China is an overpopulated country with great contrasts. These two evidences are also palpable when we speak of education in general. It is very common to find illiterate people especially in remote areas, the most disadvantaged classes or the older ones. But, finding young people who know several languages is not very rare nowadays, youth are migrating towards foreign countries to study abroad and obtain master’s degrees. According to data of UNESCO, 27% increase in university enrollment is observed from the year 1991 to 2011.
As far as the foreign lingua teaching is concerned, the most important language in China is English. Teaching English in Beijing is emphasized because college entrance exams include a difficult language test of Shakespeare. English is considered as the most important language, after this, Korean, Japanese, French, Arabic and Spanish are placed.
A majority of the Chinese population is fluent in English speaking, although, they can easily understand any written text and govern grammatical rules. Obviously, implying grammatical rules in any language is not possible without rich knowledge and practice. Teaching English in Beijing follows an effective approach closer to the traditional methods of grammar-translation but being aware of the low competences of the students are trying to make some changes. Teachers sometimes also have little training in language teaching.
Foreigners visiting China play a key role in this situation. Being aware of the great demand that exists from kindergartens to universities through private classes many foreigners decide to try their luck in the world of teaching. By this, we mean that there are many people teaching without proper degrees, in fact, without having the legal permits to work. In many cases, the degrees are forgotten and the beauty and taste are prized. An ideal model is a white person from an English-speaking country. Native English first, title after.
This raises several issues. Among them, can a person without qualification in the field of teaching be a good teacher? In my experience, the answer is: sometimes yes. There are people who with much love prepare their work and learn about the trade as there are people who entertain more than teaching. The biggest problem for students is that many of their teachers leave the position after a short period of time; which is especially bad in the elementary school years. It is that many foreigners come to China not attracted by the money but by the cultural experience that can be considered exotic and they take a “vacations of labor”.
To be able to work in China legally, the immigration office requires a university degree and a two-year experience. With these documents, a Certificate of Expert is obtained and with this one is requested a work visa and with this one a residence permit. Many foreigners do not comply with these conditions and work without permits because normally “nothing happens”.
Work on English language teaching in China varies vastly in its conditions. Hours of work, remuneration, vacations or termination clauses (if any) are very different. Foreigners are normally employed as teachers of oral English. In primary and secondary education the curriculum is very inflexible and the materials have to be followed at the same time. There is a lot of freedom in the university and some teachers are advised to comment on newspaper articles or talk about the culture of their country. In fact, they can teach whatever they feel like as long as the students do not actively complain.
Opportunities for foreigners in education at this time are being gradually reduced by highly qualified Chinese graduates returning from abroad. These workers are more economical for the schools being their wages lower than those of the foreigners; which in turn creates dissatisfaction.
In short, China is advancing in its learning and mastery of foreign languages with ever-increasing university programs and increasingly better-enforced departments.