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Teaching English in Asia

Teaching English in Asia 2

Being a Malaysian, my personal experience tells me that most Asian educational institutions are still obsessed with the colonial mentality of only preferring or wanting native speakers as their English teachers. Having said that, of course, hesitatingly, I would also concede that a native’s knowledge of the English language is not an automatic passport to employment anywhere abroad, but individuals from South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the US and the whole of UK, obviously stand a better chance, when pitted head to head with another equally qualified, if not better candidate, say from Malaysia, in securing an English teaching job.

Malaysia was a former British colony. We are also a member of the Commonwealth. English is taught in schools beginning elementary right up to higher secondary, pursued further onto tertiary levels, to obtain first-degree, master and doctorate in the subject proper. English is the second language of the country and most widely spoken everywhere in the country besides the native language Malay. Most of our crème de la crème are educated in prestigious institutions in the UK and the US, confirming comfortably to the demands of the language, being the Lingua franca of the world. For a population of less than 30 million, Malaysia has some of the best English newspapers and tabloids in south-east Asia, circulating to a wide range of readers. Adding to the current Informative media bloom, there are more and more local news portals written in English catering for all strata of world society, irrespective of local or international.

In the country’s judiciary development since independence in 1957, being a former British colony, this was the catalyst for its policy planners to envisage and emulate the British Common Law, which became the laws of the land. The Government of Malaysia recognizes only a handful of institutions from the UK, Australia, Singapore (University of London affiliated) and New Zealand where the degrees offered by these institutions are accepted as the only permissible degrees in order to practice law in Malaysian courts. I am a product of the same glittering British-based Malaysian education system, hence where did I go wrong to be denied, even for an interview for an English teaching job in Japan, once? Ironically, I have been plying my trade successfully for the past eight years outside of Malaysia, being previously employed in an international school in Surabaya in Java, and now in Medan, North Sumatera. Both these international schools operate under the education curriculum of Singapore, another former British colony and a member of the Commonwealth. The composition of these two schools is mostly made of students from wealthy backgrounds including some of their siblings and parents being foreign educated. A majority of the above mentioned students embark on a journey to sit for the O’ and A’ Levels before pursuing their tertiary education in countries of their own choices. The most preferred destinations are the US, the UK, Australia and Singapore.

A simple click in Wikipedia will reveal that Singapore’s education system has been described as “world-leading” and in 2010 was among those picked out for commendation by the Conservative former UK Education Secretary Michael Gove. The Government of Singapore spends about 20 percent of the annual national budget on education. An education group called Pearson had carried a study by comparing measurable things like grades and ranked different countries according to the success of their education system.

The key findings reported for the year 2015/16 had most countries from East-Asia as having the best education system in the world. These nations continue to outperform others. South Korea tops the rankings, followed by Japan (2nd), Singapore (3rd) and Hong Kong (4th). My key focus here is Singapore, a nation born out of independence from its colonial masters, then out of separation from a short partnership stint with Malaysia. Despite the extraordinary economic growth attained by this island nation, there is nothing much that would favour a preferential treatment towards Singapore in the expense of Malaysia. Both these countries have more or less the same race diversification, the same potpourri of cultures, traditions and religions. Even the education system is based on the same British system, adjusted, fine-tuned to cater for the two countries’ respective local consumption and to meet the criteria set in their respective national education blueprint and philosophy. If I am able to penetrate into the Singapore education system with my Malaysian qualification, especially securing a job as an English teacher in these institutions, wouldn’t it be hyperbolic to say that both these countries are set very far apart in terms of their education policies and achievements? Japan is ranked 2nd, just one rank above Singapore and I was denied on grounds of not being a native speaker.

Does native accent supersede non-native substance? Does native accent supersede non-native talent? Some educational institutions in one south-east Asian country neighbouring Malaysia even went to the extent of hiring budget tourists, who in their course of travels, choice less, resorted to work to earn some extra cash in order to continue their travels, as a stopgap measure to fulfill the slots for English teachers. As a matter of fact, I understand that these are private schools and they have the right to employ whomever they deem ‘fit’ to be in their organization. However, the same cannot be said of their clients – the students whom I believe come from all walks of life in the society.

There are many Asian countries that see Asian faces as unfit to teach English. They are too subdued to the notion that only westerners, irrespective of their country of origin, will make good English teachers. This is politically incorrect, and the stereotypical conception that most Caucasians speak better English than Asians, hence will make better teachers, ought to be addressed before the education sector gets embroiled in a tussle as not to lose its level-playing field in the international arena.

Teaching English in Asia 2

Source by RG Mohan Rethnaswamy
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