All school leavers will have a minimum level of English by 2020 under ambitious education reforms, but teachers fear that they are not getting the help they need to upgrade their own skills.
Tuesday 8 November 2011
More than 80,000 English language teachers in Vietnam’s state schools are expected to be confident, intermediate-level users of English, and to pass a test to prove it, as part of an ambitious initiative by the ministry of education to ensure that all young people leaving school by 2020 have a good grasp of the language.
As part of the strategy, which includes teaching maths in English, officials have adopted the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) to measure language competency. Teachers will need to achieve level B2 in English with school leavers expected to reach B1, a level below.
But the initiative is worrying many teachers, who are uncertain about their future if they fail to achieve grades in tests such as Ielts and Toefl.
“All teachers in primary school feel very nervous,” said Nguyen Thi La, 29, an English teacher at Kim Dong Primary School in Hanoi.
“It’s difficult for teachers to pass this exam, especially those in rural provinces. B2 is a high score.”
“All we know is that if we pass we are OK. If we don’t we can still continue teaching, then take another test, then if we fail that, we don’t know.”
Despite reports in state media, the education ministry maintains that no one will be sacked who does not achieve B2, equivalent to scores of between 5.0 and 6.0 in the Ielts test, in the countrywide screening.
“It’s a proficiency test to identify how many teachers need government-funded language training before they can go on teacher training courses,” said Nguyen Ngoc Hung, executive manager of Vietnam’s National Foreign Languages 2020 Project.
“No teachers will be sacked if they are not qualified because we already know most of them are not qualified. No teachers will be left behind and the government will take care of them. But if the teachers don’t want to improve, then parents will reject them because only qualified teachers will be able to run new training programmes.”
Project 2020 will affect 200 million students and 85% the $450m budget will be spent on teacher training, according to the education ministry.
Officials say proficiency equivalent to B2 is necessary so that English teachers can read academic papers, which will contribute to their professional development.
The state media recently reported that in the Mekong Delta’s Ben Tre province, of 700 teachers who had been tested, only 61 reached the required score. In Hue, in central Vietnam, one in five scored B2 or higher when 500 primary and secondary teachers were screened with tests tailored by the British Council.
In the capital, Hanoi, teachers are taking the Ielts test and 18% have so far made the B2 grade. The education ministry said that in one province, which could not be identified, the pass rate is as low as one in 700.
So far testing has been voluntary. Candidates are required to provide certificates from test aligned to the CEFR, such as Ielts, Cambridge Esol exams and Toefl.
Some trainers think that the B2 level need not be an obstacle for many teachers, but they say pay incentives are needed if the government is to retain teachers and find 24,000 more to meet its 2020 education targets.
“B2 is achievable enough. The teachers I know want to improve their English but want their salaries to be higher so that they can have an incentive to try harder to meet the standard,” said Tran Thi Qua, a teacher trainer from the education department in Hue.
Education ministry officials say they are working to increase primary English teacher salaries. Some parents of primary-aged children are prepared to give their children’s English teachers extra money.
“My biggest worry is where and how my children will learn English. There is a huge demand for English teaching at state primary schools. I have to spend lots of time and money now to give my children an English language education,” said Do Thi Loan, a mother of two from Hanoi.
“The government needs to fund courses to help improve the quality of the teachers, and pay them more money, but I think if teachers don’t want to improve, then they should change jobs,” she said.
A new languages-focused curriculum delivered by retrained teachers should be in place in 70% of grade-three classes by 2015, according to ministry plans, and available nationwide by 2019. English teaching hours are set to double and maths will be taught in a foreign language in 30% of high schools in major cities by 2015.
But according to one language development specialist, the education ministry’s goals are unrealistic.
Rebecca Hales, a former senior ELT development manager at British Council Vietnam, said: “The ministry is taking a phased approach, which is commendable, but there are issues with supply and demand. They don’t have the trained primary English teachers. The targets are completely unachievable at the moment.”
According to Hales the British Council has been instrumental in the training 2,000 master trainers, but she doubts that local education authorities are willing to put money into spreading those skills further.
“The teacher trainers we trained up are now at the mercy of the individual education departments. There’s no evidence at this stage of a large-scale teacher training plan,” Hales said.
Nguyen Ngoc Hung asserts that a training strategy is in place, but acknowledges the scale of the project.
“I have invested in universities and colleges from different regions, sent their teachers to the UK and Australia, and turned them into teacher development centres that will reach out to train people in remote provinces,” Nguyen said.
“There are many challenges. We are dealing with everything, from training, salaries and policy, to promotion, how to train [teachers] then keep them in the system. I’m not sure if [Project 2020] will be successful. Other countries have spent billions on English language teaching in the private sector but still governments have been very unhappy with the outcomes.”
