for the cost and trouble of translating documents.

Accreditation from the MSCHE would solve all this. A course in macroeconomics at MCU would be recognized as equivalent to macroeconomics at other member schools of the MSCHE. This does not mean students could automatically transfer from one institution to another, but it does mean that MCU students who have permission to transfer or take courses at another MSCHE school would have a much easier time having their status accessed completely and quickly by the new institution.

In a sense, the effect of MSCHE accreditation is to provide MCU with a much stronger tie to the US school system. It appears to me that after the completion of accreditation, it will be a simpler task for a qualified MCU student to take courses or finish their degree at a university in America than at another university in Taiwan.

The Time Schedule

Obtaining MSCHE accreditation is not a simple task. Even under the best conditions, the accreditation process is complex and detailed. At MCU, the language barrier adds another dimension of difficulty. All the accreditation documents are in English and all documents submitted to the MSCHE must also be written or translated into English.

The target date for MCU to receive status as a full candidate for MSCHE membership is 2008 June. Full membership is targeted for within a year of that. Ming Chuan began the journey for MSCHE accreditation back in 2006 June. In September of last year, MSCHE sent an examiner to MCU for 4 days. He indicated that MCU should move ahead with preparation for application for accreditation. Over the next few years, MCU aims to complete MSCHE self-assessment and self-study that determine how well the school meets their standards. The target date for the comprehensive evaluation from the MSCHE is scheduled for 2008 September or October and a final judgment on our suitability for candidacy will come within 60 days. If all goes well, by 2009, MCU will be eligible for a 5-year full accreditation.

If you take a look at the self-assessment and self-study documents I have linked to, one of the obvious aspects is the huge amount of time it will take to assure the standard is met. In addition to the time involved in preparing the documentation, etc, Dr. Yien estimates the process will cost Ming Chuan $US1.5 million


I know your first thoughts; this is another one of those exercises in futility that Taiwan universities and bureaucracy are so well known for. Work, work, work and then nothing changes. Don’t think this hadn’t crossed my mind. And in fact, we will all have to wait and see what the final result is.

But I have admit, sitting there talking with Dr. Yien, it all sounded extremely exciting. The thought of working at an institution doing work that seems ground-breaking, not just for Taiwan but for the entire non-English-speaking world, is fantastic.

I have read through most of the pertinent documents on the MSCHE website and I see no reason why MCU won’t be granted accreditation. I also believe that in the hands of Dr. Yien, we have the best guidance possible. I am as skeptical as anyone about whether this really will transform our school into something different from other Taiwan universities. But I think it is entirely possible this is the first step in to a more competitive, more exciting future.

March 11, 2007 | Permalink

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I read this entry with particular interest because I’m actually writing my thesis on international ed & internationalization now (I’m with the UBC Faculty of Education). This accreditation initiative does sound interesting but I can’t help but ask if you or anyone at MCU have EVER critically reflect on the hegemony behind all this?? Sure it would be great for an American institution to recognize MCU credits, but that is a superficial, bureaucratic procedure. There are deeper sociological / political issues at stake here. Why is a stronger link to an American university or accreditation body beneficial? It sounds to me like handing over the reins of academic freedom to some imperial / colonial gatekeeper.

It’s almost a desperate plea, “We are nothing unless we are certified by USA or some other English-speaking agency. Please please accredit us!” Heck, is this not like the Michellin guide rating restaurants around the world except now we’re certifying higher education. I’m so tired of watching universities in non-English-speaking nations measure & validate themselves thru such neocolonialist procedures. It’s a mass hysteria that few scholars ever question and critically reflect.

You wrote:
“The thought of working at an institution doing work that seems ground-breaking, not just for Taiwan but for the entire non-English-speaking world, is fantastic.”

What is ground-breaking about this? I also would be very hesitant to make sweeping generalizations about higher education in non-English-speaking world. There are countless initiatives that are far more ground-breaking than kow towing to a foreign agency for accreditation.

Sorry to be so negative, but I do find your blog fascinating but expected more of a critical viewpoint on an issue like this.

Posted by: zocalo | March 12, 2007 at 00:36

zocalo, there’s no need to worry about your tone. I appreciate your honesty and emotion. On the other hand, you have to be prepared for a hard response.

In many ways your comment seems naive. Accreditation is a process that emerged in the USA because of the lack of centralized government control. It is a system of quality assurance similar to other processes like licensing, auditing, or ISO. As far as I know, universities in no other country practice accreditation. For example, universities in Taiwan are licensed in a process not at all like accreditation. This is true in Canada, as well.

From the point of view of international education, accreditation is a superior process of quality assurance. As such, MCU is trying to follow a superior process of quality assurance developed in the USA. THE SAME IS TRUE IN CANADA! Please note this last point. At least one school I know of, Capilano College in North Vancouver is seeking accreditation from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. Officials at the school told me the reason was that international students can recognize this as mark of quality.

The sad but true reality of international education is that quality has not been able to keep up with demand. In a sense, there is as desperate plea here, but it’s not the one that you think. Rather, the problem is that Taiwan’s MOE can not meet the demand from ROC citizens and maintain any sense of quality. Many of the new schools opened recently have the same standards as what I have termed ‘Third World’ schools; they will accept anybody and pass everybody, all the time. You can pretend what you want, but I wouldn’t attend most of these schools and I doubt you would. All the talk about “neocolonialism” and “hegemony” is graduate school rhetoric that you need to get through a program, but the reality of students making choices is that they need outside assurances of quality.

MCU will be the first school accredited outside the USA and its territories that uses a non-English language as its medium of business. I think that’s pretty need. It will certainly provide foreign students in the vastly crowded market with a better sense of quality guarantee than what we or any school in Taiwan now have.

Please let me know more about the “ground-breaking initiatives” you refer to. Readers have written me about a number of what they thought were such. I have not been impressed with anything I’ve seen, but admittedly my knowledge in this area is weak. I’d like to hear more.

Posted by: Scott Sommers | March 12, 2007 at 12:02

Hi Scott,

Glad to hear your response on this. Quality assurance is without a doubt important, but I question about the politics behind all this. What constitutes good quality? Who decides?

Certainly there are lots of low quality schools in Taiwan, but isn’t this problem prevalent in higher education everywhere else? Philip Altbach writes a lot about globalization and education. He points out that the vast majority of higher ed institutions in USA are in fact 2nd rate. Only a few universities in US are really top notch. Yesterday I just read a research article slamming the University of Phoenix which has a shocking enrollment of about 200,000 students in 40+ campuses spread over 29 states plus Puerto Rico and Vancouver, BC. Univ Phoenix was also recently in the news with federal govt threatening to withdrawl funding due to low quality and student complaints. Are you aware that Univ Phoenix accepts about 90% of all applicants? So I think it is important to recognize that low quality is not a problem exclusive to developing countries (or the South, or “Third World”).

You mentioned Capilano College in Vancouver. I’m from Vancouver , so I know this school quite well and also personally have friends who attend this school. I’m afraid to say that this is really a 2nd rate if not 3rd rate school. It’s not even the leading small college in Vancouver. I would not let my kids attend this school regardless how many accreditations they have. I wasn’t even aware they were going for US accreditation, and I work with international students at UBC. Are international students really knowledgeable about such obscured accreditations? If anything, I would think word of mouth has a greater impact. Vancouver is a mecca for international students and so many of them choose schools based on word of mouth advice from family/friends (lots of research surveys also confirm this).

The talk about hegemony is not just an exercise in academic speak. Yes, it is very hard to resist American/European influences in higher education, but if we don’t reflect critically and ask hard questions as academics who would? … certainly not the students, parents, or even teachers.

Ground breaking initiatives… Where do I begin? I’m not sure if you are familiar with the Bologna Declaration in Europe which is creating drastic reforms in higher ed. There are countless student mobility programs, scholarships, credit transfer schemes, twinning programs, multilateral grad programs involving multiple countries, research partnerships, etc. It’s not all rosy of course, but it is definitely very ambitious because European higher education has probably never undergone such drastic changes…and involving so many countries. I just don’t see how applying for accreditation from a foreign body indicates ground-breaking at all. Personally, I am more impressed by creative initiatives that are internally driven rather than subscribing to values/frameworks from an outside body.

Thanks for the exchange of thoughts here.

Posted by: zocalo | March 12, 2007 at 18:11

Interesting post, Scott, but I wanted to point out that, as far as recruitment of “foreign” (i.e., non-Taiwanese) students goes, to my knowledge the brunt of most universities’ efforts is at attracted Hua-qiao, ABC, and overseas Chinese students. This was true when I was a student at a certain national university here, and it is true at the current institution where I work.

Our school has nearly 8000 regular students and approximately 20 “foreign students.” Of these only 2 are from so-called ‘third world’ countries. One from Africa and one from Russia. As for accomodating them with English instruction our school has done a terrible job (mainly because my colleagues, and I’m sure yours too, are too busy, unable, or unwilling to teach in English).

And so, the next point. The reason why schools in American/Canada don’t recognize degrees from Taiwanese schools is simply because the education students receive here is not very good and thoroughly useless for the most part. This is proven by the fact that, upon graduation, students who wish to pursue a graduate degree at 研究所X must go back to a buxiban to “bu” (enhance) their knowledge of basic subjects like Math, English, Science, etc. so that they can pass the national exams.

Which brings up the question of Taiwanese schools enhancing their “ties to the US school system”. Given what I’ve seen of this system, I’m not at all convinced that the US should “lower the bar” a bit and offer recognition to Taiwan universities.

Education is a serious business, after all, and if Taiwan’s schools don’t make muster I see no reason why the overall quality of the US system should suffer (by spreading the gospel of easy accreditation it would suffer, I maintain). Point is–the sanctity of the liberal education comes before the importance of the recognition racket.

I know this sounds probably sounds harsh, but I honestly think that Taiwanese education has a very long way to go before it can begin to even dare think of measuring up to US standards. (We can compare curriculae, faculty, resources, etc. any time, after all. In every case and in every aspect the Taiwanese schools will come up way short).



Posted by: nostalgiphile | March 12, 2007 at 19:08


I suggest that you read more widely on my blog. I have written extensively about problems with both the UOP and for-profit education. I am not a big supporter of the industry, as my regular readers all know. And it is certainly not what I am referring to when I talk about quality education.

I’m a little flabbergasted by your comment about Capilano College. You can say what you want, but you are doing so with the privillage of holding a passport from one of those imperialist nations you talk about. The reality of the world is that your words demonstrate the elite status from which you are writing. Not even most BC residents are able to attend institutions better than Capilano, so I’m not sure how relevant anything you’re writing about is for those who hold passports only from countries with power and financial problems.

I don’t really understand what the relevance of the Bologna Declaration could be for Ming Chuan University. We have a problem. We operate within the sphere of influence of the ROC Ministry of Education. As such, we can not guaruntee anything to students from either Taiwan or those other countries whose citizens lack financial or political access to the best brand name universities. MOE licensing has so clearly failed as a guaruntee of anything to students that schools with higher goals must look elsewhere.

In fact, I am surprised that with the radical message you appear to support, you have bought so completely into the concept of name brand education. But then Capilano College is so far beneath you and your family. Clearly your message is not intended for the vast majority of people in the world.

Posted by: Scott Sommers | March 12, 2007 at 19:22


Your infoformation on foreign students is slightly out-dated. I don’t know what school you teach at, but almost all the foreign students in Taiwan are enrolled at NTU, NCKU, NCCU, and MCU. I suggest you check my post from Oct 2006 about international education at Ming Chuan and also my interview with Dean Henry Wu at National Cheng Kung University.

It has been true in the past the KMT used access to university as a way of demonstrating that Taipei was the real capital of China. This is no longer true. Almost none of the students enrolled in any of the English-taught programs at NCKU, NCCU, or MCU are overseas Chinese. It is not true at NCJU, NCCU, or MCU. I do not have information about NTU, but I doubt it’s true there.

I don’t find your comments harsh so much as I find them inaccurate. It is NOT correct that Western universities do not recognize degrees from Taiwanese universities. In fact, this happens all the time. Taipei City mayor Ma Ying Jeou attended NTU then Harvard. The recognition of Taiwan degrees at Western universities is routine. My point was that there there is no direct transfer system for credits between the two systems. Accreditation will change all that.

Posted by: Scott Sommers | March 12, 2007 at 19:32


I think there’s a number of points that must be raised:

1. The other three universities you mention having large numbers of foreign students are top national universities. The norm for private universities is, has been raised by contributors to this thread, about 0.1% of the student population coming from overseas.
2. Yes, Ma did go to Harvard. Lots of Taiwanese have gone to good US universites, and they prior to going to the US graduated from the top national universities, i.e places recognised by name at least in the elitist world of higher education. So, to turn the argument around how many MCU students are at Harvard, or have been to Harvard? How many graduates from private universities in Taiwan? Easy, zero.
3. An interesting point to the thread is why is a private university in Taiwan pushing for US accredition? Why not the national ones (if its so ground breaking) and so easy to obtain?
4. You mention describing the process as ‘ground breaking’. It will only be ground breaking if the process comes off. From what I gather it has a snow balls chance in hell. At present private universities do not have the standards required to meet international expectations. Private universities more often than not, from both the perspective of students and teachers, provide mediocrity as opposed to opportunities to excel oneself. This is in part however a consequence of skewed financial resources with national unis collecting most MOE coffers.
5. Another point not examined in the thread – will the accredition process genuinely benefit all MCU graduates should it come off? I can guarantee that the process has been undertaken as it is seen as a means of attracting US students to Taiwan – hence it has been done by a private university who has found a niche via its International College but moreover a saturation point under the system of attracting overseas (re Asian) Chinese and Africans. Accreditation is a way to get Chinese as a Second Language more widely taught, and ideally to US students outside the confines of handshakes with extremely provincial US colleges of little name….oops, we’re back again to the elitist issue.
6. MCU as I have already said has a niche thanks to its International College. By reinforcing this niche, in theory through accredition, it sustains their existence in light of MOE money being carved amongst a growing number of hands and declining birth rate.

Posted by: Ian | March 13, 2007 at 17:57

Ian, while I always appreciate your comments, it’s not clear where this one is going other than the same place that nostalgiphile went: Taiwan education is bad, especially at MCU. That’s clearly your opinion, as you left Taiwan last year, but admittedly it does put you at a distance from where all the information is.

I could systematically go through your points and answer them, but I’m not sure how much good that would do. There seems to be a more fundamental problem with your reading of my post. For example, point 3 implies that I said accreditation is easy to obtain.. In fact, I said the exact opposite. ”Obtaining MSCHE accreditation is not a simple task. Even under the best conditions, the accreditation process is complex and detailed.” were my exact words. This was a main point and obviously stated. Your failure to note this and conclusion that I said the exact opposite makes me wonder if you gave the post more than a glance and are instead relying on a gut feeling that Taiwan university all bad.

One point I am willing to address is your disbelief that accreditation could be granted to a Taiwan private university like MCU. A fact that I mentioned in my post that also seems to have been missed is that a number of individual departments in both national and private universities have already received accreditation from international professional accreditation organizations. Your doubt in our ability to finish the process implies a certain knowledge of what accreditation is and what is and is not possible. I have read almost all the documents on the website of the MSCHE that pertain to the process. Dr. Yien would be a leading authority on the procedure. I wonder if you could elaborate on your knowledge of the accreditation process and let me know exactly where the problem is, I can make sure that Dr. Yien hears about this.

