Showing posts with label testing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label testing. Show all posts

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Alliance for a Globally-Oriented Taiwan kicks off

If you're reading this at all, you're probably wondering what happened to me all month. Yeah, well, I'm wondering too. I've been doing a pre-Lunar New Year deep clean of our apartment as I'm not particularly busy with work. Also, the election's still got me down.

Not because my "team" "lost" (they didn't, really: the NPP is the closest thing I've got to a team I root for, and they performed better than anyone expected, including perhaps, quietly, the NPP themselves). People I don't like win elections all the time and I don't fret about it for two months.

No, what causes a sinking feeling in my heart every time I think about it is a far bigger problem: that, although it would be political suicide for the DPP to make a big deal out of it, interference from China was real, and terrifying. We can't prove how effective it was, but there sure seemed to be some effect, and if that's the case they will try it again. And again. And they very well may win. Yikes. I just...can't.

So, let's talk about something positive instead.

This past week, a group of 90-100 people, foreigners and Taiwanese, congregated in the Legislative Yuan to have a large-scale discussion meeting about how to implement the 'bilingual Taiwan' initiative (you might know it as 'English as a second official language', announced by former premier William Lai). Heading the meeting were legislators Karen Yu (余宛如) Rosalia Wu (吳思瑤)as well as National Development Council leadership, Professor Louis Chen of Global Brands Management Association, STARTBOARD and Crossroads.TW founder David Chang. The general attendees were a mix of teachers, school owners, recruiters, academics, NGO and nonprofit representatives, a few activists and some journalists.

One thing that was made clear was that the point is not to suddenly start forcing everyone to speak English, or spend their own money to go to cram school to study English, or to have all official documents in English and Mandarin (but not any other languages more native to or historically linked to Taiwan, such as indigenous languages or Taiwanese). The point is to develop Taiwan's international competitiveness by making it more accessible in English, and to increase the general public's familiarity with English, while potentially reforming the educational system to emphasize English proficiency. And over several decades, as that.

Put that way, it sounds quite reasonable.

The outcome of this meeting is the formation of the Alliance for a Globally-Oriented Taiwan, with more specific action items to be developed in the coming weeks. At minimum we're looking at advocacy, advisory status and policy proposals. While it has the potential to be another layer of talk, there's also the potential for it to be much more than that.

That two legislators and the NDC made sure the meeting took place, were there and paid attention to what foreigners were saying is already huge: I'm not sure it's ever happened before. For that reason alone it might have some real effect.

I won't spend too much time going over what was said by the leaders - that's been covered extensively in the Mandarin-language media and basically boiled down to "we're on your side", "we want to do this in a feasible way" and, of course, that the point isn't just to be bilingual, it's a push for greater internationalization.

Instead, I'll spend some time summarizing some of what came out of the contributors in the general audience.

Not everyone got a chance to speak (I did), but I was happy to hear that most opinions were dead-on (some I disagreed with mildly; there were just a few that I simply wasn't on board with). And yes, I do equate "dead on" with "I agreed with it", because in this particular field I will not hesitate to say that I know what I'm talking about.

There was a general agreement that we need to do a better job of teacher training in Taiwan, with ideas for this ranging from bringing in better-qualified teachers to building a teacher-training program in Taiwan from scratch. The latter is an idea I disagree with quite strongly: internationally-recognized and up-to-standard teaching certifications exist already, from teaching licenses/PGCE programs to CELTA/Trinity to Delta and various Master's programs. There's no need to build a program from scratch when...frankly, to mix metaphors, that wheel's already been invented.

The key is to make them more accessible in Taiwan. If you want to improve your teaching through formal training here, it's quite difficult: the government doesn't recognize programs like CELTA or Delta or any online programs; often for Master's programs (even reputable ones) there are residency requirements so a part-time student, even if they attend face-to-face, is going to have trouble. So we have to make these programs both available and recognized, potentially with a sponsorship program to make them affordable, too.