* Ed Parks is a pseudonym for a journalist working in Vietnam
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Native Speaker Myth
Even today, this issue rarely sees daylight, rarely is the subject of discussion when ELT teachers meet and talk shop, rarely gets any attention.
It’s the “black sheep” of the ELT profession.
In my subsequent writings and discussions in a variety of professional forums, it became clear that opinions are varied. Believe it or not, it has negative consequences for both native and non-native English-speaking teachers. Within the pages of this book, that fact will be amply evident.
Does this book offer any new insights?
I believe it does. It will raise your consciousness anout the Native Speaker, and ask you for an answer to the question: Who is the best teacher: the Native Speaker or the Non-native Speaker English Teacher…
This book is dedicated to all the teachers I work with, have worked with, and ever will work with. Beyond that, this book is for all the teachers in the ELT profession, world-wide.
Regardless of our status as native or non-native speakers, we all share one common characteristic that transcends everything: our love of teaching, and in particular, teaching English.
This love, this passion, is what truly defines us, as individuals, and as teachers.
It is my great privilege to share my true love and passion with you in the reflections contained in this book.
Native Speaker Needed?
At the 2007 TESOL Chile Conference the question was asked: Are native speaker teachers automatically the best teachers of a language?
Just because you speak a language naturally, does that mean you can teach it?
Or does the process of learning a language to a high level of fluency make non-native speaker teachers far better equipped to teach that language?
This book shares the global voices of those on both sides of the issue, pro and con, with their realities, perceptions and beliefs.
Some say the Native Speaker is the best teacher. Others voices say the Non-Native Speaker teacher is the best teacher. Some say students and their parents prefer the Native Speaker. Others say the evidence does not support that statement. This is where we begin our journey.
The book takes this point of departure, the never ending controversy of the mythical Native Speaker as the ideal language teacher, privileged, superior, and with a standard of English unattainable for a learner.
Right from the outset, the learner is doomed to ultimate failure, to possess a level of language known as “interlanguage” a linguistic Limbo. In this place, Limbo, the learner has become “fossilized”, not fully developed, at some substandard level of language learning.
Beyond this, the book aims to reach a deeper level of historical understanding by looking at the development of ELT, and then, returning to the present, to ask the question: Native Speaker Needed?
By then, we have come full circle, and now have clear and compelling evidence from which to base a conclusive answer.
The global search for high-quality education, embedded in high-performing education systems, has taken on mythical proportions, almost resembling the alchemists’ quest to turn common metals into gold.
It is my hope that the present day search for global education, equitable and providing equality of opportunity for all, shall not cease until the “gold” we seek, has been found.
I therefore dedicate this book to all the educators, researchers, parents and students the world over, who strive to achieve this elusive goal,high-quality education for all the citizens of the world.
In this endeavour, it is my belief that the International Baccalaureate merits a closer look, based on their more than 40 year history of delivering consistently excellent results.
I add that all of the reflections and views in this book are mine alone, unless otherwise noted, and can not be attributed to my employer or any other organization I am affiliated with, past or present. For any errors or oversights, I bear the complete responsibility.
Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He is the Head of the English Department at Colegio Internacional SEK in Santiago, Chile.
He is the Co-Founder and Co-Organiser of EdCamp Santiago, free, participant-driven, democratic, conversation based professional development for teachers, by teachers. EdCamp Santiago 2012 was held at Universidad Mayor in Santiago.
Thomas is also a past member (2011-2012) of the Advisory Board for the International Higher Education Teaching and Learning Association (HETL), where he also serves as a reviewer and as the HETL Ambassador for Chile.
Thomas enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. Thus far, he has written the following genres: romance, historical fiction, autobiographical, sports history/biography, and English Language Teaching. He has published a total of forty six (46) books overall.
The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family, his wife Gabriela, and his son, Thomas Jerome Baker, Jr.
These 50 teachers who applied through the web site http://www.innovacionescolar.cl and finally were selected from hundreds of teachers for demonstrating outstanding leadership qualities, will be advocates for change and innovation in their schools; show interest in use of information and communication technologies (ICT), and have the conviction that through the work itself they may contribute to the development of quality education. They will have the opportunity to communicate stably through a virtual community for sharing ideas.
“We are excited to open this workspace and exchange of experience for teachers with conviction and desire to change the world through good ideas. It is an honor for us to partner with Foundation Education 2020 and work seriously for education in our country to continue to improve every day, “said Andrew Wallis, vice president of Fundación Telefónica.
For Mario Waissbluth, President of Foundation 2020, this is a great opportunity. “For the first time, Education 2020 teachers will have professional educators who are active, close to the issues that concern us all in education, with an excellent level of quality, who will share in our activities, and with whom we will consult and install the idea that, there will be no real changes in education without teachers. We will not let this important moment in time pass us by, “emphasized Professor Waissbluth.