But in all honestly Ian, I don’t think you have a clear picture of either what I said or what accreditation really is. While I don’t mind spending more time answering your questions directly because some of them raise interesting points, it might be better if you had another look at the post.

Posted by: Scott Sommers | March 13, 2007 at 22:27

I’m very pleased to read that you hold Taiwanese education so highly. However two points of note. Firstly, just because someone has stopped teaching in Taiwan doesn’t automatically make the education system bad there in their mind! I maybe left Taiwan for different reasons. Secondly, just because someone is not in Taiwan doesn’t mean they can’t be privy to detailed information. Indeed my comments on the accreditation process and its anticipated failure was based on comments directly made by one of your superiors in an email. However I’ll refrain from elaborating in light of your response to my earlier posting with its retort that I quite clearly know nothing. I therefore look forward to enlightening myself given your critical analysis of the subject, your knowledge of the accreditation process, closeness to Dr Yien and my obvious failings. I won’t be posting again though.

Posted by: Ian | March 13, 2007 at 23:44

I’m so tired of watching universities in non-English-speaking nations measure & validate themselves thru such neocolonialist procedures.

What’s interesting is how this idea of “neocolonialism” is constructed. Let’s imagine that we were not looking at education but, say, electronics manufacture. Would you argue that it is neocolonialist for Taiwanese or Vietnamese producers to go to Europe, Japan, and the US to copy manufacturing techniques and designs? Probably not, since that is where the best work is done, and where the markets are.

It’s not “neocolonialist” to go where the perceived best is. It’s what countries do when they want to improve their production processes, including knowledge production. It only becomes “neocolonialist” when someone attempts to fit it into a a priori framework of the way reality works. Heck, it’s a lot easier to argue the other way ’round, that Taiwan is exploiting the US and accreditation procedures to gain itself merit it does not deserve — in other words, that the exploitation runs in the other direction.


Posted by: Michael Turton | March 16, 2007 at 11:43

I’m very interested in seeing how this works out, how the process is carried out, and what the results and evaluations are. Keep us posted, man.


Posted by: Michael Turton | March 16, 2007 at 11:44

Michael, thank you very much for raising this point. It is an excellent point and key to understanding what’s going on in the larger picture of scholarship on exported technology. If you copy semiconductor manufacturing, it’s clever being Asians. If you copy an educational system, it’s American colonialism.

I too am getting tired of the double standard I am often confronted on issues like this. In a comment from this writer that I unposted, he went on to refer to me as one of those foreigners who come here and tell Asians how to fix their schools. I found this ironic, since this project was suggested by MCU president Dr. Lee Chuan and the source of my information is Dr. Robert Yien, both of whom are Taiwanese.

I can’t say this will work, or even that if it works. it will work the way Dr. Lee wants. But I’ll be sure to everyone posted.

Posted by: Scott Sommers | March 16, 2007 at 15:43


CSICOP as a Professional Organization

April 5, 2009

In an earlier post, I stated my position that the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal or CSICOP is a professional organization. In a comment to this post, Kerim Friedman took exeption to this and expressed his belief that CSICOP is an advocacy group. Michael Turton later expressed the same belief in a post on his site. I now feel that all of us were wrong and that CSICOP is better described as a learned society.

Before I jump in the discussion of learned societies, I would like to clarify my position on CSICOP. CSICOP is great. The work they do is important and meaningful, as well as some of the best scientific research available. The members of the group that I know are fantastic people. They are deeply committed to their beliefs and work tirelessly toward them. I know of no one in the organization who has been arrested or involved in a serious scandal of any sort. I problem with the group is that the scope of their work is extremely limited and I don’t think they are aware of this.

Anyway, to return to the issue of what kind of group CSICOP is…CSICOP is clearly not an advocacy group in the fashion of the NRA or the Sierra Club. On their website, CSICOP states that the purpose of the group is to

…encourage the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view and disseminates factual information about the results of such inquiries to the scientific community and the public. It also promotes science and scientific inquiry, critical thinking, science education, and the use of reason in examining important issues. To carry out these objectives the Committee:

    1. Maintains a network of people interested in critically examining paranormal, fringe science, and other claims, and in contributing to consumer education
    2. Prepares bibliographies of published materials that carefully examine such claims
    3. Encourages research by objective and impartial inquiry in areas where it is needed
    4. Convenes conferences and meetings

5.  Publishes articles that examine claims of the paranormal.

6.    Does not reject claims on a priori grounds, antecedent to inquiry, but   examines them objectively and carefully

The Sierra Club home page, on the other hand, has no statement of purpose that I could find. The Sierra Club du Canada home page as an ‘About Us’ statement describes the club and makes no mention of its purpose. The NRA home page is the same. My impression of an advocacy group is that members of such groups don’t appear to feel a statement of purpose is necessary and that the group is defined by what its members are willing to do.

The webpages of professional societies are very different from this. The ‘About the AMA’ webpage of the American Medical Association states that

The AMA’s envisioned future is to be an essential part of the professional life of every physician and an essential force for progress in improving the nation’s health.

The site goes on to state the following about the Mission of the AMA

The American Medical Association helps doctors help patients by uniting physicians nationwide to work on the most important professional and public health issues.

It is worth noting that the motto of the AMA is “Together We are Stronger”.

The webpage of the American Bar Association contains similar information about the ABA

Welcome to the American Bar Association, the largest voluntary professional association in the world. With more than 400,000 members, the ABA provides law school accreditation, continuing legal education, information about the law, programs to assist lawyers and judges in their work, and initiatives to improve the legal system for the public. The Mission of the American Bar Association is to be the national representative of the legal profession, serving the public and the profession by promoting justice, professional excellence and respect for the law.

Professional societies describe state goals that seem to assume there is a continued need for the services of the occupational group they represent and that this occupation must be represented by a group. They even seem to assume that other groups might perform this service. The distinguishing mark of the professional society is the statement that they are the best qualified to do this.

Wikipedia defines a learned society as

a society that exists to promote an academic discipline or group of disciplines. Membership may be open to all, may require possession of some qualification.

The American Council of Learned Societies defines their purpose as

advancement of the humanistic studies in all fields of learning in the humanities and the social sciences and to maintain and strengthen relations among the national societies devoted to such studies.

The Council distinguishes between 3 types of members. Constituent Learned Societies are academic associations such as the APA and the MLA. Associate members are universities and colleges that support the Council. Affiliate members are, “…organizations and institutions whose goals and purposes are so closely linked to those of ACLS that a formal connection is desirable for both parties.” CSICOP clearly qualifies as an affiliate and quite possibly as a Constituent Society.

In fact, if you look at the ‘About’ statements of organizations such as the APA, the African Studies Association, the American Academy of Religion, or any of the other groups that compose the Constituent Learned Societies of the ACLS, you find similar contract-like statements of purpose. It would almost appear as though CSICOP modeled their statement such groups with the expressed purpose of serving the same kind if function that they serve.

The main difference between CSICOP and mainstream professional societies appears to be that while CSICOP does not represent an occupational category and therefore does not have the position to lobby for the welfare and status of that profession. As such, I was incorrect to call the organization a professional society. However, CSICOP clearly seems to be some sort of learned society and in no sense could it be called an advocacy group similar to the NRA or the Sierra Club.


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And you think they would be more effective if they functioned as an advocacy group?

Speaking of this, you may wish to read this forthcoming book:


I have no opinion about what CSICOP should be doing. It’s members have reached a concensus concerning what they want to do. I think that an advocacy-type group is necessary for this social problem.

Many years ago, I had an argument that the left is completely unprepared to handle the Christian Right. The left is upwardly mobile, urban, cosmopolitan, and not interested in working-class life. The lack of interest and inability of this position to speak to a large part of America will certainly not be addressed by elite university researchers and hip, young writers from Yale.

The left is largely urban, but I disagree about the rest of your characterizations. In fact, many members of the left are poor and working-class. Don’t buy the “late-drinking” crap the Republican’s use in their advertisements, it isn’t true demographically. Not that I disagree that the leadership of the left needs to do a better job of defending the interests of the working class, but that is a different issue.

The Christian right is also a small minority. Only about 15% of the US are evangelical Christians. In order to understand this battle it is important to look at why evangelicals have become so important and useful, and why there is nothing similar on the left. (Hint: the decline of organized labor.) The author I linked to, Chris Mooney, has made a career out of explaining the history and nature of some of these links as they relate to science. (His blog is well worth reading. He was one of the big political bloggers early on – before he began focusing more on science.) When one begins to realize how much corporate money has gone into deligitimizing science it becomes clear what CSICOP is up against.

Moreover, these are not even left-right issues. There are many conservatives who believe in science and are very upset about what is happening.

I remember looking at a map on Keywords shortly after the election showing county-by-county voting patterns in the US. There were virtually no couties that voted Democrate outside the major cities of the East and West Coast.

Regardless, I am talking about a particular brand of Americans; the kind who want supstition taught in public schools. The left and traditional conservatives are completely illprepared to handle this group.

You miss the subtleties of the electoral voting system. Most of those counties you are looking at have almost no people living in them, but if you modify the map to show population density as well, very different pattern. (More here. See especially the purple map – and on the county map look where all the cities are in the so-called “red” states.)

The Social Function of Unaccredited Education

April 5, 2009

The Social Function of Unaccredited Education

Regular readers of my site are familiar with how I feel about unaccredited education. I am fond of using terms like Third World Education to describe schools that have real, but unreliable standards. But, in fact, I have yet to find an unaccredited school that truly provides a quality education. Despite this, I continually get e-mails and comments from readers insisting that unaccredited education serves a real purpose. I am in Canada right now visiting my family, and yesterday, I had coffee with a former professor who has become a good friend. We had a conversation that illuminated this problem for me. I think that I now understand what the social function of unaccredited education is.

He told the story of a former student who is planning on registering in a graduate degree program in Counseling offered by an unaccredited school from the USA. This school runs the program through a series of seminars offered on weekends. It is possible to finish in less than a year. My friend explained that despite his explanations that the degree will not qualify its holder for positions at hospitals or colleges, his former student appears to believe it will help her change her life. At first, we both agreed that the former student was deluding herself, but after talking about this, I no longer feel this way. In fact, I now believe that such a degree can change someone’s life and career opportunities. But to understand this, you have to know something about the life of the former student.

Currently, she works at a major Canadian university finding jobs for graduates of one of their programs. This is a clerical position and she makes what in Canada is a low-end professional salary. She feels that she is underemployed in a job like this and wants something more than just her BA in Philosophy can give her. It is not entirely true that this unaccredited degree will get her nothing. As my professor pointed out, there is a blossoming market for low-end therapists who advertize in the classifieds of such periodicals as the Georgia Strait. My professor’s point is that this throws her into the same job market as literally hundreds of other therapists using methods and training that are equally as questionable. He thought it doubtful that she’d want to battle it out in such a market where it’s questionable how much money she can make in the long-run. But I disagreed. In fact, this may be exactly what she wants.

For reasons I do not understand there is increasingly a demand for professionals to tell people what to do. While some have well understood occupational titles as therapist or counselor, others call themselves such dubious names as consultant, leadership coach, or even inspirational speaker. Check Google to find out more about the vast cottage industry of people working in this end of the professional worker market. Since there is no real definition of these industries or what qualifies one to work in them, I suspect that a degree from one of the many unaccredited programs that I castigate is good enough.

With a combination of part-time work and work in her new found career, the former student may one day even make more money than at her current job. Taiwan is full of people who switch products regularly trying to find that one particular thing they can sell from their social or geographical location. Most of them work in the night market, but why couldn’t we have a market with a similar structure for professional workers? I can easily imagine the former student building up a clientele of customers who for one reason or another choose her services, until one day she has enough business to do it full-time. And who knows where this may lead? If self-help guru John Gray can become a multi-millionaire with a PhD from diploma mill Columbia Pacific University (also see this link), why not the former student?


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What exactly is it that the counseling program provides that will help change her life and career opportunities?

Is it the education provided by a year’s worth of weekend seminars?

Is it the ability to be able to add an initialism to her name?

This is a good question, and that’s why I would never get an unaccredited degree. I’d just as soon start placing PhD after my name and make up the name of a school if someone asked who granted it. But for people who don’t have a clue how to start their new career as an unaccredited ‘counselor’, I have no doubt that such degrees provide an introduction to the field. — after all, there is no evidence that therapy really works.

Can’t resist. I’m looking at the bulletin board section of ‘Monday Magazine’, a Victoria, BC, alternative, and reading an ad for ‘Ear Cloning,’ provided by a ’25 YEARS CERTIFIED’ person. Cost = CDN$45. One ear or for a pair? doesn’t say. Doesn’t clarify what the word ‘certified’ means either.

Financially speaking, if I could clone four pairs a day, from home, I would be very, very, happy. Best therapy in the world. I’d be working, paying taxes, socially responsible and functional … possibly.

Obviously, I’d need to find out how to get certified before I set up shop, but maybe not, maybe it has already happened. I could make it work, just like my Taiwan English classes worked because I was a over qualified CERTIFIED Native Speaking English Teacher.

I’m not sure that one can discuss this person’s desire to change her life or compare her with anything Taiwanese without considering the cultural importance that endurance and ‘self’ has within a particular culture–especially one which has such a difficult time with the verb ‘to be’. However, having said that, alternative healing doesn’t always come with a certificate, whichever side of the ocean one happens to be on.

With apologies to any ear cloners. It was the 25 Years Certified that got me hooked.

Ah. and there’s the rub of it. Ear CONERS. Not CLONERS.

Bureaucratic accreditation of global education by any organization, be it governmental or private agencies, or the business of accreditation of education soon takes the arrogant behaviour of educational policing and educational dictatorship. The power-crazed are hungry to be the license dictators to education. Some of them by now could hardly past their exams if re-tested for they have now degenerated into the “lower forms”. So it is better to play hero to education beating the drums for fear of not being heard and for the ritual of continuous representation of what is now a “blanko” in their minds.
This is likely to be the dis-ease of a future unhealthy trend in global education if we continue to be very busy about accreditation of diplomas without looking at it deeper. The accreditation agencies, even the legal ones, become a nuisance to education itself when “blankos” try to finger-point at one another just for the sake of enjoying the pleasure of attacking opponents. This is the case of strategies miscarriage in the art of war in education. It is still the petty minds at work – much ado about putting others down for the sake of putting others down, but not themselves.

The unexplained unknown is that there is always someone who can find a way to counter another in whatever “claims” in educational accreditation. When there is a plus immediately you will find a minus. Who accreditates the accreditators?

Ultimately, GOD accreditates all accreditating institutions for HE is the real accreditator of education. HE makes sure that the national accreditators do not become bureaucratic mischiefs and educational arm-twisters by mediocres hiding behind this shield. (Mantovani)

More Myths about Foreign Teachers: Foreign English Teachers and Labour Organizations

April 5, 2009

In one of my more controversial posts, I raised the idea that there is such little real information really known about foreign English teachers that there are myths being created to fill this void. A recent post on forumosa.com concerning the decline in income for foreign teachers in Taiwan, raises another one of these myths. Speculating on the reasons why foreign teachers in Taiwan are not represented by any sort of workers organizations, Namohottie states,

I have often wondered myself why there hasn’t been more unity among the ESL community here in Taiwan. Here are my deductions:

1)A diversity of foreign groups.
2)The government’s stance on the foreigner worker.
3)Culture aspects.
4)The market value of the job itself in Taiwan and abroad.
5)Turnover rate

I have heard arguments like this over and over for the past 15 years, and despite their persistence, they are quite wrong.

