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Sai Gon criticized for hiring Filipinos to teach English
Friday, November 16, 2012

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             Seven-year-old Le Dang Quoc An has not had a day off since the beginning of the school year.

            The second-grader at Le Dinh Chinh School in Sai Gon’s District 5 has to take extra classes on weekends at a popular English center.

            “He did not learn much English at school. That’s why I registered him at the center,” said his mother Dang Thi Thanh Nga, adding that her son really likes studying at the center with an Australian teacher who is very active and friendly.

            But many primary and secondary students in the city now will have foreign teachers in their public school classrooms due to a controversial trial plan to employ 100 Filipino teachers to teach English at local Sai Gon schools.

            Advocates say the plan could bring better English education and motivation for local teachers to improve themselves. But others said education authorities should hire foreign teachers only from countries where English is the mother tongue or improve local staff instead.

            Le Hong Son, director of the Sai Gon Department of Education and Training, said parents will have to pay for their children to study with Filipino teachers.

            According to the plan, each Filipino teacher will be paid $1,920 per month to teach 35 periods per week, including 20 inside the class and the rest in outdoor activities.

            The department said each student will pay about $6 per month and another $25 to $50 per year for education equipment and the English class with Filipino teachers would not be compulsory.

Vietnam’s per capita income in 2011 was about $1,300.

Controversial plan

            Experts in the field are divided over the feasibility of the plan.

            Nguyen Thi Kieu Thu, dean of the English Linguistics and Literature Faculty at the Sai Gon University of Social Sciences and Humanities, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper she had interviewed some Filipino teachers and not all of them could speak good English.

            “We have to screen them carefully to employ competent people,” she said.

            But Vu Thi Phuong Anh, deputy director of the Education Quality Training and Support Center at the Association of Non-Public Colleges and Universities, was confident with the new plan.

            “The Filipinos are the best English speakers in Southeast Asia. I support the choice of Filipino teachers because they can ensure quality education for a reasonable price,” she said.

            But critics of the plan were even more forthright by saying Sai Gon should hire only native English speakers or improve local teachers instead.

            The principal of a primary school in Sai Gon, who wanted to remain anonymous, said she was concerned by the plan because English is not the mother tongue of Filipinos.

            She said her school has contracted with English teachers from the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia.

            The principal of an international school in the city agreed: “The best way to learn a foreign language is to study with a native speaker. It is even more important for primary students. I am afraid that they will speak English like a Filipino rather than native English speakers.”

            The principal of another primary school in Sai Gon said she has hired foreign English teachers based on her own criteria.

            “They must have blond hair, white skin and blue eyes. They must respect Vietnamese teachers and students as well,” she said.

            Meanwhile, experts argued that there should be more efforts to improve the skills of local English teachers.

            Cao Huy Thao, principal of the Viet Nam Australia High School, said education authorities should look into why Vietnamese teachers’ English is not as good as their Filipino colleagues’.

            “There are many Vietnamese with good English but they don’t want to be a teacher due to the low salary,” he said, adding that many confident English teachers have changed professions.

            A local English teacher in District 1, name withheld, said many local teachers feel hurt by the plan.

            “Many Vietnamese people studied abroad and their English is as good as [that of] native speakers. Why don’t we recruit these people? If we offer a payment of just $1,000 a month [half of what is to be paid to the Filipinos] we can hire many good teachers,” he said.

            Currently, the monthly pay for a new local teacher is less than $96.

            The District 1 teacher also called for wider recruitment that includes native English speakers who live and work in the city.

            But Son, the city’s education leader, said the plan would be implemented only on a trial basis.

            “It will be a motivation for local teachers to improve themselves and also offer a chance for them to meet foreign colleagues [to practice English],” he said.

            Son said his agency’s research had found that higher salaries for Australian, American and British teacher were too expensive.

            “Moreover, Sai Gon had agreed to cooperate with the Philippines in several fields, including education,” he said.

Incompetent staff

            Under the nationwide project to improve students’ English skills, officials have adopted the Common European Framework of Reference to measure language competency; teachers will need to achieve level B2 in English with high school graduates expected to reach B1, a level below.

            However, a survey in June found the English skills of most teachers in Viet Nam were far behind such standards.

            Nguyen Ngoc Hung, the project’s executive manager said, however, no teachers would be sacked if they are not qualified because “we already know most of them are not qualified.”

            According to reports by local media, of the 700 teachers of Ben Tre Province who had been tested, only 61 got the required score.

            The education ministry said that in one province, which could not be identified, the pass rate was as low as one in 700.

            Hung said 97 percent of high school teachers, and 93 percent of elementary and secondary school teachers failed to achieve B2 in the recent English tests and 17 percent of elementary school teachers tested only achieved a beginner's level.

            He blamed the problem on the fact that English teachers at some universities and colleges were employed on the basis of their certificates, not through tests which verified their English skills.

            Meanwhile, many teachers said they do not have the opportunity to practice their speaking and listening skills since academic programs focus on vocabulary and grammar only.

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