By Kevin Stoda
This is the second of two articles evaluating the Japanese and Taiwanese English Exchange teacher programs from a foreign exchange teacher’s perspective.
As a lifelong international educator, at this junction in their educational development, I am particularly worried about the tendency in East Asian countries to subcontract the incoming- exchange-teacher position to a third party who does not have enough stake (or even significant power of persuasion) in areas of the long-term successes, goals, or overall achievements of these international exchange teacher projects.
The first article I wrote on this topic was entitled “Comparison of Two Large Foreign English Teacher and Internationalization Projects in East Asia” (2011). In this original work, I reviewed some milestones in both Japan and Taiwan concerning their foreign exchange teacher projects and noted some instances of successes in both projects.
In addition, I reviewed some of the shortcoming of both the Japanese and Taiwanese projects’ s—but to a limited degree.
In this article, I will specifically look at the limits imposed on the projects’ attainments and successes which are caused by the growing negative tendency in Asia for educational institutions and governments to outsource responsibility for the incoming foreign exchange teachers. This outsourcing diminishes local sense of efficacy and reduces the participation of stakeholder in the exchange teacher projects.
At the time that the first writing on this topic was published, information on the FET program in Taiwan (written in English) was sparse–and sadly remains surprisingly sparse. However, one important new addition on the internet has been the Ministry of Education (MOE) in Taiwan’s page:
The Taiwanese MOE on this site has made very clear what the goals for would-be-exchange-teachers would be. Namely, the Foreign Exchange Teacher project seeks to ensure that:
(1)–Participating teachers will grow professionally as a result of the exchange of instructional practices and strategies
(2)–Students in Taiwan will gain first-hand knowledge, appreciation, and understanding of the English language
(3)–All participating countries benefit from this collaborative relationship, which [should] enhances international awareness and understanding
In many ways, these three modest goals of the MOE in Taiwan are fairly similar to those of the Assistant Language Teacher and JET programs in Japan and the English Program in Korea (EPIK) projects. (There is also another similar project in China called the NET or Native English Teacher program.)
Specifically, the older projects—the JET and other ALT(Assistant Language Teacher) projects–in Japan which date back into the 1980s were conceived by several different ministries and regional organizations working with each other in and through various Japanese government agencies. These groups of intergovernmental actors were determined to create a long term project and work in coordination with one another to improve Japanese foreign relations and image in the world.
In short, Japan of the 1980s set out to create the world’s largest teachers exchange project, the JET Programme, a project largely focused on goals of related to improving international communication. The main path breaker for these foreign exchange teacher projects in Japan today continues to be the JET programme, which still “seeks to foster ties between Japanese citizens (mainly youth) and JET participants at the person-to-person level.”
JETs and ALTs
According to JET websites today, “The Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme aims to promote grass roots internationalization at the local level by inviting young overseas graduates to assist in international exchange and foreign language education in local governments, boards of education and elementary, junior and senior high schools throughout Japan.”
As part of the methodology of achieving these grass-roots goals, the “JET participants are placed in contracting organizations throughout Japan. Contracting organizations consist of 47 prefectural and 18 designated city governments, individual city, town and village governments, and some private schools. JET participants sign their terms and conditions with their contracting organization and as such, they are under the jurisdiction of the local authority which employs them. CLAIR implements the JET Programme at the national level in conjunction with three Japanese Ministries.”
The number of countries sending participants to Japan had risen over the years– from about one thousand in 1986 to nearly 10, 000 participants in the late 1990s. However, in 2011 the number of participants in the JET Programme had dipped to 4,330 participants (from 39 countries).
One reason there are less JETs today is that many communities in Japan have been allowing private recruiters to vet and hire the incoming assistant language teacher (ALT) or CIRs (Coordinators of International Relations, who must be fluent in Japanese). In addition, a small number of ALTs and CIRs are hired directly through local governments or cities.
The JET Programme is a government sponsored program of Japan. It is functions as the result of a group of bodies that have created a semi-permanent intragovernmental organization that still supports the original goals of the project as established three decades ago. Major JET stakeholders include:
–The Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR), which administers the JET Programme in cooperation with local government organizations;
–Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC);
–the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA);
–Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT).
Moreover, various Japanese school districts at the prefectural-, city and township levels are also actively involved with JETs on a daily basis, too.