At least (1), (3), (4), and (5) are wrong. As recently as 1994, the head teacher of my school in Japan was arguing that attempts to unionize foreign English would fail because teachers are too transient and therefore couldn’t form a union even if they wanted too. Note that his argument was not that teachers couldn’t form a worker’s union, but that they don’t want to organize a union. Yet, within a few years, foreign English teachers in Japan had, in fact, organized and become represented by a number of different trade unions.

That’s right. There are trade unions organizing foreign English teachers in Japan. And there have been for years! I found out about this back around 2000, and they’d been around quite a while, even by then. Today, unionized teachers work at many of the major chain schools, including Berlitz, GEOS, and NOVA, as well as various private high schools, colleges, and universities. You can find English-language links to more information here by scrolling down near the bottom of the page.

So why aren’t teachers in Taiwan organized? The answer is really straightforward; it’s against the law. You’d get deported, if you were lucky, for trying to organize your bushiban. The real question is not why there are no worker’s organizations for foreign English teachers, but rather why Taiwanese unions don’t seem interested in challenging this law. Some of the reason is no doubt a xenophobic reaction to the idea of letting foreigners into their group. But I suspect the real reason lies more in the politically charged nature of Taiwanese trade unionism. Without a class-based political system, labour unions simply don’t function in the same way as they do in Western nation states.

But like everything else in Taiwan, there have been numerous attempts at organizing foreign English teachers in other, non-labour, organizations. These attempts have ranged from the bizarre Secret Society of English Teachers in Taiwan, which I am told resembles a college fraternity and is run by an anonymous website moderator who advocates working illegally (as he himself does), to DAFTS, which shut down operation within weeks of its formation.

So now that you know Taiwan is an anomoly for the organization of English teachers, even in Asia, let’s get this straight; the only reason there are no effective organizations protecting foreign teacher’s working rights in Taiwan is that it is currently illegal, and no one has the will or commitment to organize a group that would challenge this. End of story.

February 26, 2005 | Permalink

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Scott, at least for university teachers formerly covered by the retirement/pension prolicy, then our income has indeed gone down when you factor in the lost income that the new government policy eliminates now that we no longer receive a pension upon retirement, regardless of years of service. The former policy was that we received the same retirement package as local teachers (minus a couple Taiwanese-specific programs) and that we would receive a pension. However, under the new rules, we do not receive a pension, only a lump sum which is a fraction of the former benefit even when you don’t consider the spousal and dependant benefits. So, in a way, yes our income has gone down. Obviously, this affect young folks who have only been here a short time less than those of us who have spent fifteen, twenty, or more years here counting on our retirement benefits, including the pension. I know folks who are quite close to retirement who are shocked to suddenly be informed that they will receive no pension regardless of having served here for well more than enough years to qualify and this is topped with the realization that they won’t be getting Social Security if they return to the US. I’d say that’s a substantial income drop. See the blurb hidden in Erick Heroux’s post http://heroux.blogspot.com/2005/02/2-28-day-in-taiwan-truth.html and my rant on my page.

Posted by: Brian David Phillips, PhD, CH | February 28, 2005 at 16:43

Brian, thank you very much for the information and the link. But knowing the details of this only increases my wonder that no credible organization has arisen to represent foreign teachers. It’s unfashionable to talk about this, but I suspect that one of the reasons could be that the large income available to foreign teachers through outside work compensates to some degree for this. On the other hand, if this is the case, then further moves that affect the earning power of foreign teachers could be interpreted as encouraging outside work, which, as we all know, is not the case.

Posted by: Scott Sommers | February 28, 2005 at 16:59

Of course, my rant doesn’t really apply to most foreign English teachers in Taiwan as the pension was not widely a part of the compensation package – folks teaching at National Universities would receive it as part of the Civil Employees package but the rest of the folks were uniformly screwed as a matter of course. It still sucks to have it taken arbitrarily away after the previous assurances. IMO.

Posted by: Brian David Phillips, PhD, CH | February 28, 2005 at 17:52

Sounds a lot like Korea. I’m fairly sure however that ESL teachers in Korea will get thier pension. It’s standard right now that teachers leaving the country and not returning recieve all their pension contributions.

Posted by: Blinger | March 01, 2005 at 06:14

Scott – There isn’t much money in teaching english, so the unions/mob aren’t interested.

The original point #5 (workers are too transient) raised a good point. Folks who are inclined to join a union (with the limitations and pay cuts it brings) tend to be the same folks* who stay and teach english for years at a time. The folks who teach for only a year or two aren’t interested, but put up with the union baloney anyway.

* – Folks such as yourself, who work at it and get a university job, aren’t I’m talking about here.

Posted by: Scott | March 01, 2005 at 13:07

I am a non-Japanese union member in Japan with the National Union of General Workers – Tokyo South (nambu.generalunion.org). I am running for an executive position of the unions Foreign Workers Caucus.

I was dispatched by a private company as an Assisitant Language Teacher to elementary schools, junior high schools and high schools in the Tokyo area.

In February 2005, the Japanese Ministry of Education sent out a notification to all prefectural boards of education that this sort of work was illegal as it violates Education Law, despiet the practice having been carried out since 1999.

Of concern to the Taiwan situation though, is that I was doing the exact same kind of work in Taiching City in 1998-99 where I was dispacthed by Taipei Language Institute to teach at two high schools in Taichung City, Gao Nong and Zhong Yi.

The part of Japanese Edcuation Law that is violated is a section which maintains that the principal must be in control of all staff to direct their work; however, if one is dispatched by a company, then the principal is not in control of that worker, the company is. The gossip that the workplace was that our work in the school was illegal but no one did anything about it.

I actually lost my job in fighting this issue and my employer over other violations but I have half a mind to make a trip to Taiwan and talk to anyone who would be interested in listening about union organizing etc.

Please feel free to email me.

Posted by: David Jobson | March 26, 2005 at 15:21

I just found this from Taiwan Union Law at

“Article 16
Any member of a labor union who is of the nationality of the Republic of China and has attained full 20 years of age may be elected director or supervisor of the union. ”

So, regarding unionizing at a non-governmental workplace where one is not, in the eyes of the law, considered a teacher such as workers at Global Village, for example, it would seem to me that non-Taiwanese could be in a union , although they cannot serve as directors.

So, if one wanted to start up a union at say Global Village, the Taiwanese secretaries could be the directors and the foreign workers could then join that union.
There are over a hundred secretaries working for Global Village across the country. All you need is 5, if I am reading the Union Law correctly right. See below…

“Article 14
A labor union shall have directors and supervisors to be elected from among the members among the members thereof. The number thereof shall be as follows:
1. Five to nine directors for a labor union below the hsien level; ”

Posted by: David Jobson | March 31, 2005 at 14:02

Maybe I should have mentioned that Union Law states that those who are legally recognized as teachers cannot form a union in Taiwan.

However, there arises a golden opportunity to unionize dispatched foreigner workers in public school in Taiwan, as in Japan, who do the work of a teacher yet are not faced with the legal labor limitations of being a teacher.

My employment situation in Japan is very similar my previous employment situation in Taiwan: I was dispatched to teach at a high school, but I was not legally recognized as being a “teacher”.

In my case, in Japan, my dispatch company refused to meet for collective bargaining as requested by our union. Collective bargaining is a legal right and cannot be denied, so, if it is, the union has legitimate grounds to demonstrate in front of the company. Also, as established in labor case law in Japan, the client of the dispatch company (eg. the boad of education who hires teachers through them) may be held responsible to bargain collectively. Thus the board of education may be targetted by the union for demonstrations, requests for collective bargaining, strikes etc…

So, in my case, that is what happened. Our branch union demanded collective bargaining from the school board after the company refused. The board ignored our request, but a few months later they cut four of the teaching positions that that dispatch company had held with them, and we ended up winning a settlement with the company.

In Taiwan, I had worked for the Taipei Language Institute in Taichung. Having read what Taiwan Union law states, it could be possible for the Taiwanese and non-Taiwanese workers at TLI to create a union with the Taiwanese workers serving as the directors since only nationals can serve.

Posted by: David Jobson | March 31, 2005 at 14:26

A New Kind of Buxiban?

April 5, 2009

As everyone knows, Taiwan is experiencing an ‘ English Renaissance – of a sort. There is lots of talk about English education, but very little control over what is being taught. There are English schools everywhere: schools for adults, schools for children, and schools for the little ones. One of the things that competition like this does is drive innovation. And drive it it has. There are English programs everywhere; programs that promise all kinds of great results. I don’t intend to discuss all the different types of programs that have erupted onto the Taiwan language teaching landscape, but there is one that has caught my attention because like it or not, it is the wave of the future.

While most of us think of effective language education as occurring in small, intense classes with lots of input and room for exploring language use, this ‘new‘ education is quite different. It occurs in large, crowded classes. There is little room for students to use the language experimentally. The classes specifically aim to create a learning environment that does not resemble natural language learning. In fact, it is the exact opposite of what most language teaching has been aiming for.

Mark Wilbur has referred to this kind of school as the ‘Hard-core Foreign Run Bŭxíbāns‘. In his posting by the same name, he gives a detailed description of how some schools run this system.

These schools have a simple no nonsense curriculum structured around sentence patterns, core-vocabulary, and constant pronunciation coaching. The meat and potatoes of their classes is the Question Around the Room. In this exercise, first all of the students must stand up, then one student makes a question based on a certain grammar pattern. The student then asks another student who must answer and in turn make another question which will be answered by another student. It continues until all of the students have asked and answered a question based on whatever sentence pattern being practiced.

Unlike the big chains, these schools require correct pronunciation and have teachers who can tell the children how to correct their pronunciation. For example, if a kid is saying  “How ahh you?”, the teacher will say, “Every time you see an ‘r’, you have to curl your tongue.” And he will say it in Chinese. Also, unlike the big chains KK isn’t taught at HFRBs. Instead phonics is taught the way we learned it back home: i.e. They learn about long and short vowels, basic phonics rules like “when two vowels go walking the first one does the talking”, and so forth.

One other major difference between HFRBs and other schools is that at HFRBs, the kids have to do their homework. If they don’t do it, they fail. Yes, kids actually can fail at these schools. Also, the teacher has to grade books and listen to tapes after class to ensure that the students are doing their work correctly. All of this work is unpaid.

What I am going to say is very critical of this system, so I want to be clear on what I am and am not saying.

What I am not saying

I am not saying that this system is ineffective.

Many methods or systems have effect, even the current public school curriculum has efficacy. But the system used in Hard-core Foreign Run Buxibans (HFRB) is not based on any knowledge or method understood anywhere outside Taiwan. It has no basis in contemporary thinking about language learning, cognition, child development, or school administration. There are many more effective methods available.

What I am saying

I am saying that the Hard-core Foreign Run system is a business model.

The roots of this system are set in its acceptability to Taiwanese parents. It is acceptable because it is fundamentally the Taiwan junior high school system with white faces standing at the front of the room. Because it puts parents at ease and because it is based on discipline and classroom control, it can accommodate large numbers of students in a single classroom. As such, it generates a whole big bucket full of money for its operators.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s return to the system itself.

Back to understanding the HFRB

Mark believes that this system is incredibly powerful; that it simply overwhelms other commercially available systems. Mark bases this belief in the test performance of his students.

In my experience, even students who have studied for 4 years at big chain buxibans cannot pass our first semester exam. Neither can those who have simply studied in the public school system through high school.

It is so powerful, its existence threatens the very principle of equal access to education.

it will create huge (emphasis added) imbalances between the career opportunites of people based soley on whether or not they grew up in the north, where most of the good schools are, and whether or not they had the money to attend.

Mark’s opinion is pretty much public record, as he has stated it on his website and also on comments to a post om Fred Shannon’s website, but as I have alluded to above, I do not share his opinions. A comprehensive discussion of criticisms of the system can be found on this thread from forumosa.com. Here I want to summarize some of the main problems I have with this system by describing some of my experiences researching the situation and some of the conclusions I’ve reached from doing this.

There the is no scientific basis for this system

This point is more important to me than it is to a lot of people.

I was once told by a leading teacher in one such school that he had studied relevant subjects in school and that this system could be supported by research findings. Of course, I then asked him what that research was. He cited to me the slightly dated research of Earl Stevick and also some Internet articles by a doctoral candidate, Greg Thompson, as well as the work of Dr. Steven Krashen. I am familiar with some of this research and have now examined the other work that he recommended to me. My reading of this material is that it has nothing to do with the HFRB system – absolutely nothing. I can not speak for Dr. Krashen, but I suspect that if he saw one of these classes, he would be horrified.

Anyway, when I asked this teacher about these discrepancies, his reply was, “I never said that Thompson’s ideas were the basis for this type of school, or even mine individually.” and “Stevick has only been a small influence.” But his original words were, “My ideas…are strongly influenced by Greg Thompson’s many articles about L2 acquisition, as well as Earl Stevick’s case studies (1999).”

Since I can find no scientific basis for HFRB, I have to conclude that this appeal to research is reversed. Any linguistics training this teacher had has nothing to do with his impressions of HFRBs. Rather, it is the commercial success of this system that has forced him to hammer the square pegs of the linguistic theory he knows into the round holes he has found. They don’t fit, but if you hammer hard enough it might just fool someone who hasn’t looked closely.

The teaching materials are poorly designed

But really, I don’t think that extensive testing and evaluation is necessarily a problem. I feel that well-designed paper and pencil test are important and can have a meaningful place in good education. The problem of the HFRB materials and tests is that is that they appear to be poorly designed. I’m not alone in stating this. It’s one of the points that was repeatedly stated in the forumosa.com thread, but here’s why I have this opinion.

Perhaps the clearest way for me to describe the HFRB tests that I have seen is that they look almost exactly like the kinds of tests you would see in a public school English class or a local high school or university entrance exam. For example, one test I have in my possession is divided into 7 parts totaling 75 questions. But in fact, 20 of these questions involve translation from Chinese to English and another 20 are English to Chinese translation questions. Ten questions give a single word and ask students to conjugate the grammar of that word. Another 10 question provide sentences with missing words and answer clues. Students must then conjugate the answer clue so that the grammar of the sentence is correct. Finally, there are 5 questions written in English for which students are asked to provide English answers.

These tests do not even appear to be good examples of this kind of evaluation. Many of the questions and statements for translation have no meaning. For example, one question that students have to answer is, “Will you kiss your test book next class?” Another found in the English to Chinese translation section is, “Can I bite my pencil?” A fill in the blank question had this sentence and answer prompt, “The teacher didn’t _____ home last night. (swim)”  I typed these sentences into Google, but could not obtain even a single hit. It appears that these sentences are not natural English. One local informant that I spoke with about these tests described them as boring and suggested that you would need a great deal of coercive discipline to get students to work with such materials.

Sure, the tests are pretty hard, especially considering the age of the students involved. But that’s not my point. These tests are almost identical in style to any tests you’ll see in a public school class, a test prep buxiban, or a school entrance test. I had thought that the rationale for commercial schools using foreign teachers was that local education was neither effective nor correct education. The unspoken basis for this seems to be that local education is correct, but not hard enough.

