Foreign Teacher Training Institutions: The Only Qualification Necessary is a Foreign Face

Foreign Teacher Training Institutions: The Only Qualification Necessary is a Foreign Face
Jul 25, 2014 By

Editor’s note: In this translated article, reporters from the 21st Century Business Herald investigate hiring practices at well-known English teaching institutions in China. Although their findings shouldn’t be surprising, they found that many teaching centers simply hire foreign teachers based on looks rather than qualifications. With teaching schools charging enormous sums to well-meaning parents, is it time to tighten the reigns on hiring practices and monitor the industry more closely? 

Foreign teachers in China
Photo: jaaron

Domestic English courses in China are mainly divided into two tracks. One track is examination based in which students prepare for the TOEFL, IELTS and other exams. New Oriental is an example of a training center based around this track. The other category is based on applied English. Institutions in this vein include Web International English, EF English First Education, Wall Street English and more. Regardless of the type of English training institution, they all have “foreign teachers” as important symbolic representatives.

For those who do not know the inside story, it seems that all foreigners are natural born “teachers” and that “teacher training” courses with fees often over ten thousands Yuan are just scams.

Over the last month, reporters from the 21st Century Business Herald found through an investigation that many formal training institutions seemingly have qualified teachers. The teachers were capable and had met the “requirements” necessary for the job. However, many of these teachers are not actually qualified for the job. Training institutions often have no set curriculum and the foreign teachers do not have the correct qualifications. Some training institutions do this in order to meet the requests of students who wish to be taught by foreign teachers, even if their only qualification is a foreign face. Many foreigners take advantage of this when looking for a teaching job.

Foreigners= Teachers?

Jason (pseudonym) is in his twenties. He traveled from Boston to China over two years ago and is currently a student at Beijing Language and Culture University. In his spare time, Jason tutors English to students in their own homes. He previously taught English in China and worked for a number of different training institutions. Jason said that he once applied for a job at a Beijing English training institution without any of the proper documentation or qualifications. He had not studied anything related to English education while in university and he was not qualified to teach English to Chinese students. However, the training center said that this was “no problem.” Jason easily received a job after his “interview” with the institution.

Enrico (pseudonym) from Italy has a similar story to Jason’s. Enrico told reporters from the 21st Century Business Herald that when he applied at English training institutions, those responsible for hiring “only looked at my passport and did not care about anything else. The contract signed by both sides was very simple and only dealt with things like number of classes taught and payment.”

“Many elementary schools hire foreign teachers. They only care about their ‘foreign’ faces. With foreigner teachers present, students’ parents will feel that the school is both professional and capable,” said Enrico.

How do “foreign teachers” get in contact with schools? Or, how do schools find these so-called teachers to hire? Enrico said that there are specialized agencies that deal with making these connections. Schools also often look for foreign teachers themselves through websites with a high number of active foreigners. The pay for these “teachers” is calculated by the hour. Teachers who speak English as their native language are paid more, usually more than 100 Yuan per hour.

Recruitment based on “judging by appearance” makes it easy for many “false teachers” to succeed in finding employment. This July, according to local media reports, Wuxi experienced a flood of foreign English teachers from different countries. The teachers spoke fluently but in their “local English dialect.” They were not native English speakers and spoke with accents. “Just because a teacher has a foreign face does not mean they are qualified to take on the role of a teacher.”

The report from the investigation criticized the fact the many foreign teachers have no teaching qualifications, no method, no responsibility, and no standardized teaching system. The young students end up imitating the foreign teacher’s strong non-native accent and the overall result is simply “disastrous.”

In fact, a number of training institutions have extremely low thresholds for their teachers. On June 28, a reporter from 21st Century Business Herald traveled to an English training center in Beijing that is known for hiring foreign teachers. The person responsible for recruitment at the center said that the training institution was first opened in China in 2007. The Beijing center opened in 2013 and is the only one in the city. It is mainly for children aged 3-12. The training center’s parent company is a “well-known US educational publishing organization.”

The person in charge of hiring at the center said that those with no teaching experience can work at the institution for a trial period. The trial period wages are only 1000-2000 Yuan. The wages are low during this time because “you are here to learn and you have no experience so the company has to train you.”