The owners of Reach To Teach, a reputable teacher recruiting company, pointed out that Taiwan has no program through which novice teachers can come here and work in schools (even as assistants), and the only way to work in a school in Taiwan is to come as a licensed teacher. Japan brings foreign teachers into public schools through JET by having them work as assistants as they are not qualified to actually teach; I'm not sure about Korea's EPIK program. What's more, in those countries novice teachers often earn more than trained teachers are offered in schools in Taiwan.

What everyone agreed on was that salaries in Taiwan being low for everyone, including locals, was going to make it hard to internationalize and attract foreign talent, and would not necessarily attract much local talent to English teaching, either. Before this can happen, pay prospects here simply have to get better.

Of course, as someone else pointed out, South Korea and Japan are not bilingual countries. Because, of course, countries where English is more widely spoken got that way through historical (typically colonial) means, but also because those countries routinely employ a large number of local teachers and don't rely on foreign ones.

That's really key, not only in terms of getting enough foreign teachers to do the job, but also cutting down a native speakerist view of English: that English is a White People thing, that White People go to Other Countries to teach Local People, who Learn It. But a country only becomes multilingual when locals are there making it happen. You can't import that kind of culture shift, nor should you.

(Obviously not every native speaker teacher is white, I'm talking about perceptions, not reality.)

There was a huge outpouring of angst, as well. That's not a criticism; I happen to agree with much of it. The notion that Taiwan needs to 'attract' more foreign talent bothered some, who pointed out quite rightly that many talented foreigners are already here, but can't get work outside of English teaching. Some stay and teach because it's all they can do; some leave because there's just no career future here and go to Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, back to their native countries or elsewhere.

There was also an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the lack of readable English information on Taiwanese websites, including government websites. If Taiwan is truly going to become an English-friendly country, at the bare minimum all government websites need to be translated completely into (good) English.

Quite a bit of dissatisfaction was expressed over Taiwan's horrifying national examination system (including from me). I pointed out that research consistently shows that elementary-school language teachers in Taiwan are happy to incorporate more modern teaching methods into their practice, but  junior and senior high school teachers aren't, and the big difference is that older learners need to be prepared for the massive battery of mostly-useless and actively harmful exams that they have to take. The teachers themselves have said this quite clearly. There is simply no way for a language education program that actually results in English language proficiency to exist side-by-side with those exams.

The issue, of course, is that parents and some teachers fight viciously against any attempt to change the system. The parents think that more accurate assessment is somehow 'less objective' (not realizing that the tests their children are taking now aren't even accurate or related to real-world language use, and take away so much learning time as to actually harm their overall achievement) and some teachers are afraid they'll lose their jobs if schools suddenly start doing things differently. We need to work with both groups to advocate for change and convince them that there's nothing to be afraid of.

And, as usual, immigration is a massive issue. Those of us who want to stay forever - the well-secured roots of an international Taiwan - are concerned with how difficult it still is to obtain dual nationality or even an employment Gold Card. As a friend of mine pointed out, his employer (Academia Sinica) interprets the dual nationality requirements as stated to mean "we'll do what we need to do to get your application through when you get tenure". Imagine having to be a tenured professor at Academia Sinica before you can even approach dual nationality as an educator! Making it easier to move here and work is important for new immigrants; dual nationality is a core concern of us long-termers. Without it, internationalization can't happen, as we'll always be outsiders.

The downside of the meeting is that a lot of the issues discussed - low pay, lack of career opportunities for foreigners etc - are not easily solvable by the government. Even if they were, there's an entire legislature to convince. Two progressive legislators and the NDC are a good start, but it's not the end. There's a lot to be done and simply "this doesn't work! We can't get good jobs!" isn't something that can be specifically targeted, especially when locals are also struggling in a slow-growth economy.