More significant is the fact that the tests I was provided with contain quite noticeable typing errors. For example, one sentence in a Chinese to English translation section has this sentence, “你明天早上將會做公車到學校”. Given the circumstances under which I obtained these tests, I believe these are tests that are actually used in class. If that’s the case, why haven’t students pointed out these errors to their teachers and had them corrected? Why were poorly typed tests given to the public for examination? I suspect it’s because the buxiban and its foreign teachers are unaware of these problems. I suspect that the reason schools don’t know about these problems is that the students don’t provide any feedback to the teachers or the administration of the buxiban. Could it be that the amount of coercive discipline needed to teach these materials using this system create so much fear in young students that they don’t dare bring up problems like this?

More significantly, the presence of such errors carries with it racist overtones. If this was English teaching material obtained from a public school, full of all these weird sentences, typing errors, and emphasis on test taking skills, we would be blaming this for the sorry state of communicative English in Taiwan. But because it comes from a foreign-run commercial school, it’s presented as the solution.

HFRB are test prep cram schools

Despite all of what I’ve said, there is some virtue in the HFRB system. It is not a complete waste of time and money and probably will contribute to student’s education. After all, it’s no different from what’s been going on for decades here and in other Asian countries. HFRB is really just a test prep cram school run for young children and taught by White guys and girls.

This hit home to me when I was showing the tests I referred to above to some of my local informants. The very first person I showed them to was confused and unable to understand what I wanted. She kept asking me why I was talking about foreign teachers but showing her a test from a test prep cram school. This sentiment was confirmed by a Taiwanese lab teacher from my school who after looking at these tests and commented that it was just poorly written cram school test material. And as much as what goes on in the HFRB classroom is preparation for these tests, the HFRB is just a test prep cram school.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no doubt that the presence of foreign teachers in these schools makes them a different sort of place from the more commercial schools found in places like Nanyang Street. Foreign teachers will tell some of those foreign jokes that foreign teachers, but not local teachers, can tell. There might be a little bit more chatting going on. Since some part of the foreign teacher instruction at HFRB is done in Mandarin (a point which I did not explore in this posting), the kids may become desensitized to the fact that White or Black people can speak Mandarin. But aside from such incidental experiences, what we have here is a local test prep cram school preparing students for paper and pencil tests.

Really, HFRB is a fashion statement about the current situation of English education in Taiwan. Parents are torn between the reality of test preparation for their children and the rhetoric that kids need to be able to communicate in that ‘English code’ covered at school. The fashion statement of the hour is that foreign teachers are necessary for this. Even the Ministry is prepared to accept this; why not parents? So test prep with White guys? Why not?

Mark Wilbur, in the comments on Fred Shannon’s site that brought his ideas to my attention, was very concerned that local teachers, no matter how good, just don’t have that extra spark that gives foreign teacher’s English its ‘authenticity’. In discussing the problems of the English of the dozens of public school teachers he has met, he has this to say in a November 2nd comment,

The biggest phonics problem [of local public school English teacher’s pronunciation] I noticed was vowel sounds. Nearly all of the teachers I worked with confused “short i” sounds with “long e” sounds, and “short e” sounds with “long a” sounds. In other words, they couldn’t clearly differentiate “hit” from “heat”, or “special” from “spatial”. I never worked with a single Taiwanese teacher who didn’t make errors with one set or another of these sounds. Conversely, I never met a North American teacher who did have problems with those sounds.

The biggest grammar problem (amongst those with better English) was articles. I never worked with a single Taiwanese teacher who consistently knew when to use “a”, “the”, or no article at all. With the exception of one man from Alabama who had an over-fondness for using “the”, I’ve never met any North American teachers who make these mistakes either.

Needless to say, none of the students of any of the Taiwanese teachers I’ve worked with really learned how to pronounce English vowel sounds properly; they had constant exposure to incorrect input! They had similar problems with many, many grammatical points. The only schools I’ve ever seen to consistently turn out students with acceptable phonics and grammar are the HFRBs, like Tomcat, Cortland, First Step, or Modawei.

It almost sounds as if Mark is saying that if you can’t speak like a Hollywood movie star, you’re not a native speaker of English or at least have only poor command of English. Without descending into the scientific research on accent and pronunciation training, I wonder if when Mark says, “I’ve never met any North American teachers who make these mistakes either,” has he bothered checking what “mistakes” Australian or Irish teachers, or even teachers from places like Arkansas, make? Mark’s words strike me as much more similar to those of local parents with no knowledge of education or linguistics than the current expert commentary on this issue.

And is that any coincidence? After all, the HFRB is a product of local consumer choice, rather than scientific education.

And in conclusion…?

So those are the facts — as I see them. But in a sense, so what? It’s clearly what the market wants. And in this sense, I’m a Canadian libertarian on the matter. If people want it, and it doesn’t damage society more than any existing, acceptable alternatives, then just let it be.

But it’s not a new, powerful alternative to existing education. It’s just an old practice put in a brand new shiny, White wrapper. My honest opinion is that it’s the same old education that everyone complains about but now it’s been given a ‘foreign’ flavour. And as ‘everyone’ knows, if it’s foreign it must be really good. What ever advantage it does truly offer is so minimal that a very short period of time in an immersion environment would be more than enough to compensate for it. On the other hand, I’m sure that students from a HFRB can take tests better than most kids educated in a more liberal environment, even if their English isn’t better. In Taiwan, that’s a difference that has meaning. But let’s not confuse that with a better ability to communicate.

The real problem created by all this isn’t one of education or language teaching or even business. The main problem, for me anyway, is that the population of English teachers in Taiwan is a well-educated bunch that ascribe to the same set of educated, liberal principles that have come to dominate middle-class Anglo-American lifestyles back home. Rather than admit that this is just business and they’re doing it for the cash at the end of the day, the storyline is dressed up in the vocabulary of these educational values, research-backed education, and instructional efficacy. I could go on and on about this point, but I’ll have to save it for another day and wrap up what has become a 9000 word mini-essay.

In doing research for this posting, I’ve read and been told a great deal of negative things about this kind of cram school. Rather than ending, as I had planned, with a quote from one of these more negative assessments, I think I will end with a prediction for the future of English education in Taiwan.

Taiwanese have yet to figure out that study is not a very good way to achieve communicative competence in a foreign language. Fixated as they are on this learning format, Taiwanese have gone from one method of study to another. First, it was the out-dated version of classroom learning that is still used in public schools. When that didn’t work, it was easy for businessmen to convince parents that what they needed was a White guy talking. Since that’s made a difference in only a handful of kids, there’s a new ‘method’ that’s needed. This new ‘method’ isn’t new at all, and isn’t even really a method. Things have just gone full circle and we’re back now to the old style of disciplined memorization of grammar rules and vocabulary. But this time, it’s going to be different – right! That’s right, it’s all different now because the White guys are doing it.


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In fact, given your terms, if I ran a GEPT prep cram school staffed by local teachers who taught test prep through TPR, but maintained strong and personal relations with parents, demanding and supervising extensive homework, could I call myself HFRB? If not, then let me know what would make us into one?

Scott, I don’t know of any of those schools using TPR. For that matter, they don’t teach to the tests, except for advanced students who have already finished the normal curriculum.

Most test prep schools I’ve seen focus on vocabulary building and grammar drills to the exclusion of pronunciation and general speaking skills.

(disclosure: Unlike when I wrote my initial comments, I now have a business interest in a cram school)

Mark, Thank you very much for your comment. While I don’t always come across like I want dialog, I do appreciate your willingness to see past my clumsiness. I want to start by clarifying that I am not trying to find fault in the schools in question. I have no doubt that your school and the ones you mention by name provide high quality instruction from dedicated, well-trained instructors. I have no doubt they have good outcomes. Where we differ is on what produces these outcomes.

My position is that whatever is working at these schools is working because it addresses identified characteristics of human language acquisition. There is nothing new going on and claims that a new label is needed, particularly to describe pronunciation training, has no foundation.

Something which I haven’t mentioned explicitly, but which I think follows from my reasoning, is that test prep schools are not all bad. I give tests to my students and I am deeply involved the development of tests in my school. Used in a proper context, tests are useful tools in the preparation of students. This effectiveness is what explains their ubiquitous use around the world in a wide range of educational and professional settings.

My point concerning TPR was made in the context of Tom Anderson’s comment. It was meant to be an example of something that would NOT happen in what you call HFRB. As I have clarified, my point is that there is no such thing as HFRB, and that use of the term is erroneous. Tom’s point was that these schools practice identified principles of education associated with improved performance. My response was that this may be true, but it is accidental and not part of what its proponents claim mark it as distinctive and worthy of a new label.

My point is then, what is HFRB? Could an HFRB teach TPR? As far as I can tell from Tom’s definition of the schools you have named, why not? The pronunciation training that it proponents use to mark it as distinctive, he describes as a disciplinary rule used to control random talking. What makes them distinctive from any other schools that practice these identified principles of education? Within the theoretical framework of Western educational practices, I can not answer this. There is nothing distinctive and as such, there is NOT a new kind of buxiban.

On the other hand, the comments from Clyde and Michael are intriguing. I think they are wrong and based on an awkward understanding of culture and human motivation, but they do raise interesting points in the context of this discussion. It may be what marks HFRB as distinctive is their adaptation to local conditions. It may be that local students need motivational factors in their educations that are not easily explained by the standard Western theories I keep appealing to. I disagree, but it certainly is an interesting idea.

The Taipei Times on English Education

April 5, 2009

In a number of posts and letters to the editor, I have said that the mass media should not be involved in the evaluation and promotion of scientific research findings. The Taipei Times appears to have a somewhat different approach to this.

Remember back in February, I wrote about the King Car English Village that was being opened in Taoyuan County. One of my main points was that the article missed important pedagogical considerations. Well, the Taipei Times is back at it again. Today’s paper, contains a follow-up on the English Village with what appears to be expert commentary that supports the idea. This is a complete fabrication. Not only are there no experts that support the development of English Village-type amusement parks, the experts cited in the article have actually spoken out against this sort of experiment.

The article opens by talking about the idea of English theme parks and how they’re extremely popular in South Korea and Japan. It then goes on to describe the park that’s planned for Taiwan and all the meticulous care that’s being taken to make it appear like a “movie set” – that’s the term used by a King Car spokesperson. So far, so good. How can you argue with description?

The article then goes on to quote language researchers Stephen Krashen and James Oladejo. Ironically, both of these scientists have spoken out against the kind of education that takes place in these parks. Dr. Krashen, in fact, has spoken out specially against this park. This article taken from Dr. Krashen’s website contains a letter he sent to the Taipei Times addressing the issue of the English Village in Korea. The letter was also published by the TT on April 20, 2006. Dr. Krashen’s position on the the idea of an English Village is clear and summed up in the concluding sentence of the letter, “Other countries should think twice before investing in English villages,” Today’s feature article seemed to miss this.

The position of Dr. James Oladejo is more subtle, but no less clear. As I discussed in this post from my blog, Dr. Oladejo is a major opponent of the use of the untrained native-speaker teachers that are ubiquitous in Taiwan’s commercial language market. He is so clearly out-spoken about their use in this article, I doubt he thinks the King Car English Village is a special case where they are suddenly OK.

In fact, I have spoken to the authour of both these TT articles, Max Hirsch, about the positive spin he on King Car and their educational work. In an e-mail dated March 17, 2007, Max stated to me that,

Sure, English villages are not without pedagogical controversy,
but what about some of the foundation’s other stuff? I’ve usually been pretty impressed by the foundation, and I rarely come away from NGO press conferences feeling positive about whatever they’re doing.

But none of this is the point. And certainly none of this addresses why the English Village is coming across like it serves some language education need.

The reality is that English Village is a big waste of money and time. As I said here, it’s nothing more than a big buxiban with foreign teachers doing role plays. It’s a fun idea that rich men get to dabble with because they want to. Why would anyone think it would be more effective than doing role play in a language school downtown? Because the setting really looks like a bank?

Now I can understand that everyone thinks King Car is a great organization. Certainly they make great drinks, including Mr. Brown canned coffee
and a delicious orange soft drink that I like very much. I even like some of their charitable work. But they don’t seem to know anything about education, nor do they seem be consulting with any expert opinion while constructing their experiments with language education. These efforts seem instead to be driven by the same fads and fashions that power the commercial language teaching market.

And that’s OK, too. People get to spend their own money any way they want, even if it’s crazy. But none of this is related to the recent Taipei Times article. Let’s not pretend there is even one bit of expert support for this kind of program. In fact, if the article were to be honest about it, it could be quoting Stephen Krashen’s own writing in the Taipei Times about these places. But he doesn’t. And what’s the message there?

August 01, 2007 | Permalink

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The comment “untrained native-speaker teachers that are ubiquitous in Taiwan’s commercial language teaching market” makes me think of my ex-girlfriend back home. As an undergrad, she sometimes copied out my essays and handed them in as her own. She went on to complete a degree in education and become a “trained” teacher in Vancouver. She now teaches high school French and English. She wasn’t a good student at all. I wonder if she’s a better teacher than some of the really good “untrained native-speaker teachers” here in Taiwan?

Posted by: Patrick Cowsill | August 02, 2007 at 10:02

Although Professor Krashen’s and Mr. Sommer’s comments about the unproven efficacy of English villages are of merit, the controversy over English villages in Taiwan and South Korea do highlight one very important aspect of learning English – or any other second language. Namely, learning English is EXPENSIVE. To individuals, their families, and to whole economies. Learning English is in many ways definitely an investment, but it is also in many ways very expensive. In addition to the direct cost of school fees, there are the costs of preparing, delivering and taking tests; the opportunity costs of not working while you are studying; and the enormous cost to whole economies of sending tens of thousands of students out of the country to learn English – a significant capital drain on a small country.

I taught in Korea for nine years; given the vast amounts of money Korean parents send out of their economy to educate their children in English overseas, it’s difficult to be completely unsympathetic to efforts by governments to ‘stem the hemmorhage’, at least to a certain extent.

It’s clear that the primary driver to the creation of English villages in Korea and Taiwan is economic, not pedagogical. And although I’m a teacher by profession, I don’t see anything wrong with that. Yes, English villages should be evaluated as to their efficacy…as long as teachers admit that economics must play a factor in the delivery of English language education.

Whether we like it or not.

Posted by: Wayne Hall | August 03, 2007 at 07:10

I never cease to be surprised by the emotions expressed in discussions of the ‘untrained teacher’. Regardless, this is not my point here, nor is my point even the issue of pedagogical efficacy. I know of no study that would reflect on the issue of training of teacher and pedagogical efficacy in this case. In fact, there is virtually no research that involves language teachers who are not formally qualified for their job.

No doubt the real reason for the English Village concept is based in economics. But you’d never know this reading the articles I refer to. The original article from the Taipei Times actually called the village in Taiwan a language immersion program. The second article was written in such a way as to seem that leading experts on language teaching support these projects, when in fact they don’t.

From a classroom teacher point of view, this problem seems like one of teaching efficacy. In fact, it’s a problem of policy efficacy. Governments are now in the business of satisfying market demand. Failure to do this causes economic problems. The MOEs of East Asian countries have been unable to create policy through conventional policy pathways that deal with this problem in a way that satisfies customer-citizens. As such, they are increasingly turning to fashionable solutions. Unknowledgeable market observers attribute pedagogical characteristics to these policies. All of this continues in the tradition of language education policy being created through the whims of rich men and politicians with seemingly no in put from recognized experts. And then the inevitable surprise statement that policy’s not working and no one knows why.