However, there are also some schools that do not overstate the qualifications of their foreign teachers. Hampson English, an education and training center, currently has five institutions in Beijing. On June 30, the center’s curriculum consultant told a 21st Century Business Herald reporter that each campus has 30 to 40 teachers, and classes of both children and adults. “Teaching one class for a year with 72 hours per year, the teacher would receive 28,000 Yuan.” The consultant said that Hampson now has more full-time and part-time foreign teachers than when the center was founded in 2008. “Foreign teachers need to have some kind of certification and other qualifications.”

Heqing Rong, director of the International Cooperation Department at New Oriental told reporters that the education center does not have any restrictions on nationality when hiring foreign teachers. The teachers, however, must have an undergraduate degree and at least two years of teaching experience. The center also prefers teachers with appropriate certification. However, it is necessary to provide a medical history report and/or criminal background check.

In Beijing, the requirements for foreign teachers at a different self-proclaimed “high-end English training center” are relatively clear. The teacher needs to have finished their undergraduate degree or higher, have English as a native language, have a background in teaching English and in business, possess a foreign expert certificate and hold an internationally recognized teachers certificate. Chinese teachers must have completed their undergraduate degree or higher, have eight years of English specialization and possess extensive experience teaching English. 

Unqualified teachers cannot be ignored

Ms. Wang lives in Beijing’s Fengtai District. She told 21st Century Business Herald reporters that her six year old daughter had been attending English classes at a “Disney English” training center close to their home. The daughter had one lesson a week for about 60 minutes. The annual fee for the classes was about 15,000 Yuan. Ms. Wang said that in the training center, students learn English basics “through play.”

However, Ms. Wang was not satisfied with “Disney English.” Her main complaint was that it seemed like the foreign teachers were always leaving and being replaced. Her daughter had attended the school for six months and two foreign teachers had already been replaced with new ones. She said it seemed like every time she went to the school, another foreign teacher had disappeared. The school would say that the foreign teacher was ill, but the teachers were never seen again. The fees charged by the training institution are not refundable.

“Are you sure these were real foreign teachers? Did you ever ask about the foreign teacher’s qualifications?” A reporter asked Ms. Wang. “No,” she responded.

Foreign countries have strict requirements for teaching qualifications. Associate Professor at Tsinghua University’s School of Law, Cheng Xiao, said that foreigners who teach in China are technically working in China. If they do not have the right papers for this, they are working illegally or it is “undeclared employment.”

Reporters checked the official website of the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs to find the provisions necessary to obtain a “foreign expert” work visa. Foreign experts working in China must hold a work (Z) visa and begin applying for a work permit issued within 15 days after entering China. The foreigner also must bring a “Foreign Expert Certificate” and work (Z) visa to the local police department within 30 days of entering China to apply for a residence permit. The local Bureau of Foreign Experts’ website also listed these provisions as well.

Cheng Xiao said that educational institutions must be regulated in their hiring of foreign teachers. There should also be an established compensation fund, in case the foreign teacher “hits the road.” The relevant departments should also establish a regulatory mechanism and establish a data base through which training institutions can hire foreign teachers.  

 “Qualified Teachers” At Training Institutions

In fact, besides qualifications for the foreign teachers themselves, training centers who wish to hire foreign teachers must have qualifications of their own. This is often ignored or overlooked by school personnel.

In the 21st Century Business Herald’s investigation, not one English training center took the initiative to produce their teachers’ training and foreign teaching expert certificates. At one training institute for young children, the teachers were mostly Australian but the center’s brochure advertised “the same methods that American children use to study English.”

According to relevant regulations, training institutions must hire foreign teachers who have foreign expert qualifications and have achieved the relevant accreditation certificate. Under these provisions, the training institution must also operate normally for more than one year without a major mistake before hiring foreign teachers so that foreign experts have a certain amount of financial security. The center must also have a personnel management system for foreign teachers and a person responsible for foreign teacher affairs.

Take this example from Gansu Province. Statistics from 2012 show that Gansu Province hired 112 qualified foreign experts. 85 percent of these experts are teaching in universities and secondary schools. Numerous privately operated training institutions do not have the appropriate qualifications to hire foreign teachers, and many schools do not hire foreigners.

Data from the Foreign Experts Bureau from Henan Province in 2013 shows that a total of 194 educational institutions hired qualified foreign experts. These institutions include schools, kindergartens as well as training institutions. According to a local media survey, 60 percent of Netizens would not ask about the qualifications of a foreign teacher at a training institution. On top of this, 80 percent of Netizens would not question the teaching ability a foreign teacher.