The upside is that, again, it's huge that the meeting happened at all. People in government are interested, and listening, and that's more than I could say even three years ago. (And for us foreigners, is a big reason to support the Tsai administration). That's something, and we need to turn it into something real.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

IELTS takes a political position (and my ongoing battle to fight The Man)

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Jerks.


As my husband noted in his nail-on-the-head post on the same topic, pretty much every IELTS teacher and examiner we know is horrified by the change on IELTS's website of "Taiwan" to "Taiwan, China" (Notably, Hong Kong and Macau bear no such designation. If I didn't already know this was all about politics, I'd say that's odd).

Many of us have written to IELTS to protest the change, including me. I'd include a screenshot, except that e-mail contains references to the nature of my employment which I cannot divulge, but which when blacked out render the letter incoherent. Suffice it to say, it was an angry but basically formal letter of protest and complaint.

We all got the same completely irrelevant form letters in reply, which didn't actually address the issue we wrote about:




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"Thank you for your enquiry and comments. The IELTS Partnership is updating IELTS websites and materials in order to ensure that IELTS remains available to test takers in Taiwan. The IELTS Partnership will continue to deliver IELTS tests in Taiwan, ensuring that the widest number of Taiwanese students and professionals can benefit from the work and study opportunities that the test provides."



You can write to them too, by the way, their email is globalielts@ielts.org. See if you get the same bogus form letter! It'll be a fun international discourse comparison!

Of course, I wrote back to point out that their form letter reply was irrelevant to the protest lodged and got a snottier, though I suppose more relevant, reply:



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"Thank you for your feedback. Please be aware that your position has been noted. Our priority continues to be to ensure that the widest number of Taiwanese students and professionals can benefit from the work and study opportunities that the IELTS test provides."


This is where I got a little testy. I'd say "I have a short temper", but several days on I decided to send this anyway. It won't make a difference, so please enjoy it as a retort created for your entertainment:





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"If you consider them 'Taiwanese students', why do you list their country as being 'China'?"


Here's the thing. I know perfectly well that we're probably not going to win this, because The Man doesn't care about our tinny complaints. It pretends to be apolitical while taking a political, pro-Beijing position. And that is what you're doing when you list Taiwan as "Taiwan, China": you are taking a political position. You are saying Taiwan is a part of China, a position most Taiwanese do not agree with.

It's hard to fight the power, which as a friend pointed out, is the entire point of having power - so it's harder for people to fight you. IELTS pretends to be a dispassionate language proficiency test, but it's also a source of power: are you a non-native speaker who wants to study in the UK (or other countries) or get certain kinds of visas? You have to take it. It's tied to the government through British Council and the UKVI service. That's power. It's not just a test.

It wants to think it's not The Man, but it absolutely is. And as The Man almost always is, IELTS is wrong.

For me, this is the point at which "Taiwan, China" stops being an abstraction: it's not just an unfair, stupid thing that terrible companies do for money. It affects me personally: I'm associated with the brand. Some of my income comes from them. If I refuse to accept this, there is a real impact on my life, moreso than boycotting airlines or slagging off TOEFL. I don't earn money from those companies. I don't know how I can take dirty money now, so for the first time in a very long time, I'm faced with a choice between a chunk of my income, and my principles.

As China expands its forcefulness, more people like me will start facing that choice. I have to hope enough of them will choose principles, as I'm headed towards doing, but I know that many won't.

This isn't a small issue relegated to Taiwan and China. It affects people like me. It affects international workers and foreign residents.

And, as Brendan pointed out in his excellent post (which you should absolutely read), IELTS is essentially helping China accomplish its political goals, which serve as precursors to its military goals:



The government of the PRC would like nothing more than to take over Taiwan and incorporate it into their territory....This is not the ranting of a conspiracy monger -- China isn’t even trying to hide its intentions. 