Posted by: Scott Sommers | August 03, 2007 at 10:31

Mr Brown canned coffee a great drink? Are you mad?

Posted by: Murr | August 03, 2007 at 18:35

Of course it’s foolishness to think that it might be necessary to construct a village in order to teach or learn English.

People have been role playing and teaching each other by means of stories for millennia. It was (to cite an obvious historical antecedent) Jesus’ favored method of teaching his inner circle.

Investment in education is always needful, but the key factor is whether the investment is productive to the desired result.

I think it also needs to be said that years of academic work do not always produce a teacher who can reproduce his or her skills to learners.

Posted by: Daniel Loftin | August 04, 2007 at 00:35

I’m also surprised, and amused, to see someone taking pedagogy seriously. C’mon: it’s not like this is rocket science. Education students are, generally speaking, from the lowest wrungs of academia. Anybody with an ounce of sense could write an MA thesis in education in a couple of weeks.

The best teachers in the world are accidental teachers. They were always going to be something else.

Posted by: Patrick Cowsill | August 04, 2007 at 01:35

Patrick, do you have any evidence for this or did you just make it up? Certainly it’s true in the USA that education students are generally not the academically strongest. It’s not true in most other places in the world and certainly not Taiwan. But what about your other statements about teachers? I’ve never seen any evidence for this. Are you just making it up?

Posted by: Scott Sommers | August 04, 2007 at 01:46

No, it’s purely anecdotal. I’ve been in school for most of my life, so I’ve got many first-hand sources. I would hazard a guess that there’s quite a bit of research out there to back up my theory.

I’ve also edited so many education thesises now that I know the time and spew (I mean effort) that goes into these things.

Posted by: Patrick Cowsill | August 04, 2007 at 07:10

In a number of posts and letters to the editor, I have said that the mass media should not be involved in the evaluation and promotion of scientific research findings.

Why not? It’s one thing to speak out against evaluation in error, as you do here, but it is quite another to argue, all elitist-like, that scientific research should be off limits to scrutiny by the media. I personally feel that more exchanges between science and the media could be positive learning experiences for both sides.

Patrick, do you have any evidence for this or did you just make it up?

On the totem pole of academic rankings, education is at the bottom, just above the lowest rung, TESOL.


Posted by: Michael Turton | August 04, 2007 at 08:52

I’ve also edited so many education thesises now that I know the time and spew (I mean effort) that goes into these things.

LOL. I’ll second that, but wait until you have a few score TESOL theses under your belt. Then you’ll start thinking longingly of those wonderfully constructed education theses.


Posted by: Michael Turton | August 04, 2007 at 08:53

Life is often a little more complicated than you think it is. After all, people believe the strangest things about medicine, science, and politics.

The implication is that there is something inherently wrong with education because of the nature of the work involved. The low status of education graduates that Michael points to is very much an America thing. But then, I never cease to be amazed how Americans continually argue that the USA is the world. This situation appears tied to low salaries of teachers relative to other university graduated professionals. In fact, the salaries in some US states are quote shocking.
Average salaries
Starting salaries

I have edited engineering papers in Canada and Taiwan. The only difference is that the papers in Taiwan were better written. Everyone has opinions, but I’m a little confused about why reading a few papers makes someone so profound that the mere statement of their experience should be overwhelming.

Patrick in all honesty, this is not forumosa.com or Dave’s ESL Cafe. Ranting about your prejudices against teachers and then saying “I spent my life in school, and I know…” may cut it at the Brass Monkey. But here on a blog devoted to education, it’s…well…a little inappropriate. So please, if don’t have anything more than a variation on the theme of ‘teachers are all bums’, there are places to post where this appears to be more than trolling.

Posted by: Scott Sommers | August 04, 2007 at 11:02

The problem with the phrase “untrained teacher” is that it’s very nebulous. What most people who use it mean, is “a teacher who hasn’t gone through some sort of TEFL certification course”. In my experience, those sorts of courses have very, very little bearing on teaching here. TEFL courses are relatively short and have little correlation with teaching success.

Even an education degree is no guarantee. I’ve met a number of hopeless B.Ed majors in Taiwan. Here, I’d go so far as to say that that sort of background is a disadvantage. Even in the US, the very most effective teachers, such as John Taylor Gatto and Jaime Escalante, didn’t get education degrees.

Posted by: Mark | August 05, 2007 at 03:35

I do not agree with the division you are making between trained language teachers and untrained language teachers. My disagreement is rooted in the historicity of my own second-language studies – that being Japanese and Chinese language courses taught at the University of Washington. With the exception of one intensive-course, all of these courses were taught by graduate students, who were not studying linguistics, but literature, and some of them were not native speakers of the language they were teaching. Nonetheless, I was successful in these courses, and speak these respective languages better than most students who studied abroad. And the reason why is simple. Skill in a second language is a function of the amount of work you put into the language outside of class. The teacher’s primary role is to correct your mistakes, answer questions, and drill patterns and vocab. The role of the teacher is invaluable, for it alerts you of what you are doing wrong. And ideally this role should be filled by an educated/responsible individual who is capable of communicating abstractly. But, however, they need not be an expert in language pedagogy, and so forth.

Posted by: Louis | August 05, 2007 at 07:10

I’ve never heard about one of these English theme parks in Japan, but could’ve been one of those ‘bubbly’ things that disappeared when the economy went down the drain.

I don’t see that it has to be a bad thing, though, or that it has to eat into the market for more ‘serious’ language teaching. After all, the people who have their photo taken with a mini Eiffel Tower in Tobu World are probably not doing it instead of going to France…

TEFLtastic blog- http://www.tefl.net/alexcase

Posted by: Alex Case | August 05, 2007 at 16:58

Mark is correct that arguments about teacher training are nebulous. The term is often used to mean many things. I think what I mean with the term is quite clear.

While I understand the point that Louis is trying to make, we can sum it up in the overstated position that teachers don’t mater. No one believes this about anything else, even learning about playing sports.

In fact, there is a vast literature on language learning while not directed at this point, helps us answer it. There are a vast number of clinical trials addressing such different kinds of teaching practices. You can read about this in any of the books by Rod Ellis
The literature on this point is clear that some instructional practices have more powerful efficacy.

Posted by: Scott Sommers | August 05, 2007 at 21:17

I do not think “teachers don’t matter”. On the contrary they are critically important. But I think most university graduates are capable, with some training, to teach a language in which they are proficient.

I agree that the quality of material used makes a difference.

I am going to look into some of Rod Ellis’s stuff; perhaps my understanding will change.

Posted by: Louis | August 06, 2007 at 06:07

So you agree with the Taiwanese (and Koreans and Japanese) that all you need is a degree is music to be teaching English? Is this a binary characteristic? Or do high school graduates have some sense of this ability? Would there be an audience for whom high school graduates could be appropriate teachers? Perhaps students in poor, rural areas that can not find qualified teachers? In fact, I frequently read on the Net that all one needs is language fluency and that formal education is unimportant; as such, some of the best teachers are the high school graduates teaching illegally. If you’re going to follow this line of reasoning, you’ll need to provide me with evidence that deals with these points.

Posted by: Scott Sommers | August 06, 2007 at 10:41

Scott, now that I’ve thought about the issue a bit more, I have to agree with you. You’re right that English villages can turn out to be a big waste of money, particularly if the teacher-training or recruiting aspect of the program is not given due attention. An English village is not going to be much better than a bushiban (sp?) if the instructors don’t know what they are doing.

As far as I know, the English villages being set up in Korea are government-managed projects; as such, they are probably better nested in a thought-out educational policy context than ones created elsewhere.

I just sometimes think, however, the economic aspect of ESL program delivery is not examined closely, either by teachers or program administrators. If English language teaching is a tremendous drain on a country’s economy and balance of payments, is it any wonder that some small countries in East Asia may turn to things like English villages as a perceived solution? As a westerner, I am also sometimes leery of telling other countries how they should teach their children. An argument can be made (whether one agrees with it or not) that it’s up to each country to decide how they will educate their children. It’s their country, their children; the role of a (foreign) ESL instructor is to let them tell us how they want English to be taught, not vice-versa.

Posted by: Wayne Hall | August 07, 2007 at 02:16

I’m based in Japan, so might be missing out on something but- everyone seems to be arguing as if all the points are either/ or. Surely there is room for opera and boxing (opera= intensive business courses in London, boxing= English language theme parks)and SWAT squads and volunteer policemen…

Posted by: Alex Case | August 07, 2007 at 14:15

Thanks Wayne. I agree that the economic aspects of the issue are not clearly understood. It’s obvious that they have something to do with all this. My take on the matter is that they point to a failure in national policy. The reason for an English village is that language policy conducted through public schools has failed miserably. Instead of dealing with this problem at its source, the governments of Taiwan and Korea have chosen to distract citizens and voters with learning fashions that have no more instructional efficacy than those used in commercial language schools. The obvious solution is to adopt methods used in nations that effective language learning curriculums. The problem is that the education system is not designed for the purpose of producing a learning population but rather to socialize citizens based on their mastery of political information.

Posted by: Scott Sommers | August 08, 2007 at 01:53


Of course a BA is not a binary characteristic. As I am sure you know, it is impossible to categorize a large population according to some simple quality — like a BA — and make accurate, rigid, generalizations.

In regards to your comment on high school graduates, obviously one should not hold a teaching position without entering academia. They are unqualified such that putting them into the equation is a fallacy. It is like saying police officers do not need to go to the academy. For the situations where high school graduates are teaching English, it is probably a result of economics, and not a result of a concern for quality education.

I have question for you: what makes a university graduate unqualified?

Posted by: Louis | August 08, 2007 at 11:08

Louis, I like your reasoning.

Let’s step back and look again at what I was talking about when this topic came up. I was talking about the use of untrained English teachers at English village-type amusement parks to pretend they are police, clerks, and other types of workers. My point is that an English village is nothing more that a giant role play for and if role play in your class isn’t powerful enough to effect your children’s English proficiency, then the English Village in Taoyuan County won’t be either.

Almost all the English teaching in Taiwan is the teaching of children. Almost all the foreign teachers of English teach children. If knowledge of instructional technique doesn’t matter, then what could a high school graduate NOT know about English that would need to be taught in this situation? And if not a high school grad, what about someone who didn’t finish university, or a 2-year technical college graduate?

In fact, this argument is often given on websites for foreign English teachers. It is not at all unusual to see people argue that the “best” teachers are those with only high school graduation because they’ve had less exposure to the poor methodology of main stream education.

My suspicion about the real argument behind this is that BA holders argue that ‘a BA should be necessary’ and holders of teaching certificates argue that ‘teaching certificates should be necessary’.

Posted by: Scott Sommers | August 08, 2007 at 13:33

In Taiwan, the reality of high school graduates teaching English is increasingly disappearing. It is still alive and well in Thailand. I’ve just been surfing the Net and came across these testimonials from teachers in Thailand about teaching without a degree.
I’m not defending anything with this quote. I’m merely pointing out the widespread belief that even a degree isn’t necessary.

“I taught at a University down the road from Sukkunvit 26. There were two young Canadian graduates who attended the same University. Over the one semester they became suspicious of my teaching credentials- and they had good reason, they both attended Concordia. They were newbies to Thailand, and didn’t have a clue about Thai culture, yet they were the most obnoxious example of the ‘Degreed Class.’ And every second day, administration hounded me for requisite transcript. But the faculty held onto me for another semester. I was a regular with the other senior teachers at a hole-in-the-wall bar along the klong. Martin, the head teacher, has since had a heart attack, and the other senior qualified teachers are now full blown alkies drinking lao koa. But there was one part-timer teaching in the Faculty of English Department, who came clean and said he didn’t have any qualifications. The students loved him, and so did administration. This ‘bar stool’ teacher would come into work disheveled and stinking of a night on booze down the road at Soi Cowboy. But he couldn’t do wrong, the student’s loved him and his approach to teaching was very non-academic and effective.”

Posted by: Scott Sommers | August 08, 2007 at 17:21

I believe that an understanding of teaching methodology is an important tool, which all self-respecting teachers should study and experiment with. This is where the importance of a BA comes into play. I am under the assumption that a university education changes the way someone approaches the world: there should be analytical as well as abstract notions underlying their thinking processes; and they should be able to approach discourse in a flexible manner. (This is unfortunately idealistic.) With these skills in hand an university graduate should then be able to apply English-teaching training to the job, even if this training is done individually — that is, through reading, rather than some 1-month course. And as a result teach well.

On the other hand, if the educational infrastructure is not designed to foster education, then the system is innately flawed, and the inclusion of one positive input — such as a teacher — may have few benefits. I think this is your point regarding English language parks and the majority of commercial schools — the system is not set up to educate.

Additionally, the student, and parents if the student is a child, are the active agents in education. No matter how good or bad (to a certain limit) the system is, the student has the choice whether or not he or she will learn.

In regards to the argument that high school graduates are the best language teachers because they are not tainted by a poor educational system, all I have to say is a fun teacher is not the best teacher. And if someone is intelligent, and wants to teach, what is stopping them from getting a BA — they should want to do it; it will only make them smarter.

I might as well throw in this side comment: I do feel there is a place for academics (experts) and research in education. I have the impression that Education is inefficient, and it does not have to be like this. A little rigorous research and application could probably go along ways in benefiting humanity: a goal-oriented infrastructure, based on research, and focused on education, coupled with intelligent teachers, does not seem like a bad model. But this is also idealistic, because as you mentioned politics seems to routinely take the forefront in education — no matter where you are.

Posted by: | August 09, 2007 at 02:13

You (we) have inspired a long post on missionary blog.


It’s the first post at the moment.


Posted by: Michael Turton | August 14, 2007 at 14:27

The SSCI: A Response to Clyde Warden and Michael Turton

April 5, 2009

In the past, I have written quite critically about the Taiwan Ministry of Education’s pressure on university faculty to publish in journals listed on indexes compiled by the commercial company Thompson ISI. In addition, Dr. Ian Morely has made numerous insightful comments to these posts discussing the practical problems of this policy [See comments to these posts (1), (2) ]. In addition, I have received personal correspondence from Dr. Steven Krashen supporting my posts about the SSCI. Dr. Clyde Warden and Michael Turton, who generally support this policy, have responded to this with many excellent comments discussing the positive results this policy creates [See comments to these posts (1), (2), (3), (4)]. Recent conversations with Taiwanese professors have made me reconsider my feelings about the policy.

My limited experience speaking about this policy with Taiwanese is that they believe it is good for Taiwan scholarship. While they recognize the difficulties that I have pointed to in my posts, they are extremely critical of the research directions of work in their own fields being published in local journals. I have been repeatedly told about problems getting research published locally that was published without difficulty in the internationally recognized top journals in their area.

I have heard other interesting reasons for why local scholars feel there are positive aspects to the policy. I have been told of pride that one’s work is now being read by an international audience, rather than just local scholars. Along this line, I have been told about the feeling that joining the international research community is important for scholars in Taiwan, since much of the overseas training received by professors here was done 10 or more years ago and is now becoming dated. And it goes on and on. The point is that local scholars themselves don’t seem to feel that the problems of this system are all that serious.