Experts advise that when choosing a training institution with foreign teachers, students and parents should research whether the agency has been approved by the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs to hire foreign experts and whether the foreign teachers hold the correct certifications.

Foreign teachers and training institutions both need to have the correct qualifications – one cannot function without the other. A qualified teacher should have their information officially on record. Students can also contact the Foreign Experts Bureau in order to investigate themselves.

Source: 21st Century Business Herald

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Keywords: English teaching institutes in China foreign teacher training


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It is perfect

Jun 18, 2018 17:46 Report Abuse



This is exactly true as my experience...

Jan 12, 2015 13:13 Report Abuse



china is a place to be

Aug 31, 2014 23:11 Report Abuse



"Having an education in education does NOT automatically make you a GOOD teacher. In contrast, NOT having an education in education does NOT automatically make you a BAD teacher." It's the difference between people who are made for being a salesman and those who aren't. Some people have it and others don't. Anyone can go get certified. ANYONE. You can't teach intuition. I agree with this guy. source:

Aug 04, 2014 21:06 Report Abuse



I have worked and taught English at 6 different "English Language Schools" in China in the last 3 years and they are all low quality institutions. I cannot imagine it being different anywhere else in China. Most of these so-called teachers I have worked with are useless. Most of them, in their 20's, come here to party and drink. There are exceptions but they are few and far between. The Chinese owners are reluctant to change, many of whom cannot speak or understand English. They own the business as a financial asset only. They do overcharge students and underpay most of their staff. I must add that having qualifications means nothing. It is almost impossible to fail a TEFL or EFL course and having a degree does not come with years of experience neither does it mean that the holder is good as a teacher. It takes a certain kind of person with lots of good experience to be a good teacher.

Jul 31, 2014 22:23 Report Abuse



Hello everyone Hope you're all good;) I know here maybe not the right place to write and talk about this but I am new here and I have some questions.Well,I am from Madagascar and I live in South Africa,Cape Town.I would like to teach Spanish or English or French to kids in China.I am also interested in following training there. Please if someone can help m,it would be awesome.Thank you so so much:)

Jul 31, 2014 17:53 Report Abuse



I thought this was a refreshing article to read. I've seen my shares of, "Can you please send your picture first.." or "white only." As a black person this used to bother me, and in some ways it still does. However, now that I'm certified and have tons of experience I realize my worth. It's their loss if they choose to pass me up based on the color of my skin and not the quality of my delivery. I definitely feel more in control and like I'm the one that calls the shots.

Jul 30, 2014 13:23 Report Abuse



Sadly the first step in China is about face (white=good, black=bad, latino= what's that?). As you I'm still trying to make my own path in China, just finished my first year, teaching as you in a kindergarten in Hunan, at the first I had this problems (from the parents: Where is he from?, He doesn't look foreigner (I'm Mexican)). And finally today I heard a mommy talking with the other english teacher (she is chinese), this mommy said, -we went to see a demo class from a foreigner but we like our kindergarten the most-, so maybe I made a little progress. It's hard being a non-native and non-white, thanks god, things had been going nice here, not a big city, not crowdy, not expensive, not a fast rythm of life. I liked this article, made my remind the way I got here.

Jul 28, 2014 12:12 Report Abuse



Wow!!!This is a lot to take at once. There is so much ignorance and arrogance on display if this is what actually happens in China.

Jul 26, 2014 20:19 Report Abuse



You will forever be a doubter by reading about other people's comments. No book or article can substitute real life experiences. Work in China and experience it yourself; that's when real learning takes place.

Jul 30, 2014 11:07 Report Abuse



Thanks for the insight.

Aug 08, 2014 06:52 Report Abuse



It's a supply and demand problem. Simple as that.

Jul 26, 2014 19:05 Report Abuse



The ESL/EFL industry, along with much of China is highly under-regulated. Anything goes anytime. As one poster mentioned, most TEFLers realize the problems of the industry, but nothing is being done to correct the wrongs. Oh well, I can't complain. Dance like a bear/monkey for a easy work schedule and relaxed lifestyle...Can't complain too much. Cheers

Jul 26, 2014 16:04 Report Abuse



We all know this more or less.

Jul 26, 2014 07:37 Report Abuse



The ideal candidate for Chinese recruiters and parents is tall, blonde, Caucasian and male. Being female you are faced with also being offered mostly Primary or Elementary school positions because "you are a girl and like children". Ability is not important to many places because profit is the bottom line.