 Whether China takes Taiwan by force or by “peaceful” coercion, it doesn’t want the rest of the world to see it as a larger country taking over a smaller, less powerful country. That would look very bad. Instead, China wants the rest of the world to see Taiwan as a recalcitrant part of China that needs to be brought to heel. That’s why (among many things) it’s got people pushing to change “Taiwan” on those drop-down menus to things like “Taiwan, China” or “Taiwan, Province of China”. It’s all about changing the world’s perception of Taiwan so that if Invasion Day comes, the rest of the world doesn’t see Xi Jinping as another Hitler invading Poland. 

And every airline that lists Taiwan as China and every educational institution that forces students to declare their country as “Taiwan, China” is complicit in this. With Beijing -- not politically neutral.


I don't know how to fight that. I don't know how to tell you to fight that. I'm still weighing my options, although I know that not acting is not an option. I don't know what to tell my students, except not to take IELTS.

I know some Taiwan-based examiners read this blog. I know a lot of Taiwanese do, too. I don't know what to tell you.

I considered suggesting a strike, and still think that might be a possibility. I worry, however, that it will hurt local centers like IDP Taipei, who are not our enemies (I suspect a lot of the local employees of IELTS centers are on our side, in fact) without really hurting IELTS as a global organization. It might be our best shot, however, at getting this story to stay in the news and embarrass IELTS as much as possible.

I considered a petition, but TOEFL ignored the one directed at them, and IELTS will too. That's what The Man does - he ignores petitions, because he has power.

I considered saying you should change your scripts and say explicitly that Taiwan is NOT CHINA, but that could hurt candidates' performance and that's not fair. It's not their fault (even with the Chinese candidates, it's not their fault at all that their government sucks).

Of course I will continue to encourage Taiwanese students not to take the test.

Something more should be done, but the result has to hurt IELTS Global. What should that something be? I don't know yet. But I have no intention of going away and I have no intention of quietly choosing money over principles.

All I can say is that I encourage you to organize (and feel free to get in touch with me, by the way. I'm easy to find). Be creative, and don't back down. The Man usually wins, but that doesn't mean you have to sit down and obey meekly.

I wish I had better advice, though. I'm not sure what the next move will be, but I can assure you we're not done here. 


Saturday, October 13, 2018

Don't Take IELTS (請拒考雅思)

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Calling Taiwan "China" makes about as much sense as calling a horse a dog.
Shame on you, IELTS.

I'm still deeply upset as someone who has taught IELTS preparatory classes that the IELTS organization changed "Taiwan" to "Taiwan, China". I have quite a lot more to say about this, which I'll publish across two posts.

Right now, what I really want to say is that, as an IELTS teacher, I'm embarrassed to be associated with the brand. As a teacher who has advised her learners about proficiency tests in the past, I just can't with good conscience advise now that my learners take any test (TOEFL does the same thing, but I'm not a TOEFL teacher so I have less personally invested. They're slimy cowards for kowtowing to China too, though). My students deserve not to be humiliated just by registering.

To Taiwanese students, I say, don't take IELTS. Just...don't. I wish I had a better alternative, but I don't.

I considered writing this up for publication outside of my blog, but ultimately decided it was best published here, as it expresses a very personal opinion. That said, I do hope it reaches a wider audience, even though I feel as though this is a hopeless battle.

It took me a long time to get this together in Chinese, but here you go (English below):



拒絕雅思

每星期似乎都有新的公司或組織,在中華人民共和國的壓力下開始稱呼「台灣」(Taiwan)為「中國台灣」(Taiwan, China)。直到不久之前,這些矮化他人的組織中最過分的是航空公司,而且讓人覺得台灣人民或他們的盟友好像沒有什麽辦法可以抗議。現在,中國這種壓迫國際組織改變對台稱呼的霸凌行為,也伸向了英語能力檢定考試機構:目前雅思(IELTS)和托福(TOEFL)考試中心的國籍欄位都將台灣稱為「中國台灣」。