I still think there are problems associated with this system. And to be frank, I was extremely flattered by Dr. Krashen’s attention. But I am coming to feel that my stubborn resistance is self-serving and neglects the wider needs of the people the system is set up to serve — the Taiwanese.



Scott, I’m very impressed to see you follow up our long discussion with a post like this. Rather than just a single opinion, your blog seems to inspire you to check out more information, which you then post. While we don’t always come closer on our opinions, this time it seems we have.

From my own perspective, I can list many strange effects the SSCI emphasis has, but you have covered the main positive one—people here generally feel comfortable with it because they live in the complex cultural milieu that brings about the need to start with.

Just out of curiosity, Scott, what kinds of fields are the professors you’ve talked to coming from?

While I still feel that the MOE’s policy distorts the professional market creating unanticipated effects, this is a trade-off. Just as I accept the market distorting effects of trade unions and welfare because of the benefits I perceive them to bring, I am coming to accept that the MOE may have greater goals in mind that are difficult to see from my standpoint.

The sources of my inspiration on this matter come from a number of differnt departments, but they include Education, Hotel Management, and Microbiology.

The Economic Migration of English Teachers in Asia

April 5, 2009

Recently, there has been a lot of attention given to my idea of English teachers in Asia as economic migrants. Much of this attention is focused on what I had to say about the children of English teachers. This discussion of the children of English teachers was initially a minor point that Mark Liberman at Language Log picked up on due to his differing personal experiences with people raised overseas. I replied to this comments, and the discussion was born.

While I have enjoyed the chance to answer Dr. Liberman’s query, the difficulties of raising children in the lifestyle of an English teacher is really a side issue that resulted from speculation on my categorization of English teachers as economic migrants. If it is the case that English teaching can only be explained as economic migration, certain other issues are bound to arise. But rather than focus on the potential social problems of English teachers in Asia, I want to try and summarize why I categorize us as economic migrants.

The Central Issue

Since sometime in the late 1980’s, an enormous number of Anglo-americans have flooded East Asia to teach English. The English teaching market for Anglo-americans existed in Asia before this time, but it appears there was little supply of teachers. Since that time, a number that I estimate to be close to a million Anglo-americans have taught English in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. This movement of people shows no sign of stopping — or even slowing down. While a large market for native-speaker English teachers exists in other Asian countries, such as China, Thailand, and Vietnam, Anglo-americans English teachers seem concentrated in the affluent regions of north-east Asia.

I have vigourously explored a number of other explanations to explain this observation but have been unable to find one more satisfactory than this. I am of course open to other explanations or even refutations of the validity of my data.

What is a Migration?

Perhaps the strongest point of disagreement I have encountered concerns what I call a ‘migration’. My use of this term is quite technical and varies somewhat from the way in which the term is used colloquially. Colloquial usage often refers to a conventional American sense of usage that distinguishes between ‘sojourners’ and ‘settlers’. A great deal was written about these concepts by sociologists and historians dating back to the 1920’s, and this ultimately led to the concept of American migration as a ‘melting pot’. This usage contrasts sharply with a more contemporary understanding of migration based on more complete data. Highly readable research based on this more contemporary understanding can be found in Immigration Reconsidered: History, Sociology, and Politics edited by Virginia Yans-McLaughlin. In this volume, one of the leading sociologists writing in this field, Charles Tilly, discusses different types of migration.
Tilly urges readers to (p. 88),

…stop thinking about migration as a single homogeneous experience and start recognizing its sharply contrasting forms.

He continues with a discussion of 5 different types of migration: colonizing, coerced, circular, chain, and career. English teaching as I am describing it resembles most closely what Tilley calls ‘career migration’ which,

…characterizes individuals and households that move in response to opportunities to change position within or among large structures, such as corporations, states, and professional labor markets.

Although I suspect that in many ways English teaching is coming to resemble ‘circular migration’, which he states,

…consists of the creation of a regular circuit in which migrants retain their claims and contacts with a home base and routinely return to that base after a period of activity elsewhere in the circuit.

A closer reading of the volumes technical literature available on the great migrations that populated the Anglo-american world, as well as South and Central America, point to several other important characteristics.
a) Return migration was extremely common. Depending on the ethnic group, return migration may have been the norm, with some individuals returning twice or even three times before finally going ‘home’ for good.
b) Migrants do not move as individuals. Rather, their movement is typified by groups that form networks of culturally and linguistically similar peoples in communities that live and often work together.
c) These migrations were not driven by poverty and desperation, but were frequently highly literate people for whom opportunity (rather than food) was the biggest drawing factor.
d) While we hear mostly of the immigrant success stories, migration is typified by vice which, depending on ethnicity, may include gambling, drug use, and prostitution and occasionally leaves behind broke, destitute migrants.

What an Explanation of English Teachers Must Explain

I have talked about this elsewhere, but here I will try to summarize why I say that English teachers in Asia are driven by economic forces.

Many individuals have written me to suggest that they personally were driven by some force other than money in their move to East Asia. I do not doubt the authenticity of any individual narrative. Nor do I doubt that the money to be made in Asia is less than in the mother country of most English teachers. However, neither of these points seems a particularly strong rebuttal of anything I have said.

“English teaching’ is a social phenomena that needs an explanation. Where did it come from? Why is there a seemingly endless mass rush out of Anglo-american nations?

An explanation of this mass exodus must explain other characteristics as well. In the past, emigration from the USA moved predominantly to other highly developed, English-speaking nations, such as Canada. While tens of thousands of people moved to such places as Japan, Mexico, and Israel, this migration was motivated by ethnic affiliation. For example, Americans Abroad: A Comparative Study of Emigrants from the United States reports that from 1970 to 1974 over 23,000 Americans emigrated annually to Japan. Almost certainly, all of them were Americans of Japanese ancestry and not white or Americans of African ancestry. The migration of English teachers would appear to be the first large scale movement of Americans to a significantly lesser developed region. Why is this decision being made now?

Anglo-american groups are represented in East Asia as English teachers in proportion to their disadvantage in their domestic labour markets. My anecdotal evidence is that English teachers are overwhelmingly liberal arts graduates. While there are some working as English teachers who have science or professional backgrounds, they represent a tiny minority. Also, I have statistical evidence that citizens of South Africa and Canada are overrepresented by teachers at the lowest level of employment while Americans are overrepresented by teachers in the most competitive jobs. If this is correct, why would it be so?

While the commercial English teaching markets of the better-paying nations are increasingly so full of teachers that businesses and governments have reacted to the oversupply, the poorer-paying markets can’t seem to attract enough. It is widely believed among teachers in Taiwan and South Korea that better paying jobs in Japan are unobtainable. This is increasingly the case in Taiwan as well. In China, Thailand, and Vietnam, on the other hand, jobs are so easily obtainable that there is no need to think of getting one as a problem. In fact, I have heard of Chinese universities knowingly hiring high schools graduates to teach their students.

The Social Problems of English Teachers

It is the social life of English teachers that I have the least factual information to refer to. Unfortunately, it is also the aspect of the discussion that attracts the most information. For example, it was my speculation that the children of some English teachers could go on to suffer from social and linguistic disadvantage that initially attracted attention to my posts.

In fact, my speculation is based on a very small sample of people that I know personally. I will readily admit that I may be way off base on this one. Still, I often wonder what will happen to those that we all know who have taught English for years, but saved absolutely no money. This may represent a fringe element of long-term foreign English teachers — although I am not really sure about this one either — but it is a problem that will occur. While Japan may have the economy and social development to handle this, South Korea and Taiwan do not.

The kind of problems I am speculating about may or may not be common enough for our growing community to be forced to deal with. But there will be problems like this, even if there are only a few, as the population of long-term foreign residents of Taiwan and other Asian nations increases.

April 08, 2004 in English Teachers as Migrants | Permalink

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Posted by: Blinger | April 10, 2004 at 12:09

I really don’t get this whole thread Scott (sorry to be dim). Without real numbers, like just how many people have moved to Taiwan for teaching English, this all just has little value. I have not seen any large change in the numbers of foreigners in central Taiwan from the early to mid 90s. And the hiring at college/university level is much less about competition for a post than the MOE’s requirements! Maybe this thread could be broken into its more specific topics and respondents like myself could give you some input on our own experiences, such as the issue with children. But right now I think you are using a very small sample to draw large conclusions based on some literature that is not quite fit for the reality we have in Asia today.
You are looking for a social theory to explain English demand, but you need not look very far. Government emphasis on education (so common in Asian countries) leads to a push for education in Western countries (at a time when local educational institutions have yet to develop fully). Simply based on size and number of schools, the USA is a good choice, and with English being required for entrance (TOEFL)there rises a demand to “cram” for the exam. I would argue that demand is dropping now, as local institutions offer enough supply to satisfy local demand for higher education. I’ve heard that numbers taking the TOFEL exam have been going down in Taiwan. By the time the whole reason for the English emphasis starts to fade (students today need more training in dealing with business in China) it has all been institutionalized. This fits in a nice way, since Chinese ethnocentrism causes “international” to be seen actually as “Western.” English fits nicely into this cenceptualization. I’m teaching at an International MBA class (at NCKU) where Asian students test into the program (required to take TOEFL) to come to Taiwan to study, but our own local students in Taiwan can enter unviersity with less emphasis on English than in the past thirty years (with some departments scoring English so low as to be no use at all).

Posted by: Clyde A. Warden | April 12, 2004 at 06:14

Clyde, I was hoping you’d add your thoughts sometime.

There is a demand and a supply side to the situation I am describing. An explanation of why there are so many foreign teachers here does not explain why they were willing to come here. You don’t make a distinction between these points in your comment, so I won’t make it in my reply. Nevertheless, you do address two fundamentally different points.

I have often found a reluctance of university-employed foreign teachers to think about the bushiban-employed English teachers academically. I know from my own experience that once I started teaching at MCU, my consciousness of foreign teachers in bushibans diminished considerably, and I began to think them as an ‘educational problems’. Quite frankly, I never meet bushiban teachers anymore.

How many foreign teachers are we talking about? I have estimated a million individuals have taught English in Asia since 1990. I admit that this is a guess, but the real number must be somewhere near that. In 1993, the National Police Agency released figures that 2,000 American passports holders had overstayed their visas in Taiwan. Sure, they may have forgotten their exit date, maybe they were in the hospital, but the NPA stated, and I agree, that the majority were working illegally as English teachers. If there were 2,000 American working illegally in just 1 year, how many foreigners in total were there teaching English? I have another link which I will post later that shows the growth in registered foreign teacher cram schools since that time and the number of foreign teachers working in schools that belong to the Taiwan Association of Cram Schools. Not surprisingly, almost all the foreign teachers registered here are employed in Taipei and Taipei County.

I believe that if you consider bushibans, the picture of education in Taiwan becomes quite different from the picture you describe. My own research indicates that between one-half and two-thirds of university students in Taiwan have been taught English by a foreign teacher. The majority of these were taught as children. The development of modern education in China very quickly brought about an alternative schooling system that stressed foreign languages and was staffed by foreign teachers. This system only disappeared because the government legislated it out of existence. The democratization of Taiwan and the rise of affluence have created a reemergence of this system. TOEFL-prep courses are the poor man’s substitute to this system; no one who can afford it would ever have to attend such courses, since they would have been educated in at least some part in English. It is in fact, TOEFL-prep that will be replaced if the conditions are correct.

Ten years ago, when I taught in Japan, I heard predictions that local teachers were already being trained to replace the foreign teachers working there. That’s true, and they have been; they just haven’t been able to regain the market. In fact, the role of foreign English teachers in Japanese language education has expanded beyond anything that existed when I taught there.

This is not a temporary trend. This will not go away. Having made this point in another posting on Foreign Teachers as Traditional Education, I have to concluse that have typed all I can type for today.

Posted by: Scott Sommers | April 12, 2004 at 14:44

Your point is well taken about the size of the private market and how we don’t see it from the university perspective. Also, the numbers you mention are a good start; I’m very interested to see more. However, my analytical bend is causing me some concern. If over half of Taiwan college students had native speakers teaching them at some time, that would require nearly 200,000 teachers at any one time. More possible is that your sample is biased (as you point out teachers concentrate in Taipei) and my numbers are biased because in reality one teacher, worked like a slave, can come into contact with hundreds, if not thousands, of kids a day.
Still, I’m not really getting your main hypothesis, which sounds like a research topic of yours. Are you centering on the question why people are leaving North America to teach here? I think you need to show that this has increased (you may find some data at the IRS related to numbers of US citizens filing tax from overseas) or is it just a rotation of people who travel overseas (our parents’ generation went to W. Germany, Italy, U.K., etc., now those travelers go to Asia.
In any case, I tend to agree with you that economic conditions is the main reason why. This, however, is not the same as economic maximization. Rather, people staying in Taiwan for long periods, and even short periods, may be driven by motives such as alternative life styles, but if Taiwan did not at least surpass a minimum economic level, these people would not come here (thus other S.E. Asian countries do not have the same influx).

Posted by: Clyde A. Warden | April 12, 2004 at 17:08

Well, setting the aside the problems of settling in the country, which is what the discussion of children moves to, (a separate topic, I agree), I think there are a number of other factors that work with the economic factors that you note. The question is whether economic factors drive the process or not. It seems a bit chicken and egg-ish to me.

When I first went to Europe almost 30 years ago, there was no infrastructure for the people you are discussing wanting to ‘migrate’. When I came to Sendai 15 years ago, there were only 6 public pay phones that you could make international calls from. One of the admitted aims of the EU was to cool down hot labour markets, so that people who were in areas where the labour market was weak could move relatively easily and hassle free to countries that needed labour. This has not been successful for the blue collar jobs because of language barriers, but it is clear that nations tolerate more movement than they did before, which is why transnational terrorism is so feared. Given that the barriers to transnational movement are so much lower, it is only natural that there is more movement. Much of the movement here is in conversation schools, which do not offer a wage that would allow people to stay, and the conditions have continued to get worse, but if you are a college graduate, it’s actually a slight step up, so you have tons of college grads coming here. I suppose you could call this ‘migration’, and you argue that the resistance is that middle class Anglo-Americans don’t like to think of themselves as ‘migrants’. You may have a point, but for me, I have a hard time equating what I have done with the movement of people for what seems like much more serious reasons.

You also have to factor in the value of the currency, which made it possible, during the bubble, to actually make quite a bit of money. This was only possible in Korea, Japan and Taiwan. however, this does not mean that those who came here were doing it for ‘economic’ reasons, which implies some mental calculus, but because these three countries represented a kind of horizontal movement. My impression is that earlier groups of migrants were actually making a move up, and this possibility of upward social movement is a necessary point to defining migration. I think you are asserting that Anglo-Americans are moving to maintain their social status. I don’t know if I agree with that, but in that sense, this is much more like colonialism than migration, if you accept my arguments about social status, though this might be even more insulting.

Some stats that might help you would be the trend in out marriages in the various countries. The stats for Japan were posted in the NBR list just recently. Good luck on this

Posted by: Joe Tomei | April 13, 2004 at 05:45

It is the last part that is particularly significant for me. In hindsight, migrants to America or where ever made a good move, but it was not always clear to them at the time that it was the right move. The USA, Argentina, and Australia were extremely underdeveloped states when Europeans first moved there. And in fact, for those who moved to Argentina, in the long run, things have not turned out all that well.