According to the official JET website, “CLAIR provides support for both JET participants and their contracting organizations by arranging each JET participant’s arrival and holding orientation seminars, as well as providing counseling and distributing a wide variety of essential resource materials and information.” This subcontracting of duties undertaken by CLAIR and various ministries, however, does not involve long-term commitment and contractual relationships that the hiring of private ALTs in Japan, (FETs) Taiwan, and other East Asian countries do. In short, JET participants are treated as local hires in many ways.
Thus, many JETs feel themselves welcomed into their new schools (and are expected to work in a school community like new employees for whom the employers and townsmen in the community should feel a sense of responsible to oversee and to provide a positive work- and cross-cultural exchange). In short, when a new JET arrives, certain staff members, usually a Japanese teacher of English, will be assigned to take care of and help the new JET settle in. These mentors (or kohai) will try and translate important documents and, upon request, will translate the contents of daily office meetings for the JET. They will also provide advise and counsel for those coming to live and work in Japan. Now that the JET project is so old many advanced forms of support have been developed for new JETs and continuing JETs.
A look at the home page for JET will reveal just a few of the many support projects, newsletters, and programs that JET, its participants, and organizers have spawned over the past twenty-six year.
There are numerous magazines, journals, newsletters, chatrooms, blogs, and other means of communication and venues of introspection. There are organizations of volunteers who create movies, lesson plans and are involved in Japan, Japanese culture and abroad in many different ways. This contrasts starkly with the lack of such venues, the lack of such publications and the lack of information provided to new FETs arriving in Taiwan—more than 8 years after the programs creation by the MOE in Taiwan.
On the other hand, in Japan, there are many Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) who do not arrive through the JET scheme. However, they are still vaguely expected to function indirectly in a school community similar to the (current) four thousand JETs. However, the ALTs with JET affiliation are actually not contracted by any public or private school. Instead, the ALTs are employed through recruiters. Thus, from their arrival onwards, there is less of a sense of community ownership and greater sense of distance between work place, source of paycheck, and community than is often the case for those whos are in a JET setting, i.e. where some—albeit at times vague—sense of community ownership for the JET is more likely to prevail.
It is not clear how many “ALTs without JET (or national governmental) affiliation” are functioning in Japan. However, what is certainly clear is that ALTs who are not working in Japan through the JET Programme are often receiving less pay and benefits than are ALTs who do work with JET. In all, such ALTs receive 10 to 20 percent less remuneration than do ALTs hired through the national scheme. I suspect that the pay scales chosen by the Ministry of Education in Taiwan for new FETs is similar to that of ALTs in Japan who are not working in the JET scheme. In other words, salary for FETs initially are quite low as compared to what JETs—many of whom have no teaching degree in their homeland—receive in Japan.
FOREIGN EXCHANGE TEACHER IN TAIWAN
According to the FETIT (Foreign English Teachers in Taiwan) website, the general job description of an FET (Foreign English Teacher) is as follows. The “participating teacher will assist in English language teaching of the school he/she is assigned to, including providing English language instruction to students and teachers, preparing teaching materials, offering assistance in designing effective lesson plans, and participating in activities related to English language education. Each participating teacher’s job content may vary in emphasis and proportion from one contracting school to another.”
In addition, “[e]ach participating teacher will work five days a week, eight hours a day. Total instructional hours will not exceed 24 classes (for elementary school teachers) or 22 classes (for junior high school teachers) per week. Class duration is around 40 ~ 50 minutes.”
Before explaining (a) how these duties compare to the expectations in Japan for ALTs and JETs and (b) how these duties be carried about differently among schools within Taiwan–where FETs are actually employed–, I should note that I worked as an ALT (through JET) in rural Niigata prefecture from 1992-1994 and 16 years later worked in Taiwan on the most remote island from the main island for 10 months as an FET.
In Taiwan there are almost no direct local hires working as a FET. Likewise, almost everyone teaching as a FET in Taiwan is hired through a private recruiting agency. In short, in terms of hiring and paycheck, the FET positions resemble the role of privately hired ALTs in Japan. (The major exception is that the money allocated for the FET’s salary are paid for directly from a budget given each school by the MOE, but in most cases the hiring process for the FET almost entirely circumvents any local school decision-maker & any other ministry official who could or should otherwise take ownership for the hire.) From the outset, the local community—or communities–thus has little awareness as to how much stake they should or could have for the FET. They have outsourced the hiring process.
Because the JET in Japan is limited to three years of total employment, the local Japanese teachers of English see the (ALT or) JET as less of a threat to his or her long-term employment. This can be contrasted with Taiwan where reluctance to hire FETs has been the result of labor issues between national and local teachers’ groups and the MOE. One reason for this is that there is fear that a foreigner will take a local Taiwanese’s job away from him.
