It all started a long time ago in a land far far away. Like minded people gathered asking questions, they would seek out teachers who would help them to better understand the world and their lives. From Socrates to Pericles, to Plato and Aristotle education began with the noblest and purest of intentions. Socrates refused payment for his teaching as he believed that knowledge should not only be given just to those who could afford it.
What follows are my thoughts following ten years of prostituting off my mother tongue to the highest bidder around Southeast Asia. For many of my experiences the setting has almost always been in schools, but sadly the subject has seldom been education.
Native English Speaking Teachers – A Soldier in an Army of Linguistic Missionaries
The teachers you get coming to Southeast Asia are some of life’s most unique individuals. 95% of them fall in to one of the two following categories. Type ones come to teach in Southeast Asia to avoid debt or custodial sentences, they are too far gone to hang on to the coattails of social acceptability in their native countries, too introverted, too extroverted or just too perverted to fit in anywhere else. They wander through the countries of Southeast Asia with a head full of confused grammar and loose morals. Then you get those poor bastards who come here unaware as to just how depraved and twisted this place is. They leave behind good jobs, with good prospects, and find themselves teaching in an educational vacuum, desperately trying to cling on to the values they know to be true, but they dare not utter. Right away these people know they have entered an environment where knowledge is not just ignored but aggressively attacked. It is a place where black can be white, where sometimes two plus two does equal five and where it can be considered just too damn dangerous to have fire drills.
In ten years I have seen many different types of teachers pass through schools, I’ve seen a few passed out in classrooms too. At first being an expat and working in a school was weird, it was like mixing the most mind bending twisted holiday at night, with a responsible job during daylight hours. Needless to say such compartmentalization of these two disparate worlds was not always possible. On one occasion I recall a teacher turning up for work at three o’clock in the afternoon because they had an appointment with the principal about the renewal of his contract. Exactly when he’d started drinking and if indeed he had actually stopped, it was impossible to tell, he had to look for work elsewhere. Ten years ago you were unlikely to find a teacher sober before lunchtime, indeed you would be lucky to find many teachers in school prior to lunchtime. A decade ago you could and did do anything, drinking until three in the morning when you started teaching at eight was nothing unusual.
Times have changed, things have become more serious. Maybe I’ve just changed and become sober.
Globalization, Indoctrination and Linguistic Imperialism
Why is there such a need for English to be taught around the world? Why is English the lingua franca? Why is it that these countries must have native English speakers teaching their children, after all when I learned French I did so from an English person? Could it be that it is all bullshit?
There has been a long held belief that a western education is better. In turn there is that western teachers must also be better. These are beliefs that are consistently reinforced through linguistic imperialism, defined as:
the dominance asserted and retained by the establishment and continuous reconstitution of structural and cultural inequalities between English and other languages.
Phillipson, Robert (1992), p 47.
English is the language of capitalism and a vital tool of the global hegemony. The ceaseless reinforcement of the importance of the English language through the pervasive international marketing of American brands, and rhetoric used by institutions like the British Council. English is accepted by institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank as the common language. It is reasonable to expect that in a world of such international trade that there must be a common language, in this case English, but that in no way means that native English speaking countries provide the best education nor necessarily the best teachers to teach the English language.
Last years report by the Organization for Economic and Cultural Diversity (OECD) showed how these five countries fared against one another:
For the full list see the link below:
Obviously these results are unflattering to the two major English speaking countries, even more so when you consider that Singapore’s language of instruction is English and they severely out performed both the United States and the United Kingdom in literacy. This raises the question would Singaporean English teachers be more effective teachers of English to Southeast Asian children? Simply the answer is yes but they would command huge salaries.
So why are native English speaking teachers still in so much demand throughout Southeast Asia? There remains a belief, that still carries some truth, that a degree from the west is of greater value than a degree from a Southeast Asian country. Whilst this may be true the only thing that prevents Southeast Asian students from getting a degree from a western university is the cash. Nowadays having the financial resources is more important than having the academic ability. Western Universities are run like businesses and they charge a premium for foreign students. This brings us back to where we started and Socrates refusing to be paid as knowledge should not only be given to those that can afford it. Truth be told though no knowledge has to be given, nor often is, just a degree certificate that proved you paid to attend a university for three years.
Education, in particular English Language education in foreign countries has become an industry, which feeds off of, and reinforces the beliefs of linguistic imperialism. What must be held as most important is what a student is capable of learning, not what language they are capable of learning it in.
The truth is nobody but the students should profit from education.
Looking upon my 10 years in Southeast Asia I can state categorically that Linguistic imperialism rocks, it has allowed me to live for a decade, the first half of which was spent indulging in such hedonistic debauchery it would have made Nero blush, comfortably in Southeast Asia. Yes there might be some moral questions that remain unanswered, but so long as I’m alright I’ll just keep turning a blind eye and a deaf ear.