I don’t mean to compare the situation in Japan for English teachers with that of migrants to Argentina because socially, they were quite different. Argentina was a colony and the legal system was constructed to benefit foreign residents. But this is what makes the case of english teachers so interesting. It is ‘downward’ migration, if you get what I mean. It is migration into a place where the situation is worse, and in Taiwan and South Korea, it is even more obvious that the quality of life will not be as good.

I can’t escape the image I tried to describe earlier. University grads who are not willing or able to acquire business or professional skills are increasingly being forced to peripheral markets where their cultural knowledge is still valuable. I can live a good life by local standards and enjoy the amazing world that I’ve found myself in, but it really, life in Taiwan is downward mobility.

Posted by: Scott Sommers | April 13, 2004 at 14:33

University graduates who are not willing to acquire additional skills in the West are generally on a downward mobility. The folks moving to Asia (as a rule) have little to offer the business world. This is true regardless of their location.

If they stay in the West their decline in living standards can be noticeable, albeit slower. Anyone not increasing their skills, whether they live in the West or not, is facing a downward mobility.

Posted by: Scott | April 13, 2004 at 17:35

That’s true, but at least for foreign English teachers, they can enter a trade based on some inherent human capital they have as ‘native-speakers’ (what ever that means). If they want to obtain jobs that make family life possible, you are correct, most people entering the industry as commercial teachers will need skill development.

You also make a good point about how the decline in standard of living would probably occur for this group even if they stayed in their mother country. I made a similar point once when described a woman I interviewed who has a BA in English literature from a leading Canadian university. Prior to moving to Korea and teaching English, she was working at a ‘head shop’ in Toronto.

Incidentally, she now has a distance MATESOL and works in an institute that does provide long-term stability.

Posted by: Scott Sommers | April 13, 2004 at 17:54

Scott – To clarify, I meant most teachers meaning to enter ANY industry will need more skill development. English teachers (as a rule) have little experience in their field of diploma (with the exception of ‘Teaching’).

Also, to obtain an accurate count of foreign teachers in Taiwan, won’t the Immigration department in Taiwan give you the information?

Posted by: Scott | April 13, 2004 at 21:35

I don’t disagree with yoiur statement about further training. But it does need some clarification.

If you have a BA, virtually no one is going to hire you into a career-track job that pays well. If you have a BSc in engineering, computer science, or math or an MBA, that’s probably not true. In fact, if you have a BA, you will almost certainly have to get an MBA or a law degree even to have access to career-track jobs that pay well.

I have tried to get stats from the foreign affairs police, who would know very well how many visas have been issued. They told me that I would have to go to the MOE for that. A Taiwanese colleague had her research assistant phone the MOE about this. They told her to call the foreign affairs police.

I keep trying to do this, but I don’t have the connections yet.

Posted by: Scott Sommers | April 13, 2004 at 22:00

Scott – Good points.

BA – Yes, it’s tough to get a good-paying job anywhere with only a BA. Even professional teachers I know in the USA are required to continue their education every year. To keep their certifications they must take 2 classes (or so) per year. If said teachers would like to noticeably advance the ladder of their union pay-scale, they need to have an MA.

BSc – Starting a career with just a 4-year degree can get a person off to a nice looking start. But without continuing education (an MSc doesn’t hurt, and a LOT of new skill development is the norm) the pay-scale, and general employability, of a person in the private-sector drops dramatically around the 5th year of employment.

MOE, et al – Best of luck getting the stats. I would be interested in hearing how the demographics appear in Taiwan.

Posted by: Scott | April 13, 2004 at 22:28

Sorry Guys, but you are making the logical error of generalizing from a small sample. Because someone you know who took a degree in English and worked at a head shop is not the basis for any conclusions. A quick look at the education numbers quickly clears up this matter. Simply look at in the US the percentages of majors in each area of study (each college). Sure, the business college is always a big draw, but this does not mean it is the largest college. If we were to say that BAs are downward mobile, then the unemployment rate would be nearly equal, or at least realted to, the percentages of people doing BAs. In fact, there are many engineers, and MBAS who are on the uemployment roles. Liberal Arts draws large numbers of students and this gives you many examples, both good and bad.
What bothers my most about the direction of this thread is that you are using some nice words to say the simple idea that losers come to Taiwan because they have not other opportunities back home (due to economic competition). This generalization is dangerous, mainly because its variables are not defined well. I assert that the economics of it have little causational role, but may be a spurious correlate. People who are attracted to an alternative life style (that is not the MBA or professional law defined life of the U.S.A.) will be open to moving over to Taiwan. These people, due to their life style choice, were not mainstream in the U.S. to start with, and using mainstream measures, like income, leads to the wrong conclusions.
Also, keep in mind the percentages of Americans who even complete a degree, then the very small number finishing higher degrees. Maybe the population of Americans in Taiwan actually reflects these ratios, or maybe reflects the ratios of the people back in the U.S. who lead the alternative life style or values I am speaking of.
Let me be blunt: I don’t see anyone who is not open to a very different life style living in Taiwan for very long no matter what their economic situation is.

Posted by: Clyde A. Warden | April 14, 2004 at 07:46

Census data here:
You can see, less than 20% of US population even gets a BA. Professional degress are down to around 1% and Ph.D.s even less.
Would we assert that the people without degrees are all poor–far from it. Although averages show college pays off, that is only in the average, the variance is very high.
Given those small numbers, now look here:
Keep in mind the VERY small numbers of Ph.D.s, yet in this table we see the huge gap in earnings. But this is a bit of a statistical trick, since the high numbers are based on 1% of the population. If 100% of the population obtained a Ph.D. the supply and demand curve would make a radical shift, and the gap would be gone. In other words, cause and effect are often reversed when people use means.
More to my point is the small gap between some college, associates, and bachelors (keeping in mind the SD is high [not reported here]).

Posted by: Clyde A. Warden | April 14, 2004 at 08:11

Clyde – Good critique, here are some points to consider:

You completely misread anything I wrote which you took to have a tone of ‘losers move to Taiwan’ in my comments. I think (and demonstrated by my own move to Japan) that teaching english can be a great move for folks looking to fulfill their lives.

Back to the data, though. And yes I’m going to let ‘personal experience’ crowd in on this. My sample size is large enough to be valid for my point, which is: a lot of the unhappy/dis-satisfied Westerners in Asia are the very same folks who were very unhappy at home. Folks who couldn’t cut it at home are only slightly better off here. And as you pointed out – they don’t stay very long.

The folks who TRULY come to Asia for more than one reason (money, adventure, generic life-change) are the folks who are most successful from a personal fulfillment perspective.

As for my generalizations for BA/BS/Continuing education conclusions – its based on the salary data I studied in college in the early 90s. I don’t think it’s changed significantly since then.

As for your assumption that downward mobility equals unemployment is wrong. Downward mobility isn’t continuous, and it doesn’t end with ‘no job’. It usually continues for years with a job-that-is-lower-than-you-had-before. Getting a great job after graduation, then working in a slightly-less-desirable (but degree-related) position 10-years later is downward mobility.

Posted by: Scott | April 14, 2004 at 17:25

Scott wrote:
Scott – To clarify, I meant most teachers meaning to enter ANY industry will need more skill development. English teachers (as a rule) have little experience in their field of diploma (with the exception of ‘Teaching’).
and Scott S. added*
f you have a BA, virtually no one is going to hire you into a career-track job that pays well. If you have a BSc in engineering, computer science, or math or an MBA, that’s probably not true. In fact, if you have a BA, you will almost certainly have to get an MBA or a law degree even to have access to career-track jobs that pay well.

I think you are selling teachers (and yourselves?) a bit short. While the actual information that I needed to know to do what I’m doing now is not really significantly greater than what I left school, there are a large number skills that I and I think all teachers who have ended up staying have developed. Many develop these skills, and probably could do very well in business (think sales, or human management) and choose to stick to teaching because the idea of the rat race is not on. I don’t know about your background, so I don’t know how long you’ve been teaching, but if you have put in some time, your ability to know how to deal with students, how to manage time, how to cope with problems that arise in the course of a term have all been honed and refined.

In addition, people often go into teaching not so much from economic motivation but from time considerations. I honestly couldn’t imagine working in a cubicle or even as an up and coming lawyer or other white collar job. I have too many things I want to do in my free time to be tied to an 8 to 5 job. I feel a bit guilty about being selfish about that, but I like to think that I’m doing good (after a fashion.)

Posted by: Joe Tomei | April 14, 2004 at 17:28

Joe – Good point about transferring of skills learned from teaching. You hit the nail on the head for the ‘rat race’ aspect of teaching.

I have thought a lot about how much my teaching experience would/will help me when I go back to a real job. And every time I revisit the issue, I realize that I’m not quite ready to head back to a ‘real job’ (read: in a cubicle).

It’s also struck me that the Commonwealth provision for a “Working Holiday” visa is a great idea. You get out of your present situation for a year, and can experience something/someplace else for a year. And you can pay your bills as you do so. A great idea.

Posted by: Scott | April 14, 2004 at 18:54

I see your point better now and I think I have a grip. I still don’t see this as a clear research topic, due to the difficulty of clear variables. But what you and Joe have said makes sense. I would also point out that I know many professors here who have taken large cuts in pay, from half to a third of what their U.S. pay would be.

The downwardly mobile thing, though, I think is really unclear, and sounds like a sociological construct. As a business prof. I tend to see things a bit differently. Since job/pay structure are pyramid shaped, thus, by deffinition the number in higher/lower positions does not significanlty change, with those seen as benefiting the firm more in a higher post moving up that structure, and for everyone who moves up, one must move down–it is a zero-sum game. Maybe a core point you are touching on is that moving over the Taiwan could remove one from that zero-sum game, since the demand for English here almost guarantees always having opportunity to work in a job that is socially at the highest runk of the Confucius Ladder.

Posted by: Clyde A. Warden | April 15, 2004 at 07:34

I will post more in the days to come, but I’d like to make a quick comment about the pyramid.

It is a good way to illustrate my point. The pyramid is not static and its internal structure has changed dramaticaly over our lifetime. For every Canadian with an MA in sociology who ends up in Taipei teaching university, there is an Indian software engineer who migrates to California.

Posted by: Scott Sommers | April 15, 2004 at 09:09

Clyde – How does the ‘zero-sum’ pyramid account for a growing (or shrinking) company? That is, when the company is laying off a great percentage employees, how does the zero-sum game you propose stay in tact?

Posted by: Scott | April 16, 2004 at 00:24

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Posted by: nablyncasmus | March 30, 2009 at 03:27

The Family Lives of Foreign English Teachers in Taiwan

April 5, 2009

In a series of posts several years ago, I talked about aspects of the family life of English teachers. Mark Liberman at Language Log picked up on this and responded that he did not think my points were supported by his own and other’s experience being raised outside their countries. My response was that the lives now being created in vast numbers for foreign English teachers in Asia are not like those generally experienced by people living outside their countries. In this post, I want to elaborate on my earlier statement by drawing from some official statistics of Taiwan’s National Police Agency.

Kerim Friedman passed along this link of Excell spread sheets from the ROC National Police Agency. The information they contain addresses the number of foreign residents in Taiwan and what they’re doing here. I believe the information they contain adds to my description of the distorted family lives available to foreign English teachers.

Foreign English Teachers in Taiwan

First, I would like to compare the profile of English teachers provided by the NPA data with the MOE data I discussed in the past.

Form #4 shows that in 2005, there was nearly half a million (429,703) foreign residents in Taiwan. More than half of these (297,287) were employed as ‘Foreign Workers’, but the Chinese is probably better translated as ‘labourer’ or ‘general worker’. At the time of the count, there were 6630 ‘Teachers’ in Taiwan. This number corresponds well with the numbers I obtained from an MOE website set up for buxiban operators.

Form #6 shows the large number of Canadians living in Taiwan. Canadians are the single largest nationality employed in Taiwan as ‘Teachers’. I have previously talked about the dominance of Canadians as foreign English teachers in Taiwan. Form #6 indicates that 1,783 Americans are employed here as ‘Teachers, compared with 1,897 Canadians. The ‘Others’ category contains 1,129 people listed as ‘Teachers’, seemingly confirming my guess that most are South African.

The Children of Foreigners in Taiwan

Form #6 also contains information on the number of residents in Taiwan under 15 years old. Americans are much more likely to have children than any other nationality. In fact, the difference and its pattern is so striking that further discussion is warranted.

I obtained the number of adults of a given nationality by adding the number of workers from Form #6 to the number of ‘Unemployed’ from Form #6. This latter category includes ‘Homemaker’ and students. If we then divide the number of foreign residents under 15 from Form 6 with the number of adults from our calculation, we get the ratio for children per adult of that nationality living in Taiwan. For example, for Americans I made the following calculation,

1,822 Unemployed, etc

+ 4,937 Workers

= 6,759 Adults ( + 3,727 under 15 = 10,486 Total)

3,727 under 15 / 6,759 Adults = .551

If the number is 1.0, this would mean there is 1 child in Taiwan for every adult of that nationality. If the number is .1, this would mean 1 child for every 10 adults of that nationality. In this case, the number .551 indicates slightly more than half a child per adult American or slightly more than one child per married American couple.

The most normal family composition is found among residents from the USA. In fact, the .551 children per adult obtained from Americas means that in a household composed of 1 man and 1 woman, there would be 3.1 people, which is slightly smaller than the US national average for family size in 2001.

Trailing the USA, but still reasonably ‘normal’ are the industrial neighbors of Taiwan.

Japan .254

Korea .224

The next and largest category contains a wide diversity of nations. The striking fact about this category is that it includes many advanced nations, although they generally come out at the top of the range. The major exceptions to this rule are Canada and the UK who compare more with Malaysia and India.

Germany .195

Singapore .193

Australia .190

France .176

India .133

UK .117

Canada .116

Malaysia .103

Not surprisingly, the numbers we get for nationalities where the majority of citizens are employed as general workers in factories, construction sites, and homes are extremely small, indicating that very, very few of them have children in Taiwan.

Indonesia .004

Philippines .002

Vietnam .0005

Thailand .0008

Employment and Family Structure

Korean, Japanese, and particularly Americans living in Taiwan generally appear to live in households whose composition resemble a household in their native country. This is a significantly different pattern than found among Australians but particularly Canadians and British. Among these nationals, approximately one in eight residents of Taiwan have a child. As I stated above, the household of an average American married couple would have 3.1 people. An average married Canadian couple’s household would have only 2.2 people. What explains this difference?

Among the Anglo-American nations, the rank ordering of percent working as ‘Teachers’ is identical to the rank ordering of family size: Canada, UK, Australia, USA. The vast majority of Canadians (63.4%) over 15 living in Taiwan are employed as ‘Teachers’. This is also true for Brits (48.6%) and Australians (31.2%). Compare this with the same number for the USA (26.1%). Virtually no Korean adult (1.2%) or Japanese adult (6.3%) residents are working as ‘Teachers’.

One further calculation supports this relationship between employment as a ‘Teacher’ and family size. Subtracting the number of teachers from the total number of adults and using this number in the calculation of adults per child yields .446 for Canadians and .336 for Australians – numbers more in-line with those obtained for Americans residents.

The Families of English Teachers in Taiwan

These numbers are not powerful evidence, but they do act as an indicator in the direction I discussed previously. There appears to be a relationship between working as a foreign English teacher and an absence of children in one’s household. At least foreign nationalities in Taiwan represented by large numbers of citizens working as English teachers have fewer children than those working in business or other non-education occupation. Several factors could explain this.