This fear by local teachers is partially present because the FET program is not an intra-governmental organization–as is the case in Japan. The FET program is run almost entirely at the beck-and-call of the MOE, and local authorities do not even pay a penny (or a Yuan) for the Foreign Exchange Teacher. The FET is thus not necessarily seen by teachers and local administrators as part-and-parcel of a great national and international project involving the future of Taiwan, i.e. in terms of building better foreign and international relations. (This is to be contrasted with the foreign ministry and local authorities in Japan’s involvements with planning and carrying out JET for nearly three decades now.)
It should be noted, however, that, in Taiwan, teachers and educational administrators are not prohibited from striking. Thus, they hold less national political clout than in some countries, so, due to the lack of control at the national and regional levels, individual teachers, teacher organizations, and their local allies in find themselves often in an adversarial position with the MOE. Local Taiwanese officials and teachers, hence, appropriately do what they can to protect local teaching positions. This means that the newcomer FET may find him- or herself hardly integrated into the community in which he or her lives, i.e. as compared to similar cases in Japan, i.e. where intra-communal or intra-governmental cooperation is older and more common than in Taiwan.
NOTE: Some of the secretiveness and go-it-alone mentality of ministries and local schools in Taiwan may have to do with the fact that the country was under martial law for 4 decades (which ended starting in the late 1980s), and fuller democratization of national and local institutions needs to occur before trust can be built or rebuilt across the land. In other words, the country of Taiwan is still sometimes in a siege-mentality and circling-the-wagons comes naturally, i.e. before intra-governmental cooperation often does. This situation has delayed Taiwan’s international relations offensives to lag for decades. This is because an anti-foreigner spirit can raise its head easily; so, there is thus less playroom for a new-comer to move into a community and help “internationalize” it. (This can only change over time and with more activity on the local school and community’s part, i.e. many still don’t see a need to internationalize any faster than they are.)
MY ROLE as a FET
I was assigned to a work role which fairly well fit the minimal description as outlined by the FETIT website above. I taught in both elementary schools and junior highs—mostly in a team teaching situation, as I did when I taught in Japan in the early 1990s. However, as an established instructor, I was also eventually able to plan and lead classes more—often teaching on my own by the end of the second semester.
Likewise, as in Japan, I saw my work to be similar to that of “a butterfly”. I would regularly observe, use, try-out, and take good ideas from one classroom and one teaching situation and use them in another classroom or in another school with a different colleague and a different set of students on a weekly basis.
In addition, similar to when I was in Japan, I was partially supported in running some of my own language contests. (See link below for an example of such a contest.)
As indicated above, in Japan from 1992-1994 , I had seldom taught lessons by myself as a JET. The program I worked on there at that time involved a greater focus on improving methods of high school English teachers. Many of these teachers were hyper-test-focused instructors as is or was the case in Asia (for millennia already, i.e. dating back to Confucian’s era0 .
In contrast, by the 2010-2011 period in Taiwan, a decade of English TV programs and the spread of the internet had made my job of teaching more communicative-and fun English lessons easier. These motivating kinds of ESL lessons are the staple to which Taiwan elementary schools and young teaching staff are striving to provide during the first 6 years of school for their children.
Sadly, however, the local teachers’ organizations and administrators at the junior high school level were not as supportive of fun English and English immersion. Of my English teaching colleagues, the junior high schools felt that normally only the elite students could or should focus beyond what standardized testing required.
This meant for me that as the final exams approached at the end of the terms and at the end of each school year, I saw less and less of older and weaker students—who were, instead, asked to cram for the exams instead of meeting with me in or out of class. In this aspect, I felt like I was back in the old Japanese rural high schools of the 1980s and 1990s, i.e. before the JET Programme had forever changed language delivery in that East Asian country.
The third article on this topic will be concerning: “CONTRACTORS & SEMI-ADVERSARIAL NEGLECT”
Foreign English Teacher in Taiwan, http://fetit.eng.ntnu.edu.tw/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=43&Itemid=62
“The goals of the JET Programme”, http://www.jetprogramme.org/e/introduction/goals.html
“Three Types of JET Positions”, http://www.jetprogramme.org/e/introduction/positions.html
“Welcome to the JET Programme”, http://www.jetprogramme.org/e/introduction/index.html
“Who supports JET?”, http://www.jetprogramme.org/e/organisations/index.html