身為在台教學14年的認證英語教師以及正在攻讀教育學碩士的研究生,我相信,儘管語言課程討論的主題因為反映了現實世界而可能具有爭議性,或有時泛政治化,但整個語言學習的「世界」──學校、課堂和考試中心──不應該牽涉到政治。沒有學生該因為他們的國家被視為不存在,而覺得矮人一等。我在台灣有永久居留權,我也熱愛台灣這個國家,如今台灣因為中國這個日益蠻橫的擴張主義者的霸凌而慘遭除名,我實在不能眼睜睜看著我的學生因為自己國家遭除名而難堪。


我本身是雅思課程授課教師,也協助學生選擇適合的英語能力檢定考試,我曾自豪地說,雅思是所有能力檢定測驗較有效力、研究較有深度的測驗之一。沒有測驗是完美的,但以標準化的考試而言,雅思已盡善盡美。然而,現在我自己因為和雅思這個招牌有關而覺得丟臉,我再也無法向學生推薦雅思或托福了。學生受這種侮辱實在不值得。台灣整體值得受到國際組織更好的待遇。


我很多學生都想出國,常常想在短期內實現這項目標。然而在出國準備計畫方面,我能給學生的唯一良心建議就是暫停所有報考語言能力測驗的計畫,並透過考試系統官方網站上的聯絡資訊和社群媒體平台,寫信給考試委員會,要求把國籍名稱改回「台灣」,但同時將整份國家清單改稱為「國家╱地區」(Country/Region)清單,這樣重擔就會變成落在讀者身上,組織本身則不必表明政治立場。我建議學生也寫信給英國在台協會和澳洲國際文教中心,要求他們向雅思機構負責人正式提出投訴。


我自己也是從美國搬來台灣,我能體會延後出國計畫有多麼困難。然而,這些組織越快感受到經濟壓力,就會越快做出改變,公平對待台灣。

英語能力測驗公司不像航空公司一樣習慣應付憤怒的顧客,因此他們更容易因為報考人數驟減和抱怨增加而擔憂。他們和中國之間也不像航空公司和中國一樣彼此需要,儘管中國是雅思和托福的大市場,中國實際上不能像禁止外國航空公司一樣禁止他們,就好像中國終究沒有因為劍橋大學出版社拒絕將特定文章在中國下架而禁止他們。與你和航空公司打交道的經驗不同,你的聲音可能真的會被聽見。

在你的聲音被聽見之前,這名深愛台灣且曾教過雅思的英語教師只有一項建議:請拒考雅思。



That's for my students and Taiwanese readers.

In English:

Every week, it seems as though a new company or organization begins referring to “Taiwan” as “Taiwan, China” under pressure from the People’s Republic of China. Until recently, the most egregious offenders were airlines, and it felt as though there was little that Taiwanese people or their allies could do in protest. Now, China’s bullying of international organizations about Taiwan’s name has reached the English proficiency exam industry, with both IELTS and TOEFL designating test centers in Taiwan as “Taiwan, China”. 



As a certified English teacher of 14 years in Taiwan who is currently working toward a Master’s in Education, I believe that while topics of discussion in language classes may be controversial or occasionally political as this reflects the real world, that the ‘world’ of language learning - the schools, classes and test centers - should be apolitical. No learner should be made to feel denigrated because their country has been designated as non-existent. As a permanent resident of Taiwan who loves this country, I can not accept that any of my Taiwanese learners might feel embarrassed that their nation has been erased due to the bullying of an increasingly expansionist China. 



As a teacher who has conducted IELTS preparatory classes for proficiency exams and given advice on which exam to take, I was once proud to say that IELTS is one of the more valid, reliable and well-researched proficiency exams available. No test is perfect, but as standardized exams go, IELTS was as good as it could be. However, I am now personally embarrassed at being associated with the IELTS brand, and I can no longer recommend it, or TOEFL, to my learners. They deserve better than to be insulted in this way. Taiwan as a whole deserves better treatment from international organizations. 