English teachers tend to be young. The occupation has a very high turn over rate and as a result, the median age remains very low, probably in the mid-20’s. This does not however explain why the occupation has such a high turnover rate. In this post, I described English teaching as an entry-level job in the culture industry, comparing it with workers in America’s ethnic food industry. As I described in this post, the career path would either be up or out. Some English teachers would go on to establish their own schools or professionalize to such a degree that they could enter authentic teaching jobs and compete against Taiwanese. The majority would reject these options, and like South Asian workers, return home.

This post leaves many questions unanswered. What is it about English teaching that deters teachers from having families? The money and liberty afforded members of the occupation is reasonable. It would appear that other factors play a significant role in the decision to defer starting a family until other work is available. Another interesting problem lies in the relationship between English teaching and Canada. While it is clear that economic problems in parts of Canada have contributed to the dominance of Canadians working as English teachers, is there a status significance implied in this? Certainly whenever this issue (or the issue of South Africans as English teachers) is raised on this or other sites, comments emerge that seem to point to Canadians as subordinate cultural representatives of the West. If this is true, it would not be the first time that Anglo-American speakers of English have been demarcated into different classes based on their nationalities.

January 01, 2007 in English Teachers as Migrants | Permalink

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I’d be curious how many of the families with children reflect Taiwanese holding foreign passports?

Posted by: Kerim Friedman | January 01, 2007 at 14:30

The interesting thing to me is that only about half of the American children in Taiwan are registered at the Taipei American School. There’s no where near enough space at international schools for all those kids. Where are they getting their schooling?

Posted by: Scott Sommers | January 01, 2007 at 19:51

I know a number of Americans here who send their children to public schools.

Posted by: Mark | January 02, 2007 at 03:30

I know some foreign families have children attending public school. But there must be a lot of them, given the NPA numbers. Kerim’s comment reminded me of the possibility that some significant number of American families may be Taiwanese families who have obtained American passports and now have their children at what I have heard called ‘Chinese’ schools. It would be interesting to know more about this.

Posted by: Scott Sommers | January 02, 2007 at 08:00

It is not possible for a person whose income derives only from teaching in a bushiban to have two children and send them both to international schools, as I know from bitter experience, that requires serious wealth. Hence, they either homeschool or send them to local school. All of the teachers I know here do one or the other; I do not know even a single one who has a kid in the local international school unless they teach there.

The main reason people do not have families here is the educational problem. The local schools suck (sorry, Clyde!), homeschooling sucks down time and energy, the international schools are full of snotty cliques — at the religious schools you have the added bonus of religion-based cliques — which a mere teacher’s children will never be a part of, as I also know from bitter experience.

This means that keeping up the language skills of the child in the local school is particularly difficult, and I know of several half-US, half-Taiwanese kids who live at home with the ‘rents but go to local schools whose English is seriously bad. Another reason to home school, I’d say.

Until the English language problem is comprehensively and affordably solved, then people will not bring their kids here and will not start families — and that failure may in fact be deliberate policy, to discourage in-migration….

Why do Americans have kids here? Probably a lot more corporate types — most of the big MNCs here are US, after all.


Posted by: Michael Turton | January 02, 2007 at 13:21

BTW, is there any indication that the number of teachers is tailing off as demand from China sucks people over there?


Posted by: Michael Turton | January 02, 2007 at 13:26

Michael, thank you very much for the comment. This is much the same argument I made in some of my original posts on the matter. Particularly this post
Although some readers, including Mark Liberman at Language Log, were skeptical of the idea, I believe that almost every long-term resident knows of families suffering from the problems you describe.

As for the exodus to China situation, in short, the answer is yes and no. The salaries for foreign teachers are so low in China I doubt it will ever be able to dent the Taiwan market. Taiwan is probably the easiest to enter of the Asian English markets with a reasonable standard of money. The exodus to China is however a major issue among top international schools. In fact, it was the genesis of the major tuition increase at the Taipei American School that resulted in this post

Posted by: Scott Sommers | January 02, 2007 at 17:56

Kerim, I’m not sure how many American families can be accounted for by Taiwanese holders of American passports. I have further reason to believe that most of this effect is the result of the childlessness of foreign English teachers.

The average household size in Japan is somewhere around 2.6 and dropping. The average household of a married Japanese couple is 2.308 people. That’s 1.9 times more children per household in Japan.

In Canada, the average household contained 2.6 people in 2001 and is apparently on the way up. In Taiwan, the average married Canadian household would be 2.232 people. That’s 2.59 times more children in a household in Canada.

Posted by: Scott Sommers | January 02, 2007 at 23:11

I have read most of your posts on English Teachers as Migrants. Unlike many of the commenters I don’t teach in university. I have been teaching in kindergarten, elementary schools, high schools , bushibans and language schools for almost a decade which will probably get my views quickly dismissed from this board.

I also don’t have any of the hard statistical evidence you claim to have, just annecdotal observations. But I have seen 1000s of English teachers come and almost always go.

All the families I refer to have ESL teachers as the primary breadwinner.

I know a few couples where both parents are ex-patriates and they send their children to local schools because of the desire for their children to learn Chinese.

Almost all of the mixed couples I know with children (at least one parent as an ESL teacher) send their children to local school. For the same reasons Michael posted.

I do know some professionals (usually American) who all send their children to Morrison.

I also know of an equal number of former ESL teachers who moved to back to their home countries once they started families or after their children became school aged. Education and the environment being the deciding factors.

In my opinion most Canadian English Teachers don’t have children for many of the same reasons as most other 20 something Candian University grads, debt. Which I think you’d agree is the primary reason many come to Asia in the first place.

I am also interested in the numbers that Kerim is interested in as I have family members and many friends who would be in that category.

In addition, I know of a few teachers who have left for or are planning to go to China. Not many, but more in the last six months than in the past 9 years combined. None of these people are going to work at international schools, they all claim either adventure or to improve Chinese skills.

I also find it interesting that you talk about the lack of job prospects of people with BAs leading them to Asia when half of the foreign teachers at my school (5) don’t even have BAs.

Posted by: Elliott | January 03, 2007 at 01:04

They’d rather spend their time on partying, booze and vacations than starting a family?

Posted by: The Taipei Kid | January 03, 2007 at 08:00

Or they do this in lieu of starting a family. Ironically, the stories that get told about the wild lives of foreign English teachers (both by locals and by themselves) parallel the stories that were told about Chinese migrant workers to Hawaii minus the racial prejudice. For an interesting description of this, I recommend Clarence Glick’s classic on the matter, Sojourners and Settlers.

Posted by: Scott Sommers | January 03, 2007 at 08:08

oth by locals and by themselves) parallel the stories that were told about Chinese migrant workers to Hawaii minus the racial prejudice.

But isn’t it telling such stories racial prejudice?

…great insight. all over the world, foreigners are licentious and we locals are the soul of propriety.

Posted by: Michael Turton | January 04, 2007 at 21:37

Thank you for asking this question. I deliberately chose the word prejudice’ over the other term -‘racism’ – for this very reason. What I meant to imply was the structural organization of English teaching is not the result of a systematic categorization of foreigners as problematic or even different. I believe that Taiwanese are quite race indifferent (but that’s another issue). Rather, this situation results from the way in which some foreign English teachers are conveniently come to be labeled as ‘transient’ or ‘sojourner’. Diplomats, expat management hires, and government consultants are not labeled as wild party booze hounds; English teachers are. And this label is then used to explain everything about them. Including the structural problems that come from their disorganized workplace. The disorganization of their workplace isn’t used to explain their deviation from common Western lifestyles. The fact that even by local standards, foreign teachers are often oppressed and stuck in a dead-end workplace with no profession mobility is never used to explain this deviation. But the label itself does not, I believe, come from systematic racial prejudice.

I just want to go back to an old debate we had when I initially raised this issue. When I initially broached the idea of English teaching as a migratory movement, there was some concern that I was bordering on the old ‘English teacher as loser’ position. My point is quite the opposite. I believe that it is ‘the English teacher as adventurer’ that is the ideological flip side of ‘English teachers as losers’. Adventurers do adventurous things, like go to wild parties, chase girls, and spend all their money going to see the Angor Wat. Adventurers don’t want permanent jobs with security and pensions. Thus, defining a whole class of workers as adventurers makes it easy to ignore their demands to be treated like responsible adults.

How’s that?

Posted by: Scott Sommers | January 04, 2007 at 22:06

here here. Well said Scott. I think it is fairly obvious that is the case. Most teachers come here planning their time here as temporary so of course they don’t have kids.

Posted by: David May | January 06, 2007 at 02:16

But I would add to that, there really is no choice about the matter since the job is structured to make this extremely difficult.

Posted by: Scott Sommers | January 06, 2007 at 09:15

Foreign English Teachers as Economic Migrants

April 5, 2009

The bushiban along with its Korean and Japanese counterparts have always been available as forms of education. There were entrance exam preparation schools in the Meiji Period. There were foreign teachers teaching in these schools even back then. But they were not a form of mass education, as they are today. How did this come about?

In a posting on the foreign teacher as traditional education, I described how I believe that their use makes some sort of cultural sense to Asians. It is beyond me to explain why that would be the case, but the permanence and stability of the use of foreign teachers as language instructors, even in the face of government censor seems to point to some extremely powerful source for the demand. But this is only half the story of how foreign teachers could become mass education. The flip side of this is the supply. Where have all these foreigners come from? And more significantly, why?

The rise of affluence and democracy that Asians experienced beginning in the 1980’s coincided with a downturn in the employment of certain types of university graduates in the Anglo-American, English-speaking world. Beginning at this time, it became extremely difficult for liberal arts graduates to find work. The market that had always existed for foreign teachers of language suddenly had a huge supply of teachers. The flow of liberal arts graduates gradually became so great that even the vast markets of Japan and South Korea were not large enough to employ them all.

The suggestion that foreign teachers of language are fundamentally economic migrants seems to be very disturbing to many foreign English teachers. When confronted with this suggestion, almost no one will admit that they are teaching in Asia for economic reasons. Reasons I am frequently told when discussing this topic include a desire for adventure, interest in Asia, or romantic companionship. None of these are the reasons I have told when interviewing foreign teachers about the details of their lives before teaching English. I have also posted questions on major Internet bulletin boards asking this question. Under such circumstances, I have never been told anything other than economic reasons.

This is not to say that the foreign teachers I interviewed were unemployed before they came to Asia. This is also not true. While I have not interviewed the youngest teachers working here, the teachers I spoke to were all working, but indicated that they felt either underemployed or that advancement was blocked for either personal or market reasons.

The significance of this is that very few individuals who end up teaching English ever thought of themselves as educators or even of becoming an educator. This is particularly important in understanding the situation in Taiwan and South Korea where the vast majority of work involves working with young learners. I have met very few foreign teachers of language who had anything to do with young children before they became language educators in Asia. In fact, the large number of males working with young learners here stands in sharp contrast with the demographics of young child educators in North America and Europe.

March 24, 2004 in English Teachers as Migrants | Permalink

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I would like to talk about myself and the reasons I came to Asia. But first my observations are in total agreement with what you have written. Which leads me to conclude that an awful lot of teachers are deluding themselves about why they are here as well as why the continue to remain despite the many “horror” stories of mistreatment and lack of payment or breaches of contract.

I came to Asia to fulfil an ambition to get more than book knowledge about Asian culture. My degree is Asian Studies and I felt that book knowledge was insufficient compared to actual experience. I did however get sidetracked, when I moved to Vancouver, with a pretty good job and the need to maintain my student loan payments. However I ended up being irrevocably “promoted” to a position I did not enjoy and was forced to resign from the company. At that time I made plans to go to Singapore but ultimately ended up in Korea where I have been ever since.

I guess part of the reason I am here is economic, it would’ve been very difficult to find a good job quickly without defaulting on my loans. So I came back to the original plan of living and travelling in Asia. I figured I could teach to support myself while I decided what I wanted to do for a living. However I discovered I love teaching (not kids: they are the devils spawn but I did for 1 year anyhow) and had a knack for it. Since my first month I have been reading books on teaching theory and practice and have finally gotten around to doing my Masters in Applied Linguistics (TESOL).

While in Korea, I found a career and love (wife and child), otherwise I would not remain here. If I did not enjoy what I do I could not live here for seven years. I do think that most long-term English teaching ex-pats have found a niche for themselves and enjoy teaching. If you do not enjoy it, how could you possibly stay longer than one contract at most two.

There are definitely a lot of cowboys teaching and if you ever read Dave’s cafe you will know who they are by the way they talk about their life and teaching in general. We all know there are crap jobs, but if you have the right attitude and try hard you can be the cream on the top of the cup and not the coffee ground at the bottom.

I’m sorry, this post has sort of rambled a little off-topic but I wanted to share.

Posted by: Blinger | March 24, 2004 at 17:09

Spot-on article.

I completely agree with your premise – working here (Japan, Korea or Taiwan) is an economic decision. Yes, there are many secondary reasons to teach in Asia (asian women being #1). More socially-acceptable reasons abound (foreign culture, gain a world-view, and so forth) – but they are all secondary justifications.

I came to Japan because the job situation in the USA was/is poor. I’m 32 and luckily I had/have enough maturity to deal with the many issues that the younger teachers found to be major problems. Almost all of the ‘problems’ associated with living in Asia are variants of the same problem back home. But the problems in Asia are writ large by the young worker’s assumption that the job/life-style would be almost effort-free.

The secondary reasons to live in Asia only apply after the first test is passed: “Can I live in Asia with an adequate life-style?” And compared to the USA right now – the answer is yes.

Posted by: Scott | March 26, 2004 at 23:09

Two years ago, while working on my Masters degree in Counseling in Florida, I met a wonderful man from Taiwan and we got married. After graduation, I came to Taiwan to join him (only temporarily), that was almost two years ago. Still in Taiwan and will probably be here for the next 3-4 years (his military obligations prevents us from going back to Hawaii) and then return to Hawaii to begin our new life.
My military career allowed me the opportunity to travel all over the world, including South Korea, Middle East and the Philippines; I have never had the problems I’m now experiencing in Taiwan. I just cannot pathom how foreign people (who are familiar with a much more organized society) can live here for any lenght of time! Sure, jobs in the U.S. are sometimes tough (depends on where you are and your qualifications) but at least you have rights. As an American (human being for that matter), I must have the basic necessities in life met(e.g., clean air and basic human rights)to be happy. I have never been anywhere where a man can openly chastise (yelling in public and finger pointing) a woman without knowing who she is–seem to be a norm among Taiwanese people. As far as for economic reasons, $15.00 per hour @ 20 hours per week will definitely not make me a rich person. Even if you work for a public university making NT70,000 per month, that equals to only $2,000 per month in the U.S.–that’s about how much I made every two weeks sans benefits.
Many people come to Taiwan for many reasons and I respect that; however, if you come here thinking you will make tons of money, I’d say, think again.

Posted by: Liza Li | March 27, 2004 at 11:30

While I appreciate everyone’s comments and contribution to this discussion, I would like to steer it away from personal testimony. What I mean by the term ‘economic migration’ is perhaps not as clear for others as it is for me. Let’s take a break on this one until my next posting this week, which is aimed at clarifying what I mean.

Thanks for input.

Scott Sommers.

Posted by: Scott Sommers | March 28, 2004 at 19:48