Jul 25, 2014 19:17 Report Abuse



They're trying to balance the "Middle Aged Lady Throws Herself in Front of Several Cars before Getting Hit ..." article.

Jul 25, 2014 18:08 Report Abuse



Ok there's another side to this. Sure many schools look for a white face and a native speaker as the prime suspects but suppose the job ad read like this: Sausage Factory English or Joy-O-Joy Kids needs English teachers. Requirements: 1) native speaker 2) bachelor degree (verified with university) 3) Academic TESOL certificate e.g CELTA not short course 4) teaching experience at least 2 years Must love kids or must love students. Salary 8-10k plus apartment, 1 week holiday plus Chinese holidays, work weekends and nights. Now for Dirty Air University 1 to 4 above plus 5) Teaching degree or diploma 6) Masters or PhD Salary 6-8k with apartment, 4 weeks paid holidays plus Chinese holidays Must love bureacracy How many applicants would they get if they really enforced these standards? If I had a Masters degree (I only have a Bachelor with Honours) I'd go to the Middle East or somewhere else for a better salary, not China unless I had a good reason to be in China. So they lower standards to fill positions. Conclusion: It's great to talk about raising standards but the reality would be a teacher shortage. Solution that won't happen: bring is Filipino teachers. They speak good American English, work hard and will accept lower wages. But Filipinos are not popular in China and would the parents go for it?

Jul 25, 2014 17:23 Report Abuse



All said and done, it's the parents' demands and schools (bona fide or otherwise) providing the supply. Demand exceeds supply (legitimate supply I mean) so schools (scammers) grab foreigners off the streets and put them in front of the kids. If you look at some of the advertisements, you'll note that many do not require a degree or some form of teacher training. Don't even think about them asking for teaching experience. So what do you get? A half baked English school with ever changing teachers. And parents fork out fortunes just to see some white faces, thinking that their kids would learn some English. The government should clamp down on schools that hire uncertified teachers. Let the demand exceeded supply and perhaps ESL teachers will get paid for what they are truly worth. At the moment, ESL teachers get a paltry 5,500 to 6,000RMB a month in universities. I think they are grossly underpaid. Recruiters are always saying "but you only teach 16 hours a week". I say it's not the number of hours you teach but the quality you deliver that matters. It will take eons to get the system changed to something acceptable. Until that time, ESL teachers will get peanuts for their profession.

Jul 25, 2014 15:55 Report Abuse



China (racist parents & children) want a monkey petting zoo for foreigners, so thats what they have. the salary for, and availability of these nonsense jobs make it clear what china wants us to do and be. education in objectification and functional rigidity. i'd love to find a job where my actual skills and experience are put to good use. sadly there are none, unless you battle prejudices and carve out a niche for yourself. some have succeeded, but i dont have the energy to swim against a tide of ignorance. i'll play foreign dancing bear until i can get out with my family.

Jul 25, 2014 15:49 Report Abuse



Two black teachers work at a middle school in my city. They are from Ghana.

Jul 25, 2014 15:12 Report Abuse



I really appreciate this investigation which's 100% sure of what's happening in this country. There main target focus white color, Nationalities, passport and the second thing is that they do write ''no requirement for this teaching job''. Anytime you receive a call from the agencies or school, they will ask you straight on '' what's your nationality'', if your country figures in Africa then you're really unlucky. They hate black on teaching job not knowing that we have English countries in Africa. Such a discrimination may affect the Chinese education. Appearance and money focus is gonna meltdown education in China. They should foresee things. I'm done!!!

Jul 25, 2014 14:59 Report Abuse



This doesn't only apply to teaching jobs. I am a Canadian-born Chinese, and I once applied for a proofreading position. The reply I got from the HR person was as follows: "this position is native english editor,if you apply for this job, your mother tongue must be english. you look like chinese from you cv, no offence,you know."

Jul 25, 2014 14:12 Report Abuse



Damn riiiiiiiight

Jul 25, 2014 13:26 Report Abuse



China is unproductive. People go to work to mostly engage in time wasting activities. There is little in the way of output. Compare this with what's expected in a developed country and all one can do is laugh. Good luck with being indignant but I suggest a long hard look in the mirror.

Jul 25, 2014 10:47 Report Abuse



It's true that training centers hire unqualified ( none native English speakers ) because : they can't find native speakers. Native speakers ask for higher payment . Not all native speakers are good at teaching kids. Native speakers don't stay in the same job long.

Jul 25, 2014 07:46 Report Abuse