Many of my learners hope to go abroad, often within a short timeframe. However, the only course of action I can recommend with a clear conscience is to put plans to sit for a proficiency exam on hold, and write to the exam boards instead to complain about this wording, both through their websites where contact information is available, and on social media. Ask them to change the designation back to Taiwan, but name the list “Country/Territory”, so that the burden will be on readers, rather than the organizations themselves taking a political stance. Write to British Council Taiwan and IDP Taiwan as well, asking them to lodge formal complaints with the head IELTS office. 



Having moved from the US to Taiwan myself, I sympathize with how difficult it may be to postpone one’s plans to move to another country. However, the more swiftly these organizations feel economic pressure to treat Taiwan fairly, the more quickly the change can be made. 

Unlike airlines, who are used to dealing with angry customers, English proficiency testing companies are more likely to be concerned by a sudden drop in registrations and uptick in complaints. 

Unlike airlines, China needs them as much as they need China: while it is true that China is a huge market for IELTS and TOEFL, China cannot realistically ban them from the country as they might with a foreign airline, just as they ultimately did not ban Cambridge University Press for refusing to make certain articles unavailable in China. Unlike with airlines, your voice may actually be heard. 



Until it is, this English teacher who used to teach IELTS classes and who loves Taiwan can only give one piece of advice: don’t take IELTS.


To the other IELTS teachers out there, I say: stop recommending IELTS. Tell your students exactly what you think of them and their bending over for China. Show them that foreign residents of Taiwan care, too.

IELTS, too, should be worried that the very people - the professionals, the teachers, and yes, the foreign faces  - who are the 'face' of IELTS in Taiwan hate it so very much. It's not just me: I don't know even one examiner right now (and I am acquainted with more than a few) who has a good opinion of IELTS and I doubt I know even one teacher. I'm already telling Taiwanese students what I think now, when I would previously recommend them. Is that what they want for their brand image in Taiwan? If they cared, that is? 

Monday, October 8, 2018

IELTS bends over for China

Another day, another money-making entity kowtowing to China. This time the culprit is IELTS, the international English proficiency test that is the exam of standard for those hoping to study in the UK, Australia and several other countries (most of Europe if English is the required language, Canada, New Zealand - many, if not most, American universities accept it as well).

This makes no sense to me. Sure, China is a huge market for IELTS, but China needs IELTS as much as IELTS needs China. Chinese students and others hoping to move abroad need to take IELTS to make it happen, period. An innocent reading of this would be that many Chinese want to study abroad, and everyone - including the government - welcomes these international connections. A more sinister one is that China can more effectively expand its United Front operations abroad if it has a large contingent of Chinese abroad to facilitate that, including students. Most of those students would have to take IELTS.

So - unlike with airlines - this just doesn't make sense. IELTS could have told China to suck an egg and I don't see that China would have had a choice. Why didn't they? The only answer I can come up with is cowardice.

In my dreams, every IELTS examiner in Taiwan (or enough of them to make an impact) goes on 'strike'. They refuse to examine, or examine only at the bare minimum to keep their certifications, causing a severe examiner shortage that the IELTS head office will have to deal with. They don't budge until Taiwan is called 'Taiwan' again.

In reality, I know how unlikely that is to actually happen.

Here's a ray of good news, if you are an IELTS examiner who is angry about this change. If you don't want to refuse to examine - though come on, do ol' Lao Ren Cha a solid and refuse to examine! Make the consequences real! -  it is possible to get in touch with the IELTS head office. Ask your employer in Taiwan (so that would be either British Council or IDP) for the correct contact information and encourage them to complain in an official capacity, as well. Don't just leave this to the Taiwanese government. Then write to them.

It's not much, but it's better than trolling Air Canada for kicks (though by all means, do that too). Someone might actually read your letter and then politely respond to you with some British blather that translates to "we don't care", but it's something.