My time volunteering

I was a volunteer English Teacher in Nanchang, Jiangxi, China from 1999 to 2001.  A particular (Normal) University was chosen in Nanchang, because many of the students, who were themselves English teachers, came from the surrounding countryside.  They were there to upgrade and improve their English and teaching abilities.  Jiangxi, of course, was and remains, a poor, underdeveloped agricultural province of China.  VSO's aim was to improve English teacher's level of English, so that they could return to the countrysife and increase the level of their student's English and thereby improve overall levels of English, which would contribute to China's development.  VSO failed completely in that aim. 

The impact of my placement

VSO failed to have any impact on level of English teaching in the countryside, and therefore failed in their lofty aims.  In 1999, China was underway in its opening up policy.  More opportunities were becoming available.  Most of the more able English teachers or English speakers at the college I was placed at, used their time to improve their English, but only sought to become a post-graduate, in a better city, after completing their course.  Most went on to greater things, and did not return to the countryside to teach.  The students who returned to the countryside were the least able, with one student informing me that, the two year course he was on was nothing more than a rest from teaching for two years.  The poorly performing English students were dire.  VSO made an obvious mistake:  VSO was only happy when the institution was happy; the institution was only happy when the students were happy; the students were only happy when they did not have to work hard and received a high score in the exams.  Students could not in any sense follow the normal rules of exams and could only pass if they cheated.  Every student passed; even if they had to retake the exam with a Chinese national.  The same model basically exists today with market forces guiding policy.  Educational institutions only care about making money in a money-driven economy.  VSO failed to instil any notion of standards. 

My unforgettable moments

My most unforgettable moment came at the end of my contract.  I shared my placement at the college with an older teacher.  The VSO Placement Officer came to visit us both and asked us both in turn, which took place in the privacy of my apartment, if we thought we should be replaced.  The older teacher accused the college directly of gross corruption and stated emphatically that we should not be replaced.  I agreed and confirmed that we should not be replaced.  VSO then replaced both of us with (three) new English teachers.  When VSO eventually left, educational institutions lacked the knowledge or skill to recruit their own overseas teachers.  Many institutions use disreputable agencies to find overseas teachers often with inappropriate or illegal visas.  Currently (17th, July 2019), the Chinese government is clamping down on foreign teacher's illegal or inappropriate visas, because both British and foreign teachers and students were arrested concerning drug related issues.  The standard of overseas teachers has plummeted noticeably in China over the last 20 years.  Recently, it was discovered that an overseas English teacher in Shanghai has been on the run for about 13 years from American law enforcement agencies for murder and child abuse crimes.  A US warrant has been issued for an American teacher teaching in Zhuhai for an array of unpalatable crimes in the US.  (11th March 2020 update), a new Overseas English teacher was taken on at my school. He claimed that he had been bored with being a high school teacher that the workload was too much, and he wanted to try teaching English in China.  He lasted for only a few months.  It was discovered that he had not been employed as a high school teacher; he had been thrown off his teacher training course for an unfortunate incident in the boy's toilets.  He returned to England.  It is not unusual.


The impact my placement has had on me

I am still teaching English in China after 21 years.  I have come to understand the harm VSO created by their poor management.  After VSO withdrew, the educational institutions they helped have little to no knowledge or expertise on how to recruit overseas English teachers.  Some of their attempts have been laughable.  Simply teaching in the classroom, as a free teacher provided by VSO, did not help.  Chinese staffs, at educational institutions, continue to have very poor cultural knowledge, operating in a system that now only cares about making money.  However, of late, teaching English has partly shifted from state institutions, due to its continued failures, into the private sector, with private schools taking a major role in providing English tuition.  These private institutions are now being challenged by on-line English tuition providers.  Market forces control China's education system.  VSO proved that many of these aid / volunteer agencies seeking to make the world a better place fail.  Often such organisations are conceited and resistant to any forms of criticism.  One has only to look at VSO or Oxfam, both of whom have failed.  A report filed in Beijing by VSO at the time of my departure confirmed its lack of success.  Volunteer and Aid agencies in the modern world have a lot to answer for.  (Update 27/04/2020) - It's interesting that with English language learning, cultural knowledge should follow, but in the recent COVID-19 pandemic signs at McDonald's restaurants (I currently work in Guangzhou) read:  "We've been informed that from now on black people are not allowed to enter the restaurant..."  Many black people (including my professional colleagues) were forcibly removed from their apartments  by the police; their tenancy agreement cancelled on the spot; many ended up on the streets, until African diplomats actively intervened.  It's mostly young Chinese people (around 30-ish) who have become the driving force for an upsurge in Chinese nationalism (particularly with Chinese students who live and study abroad).  The posts they post online are often despicably racist.  After 21 years, I find myself asking, what has been achieved? 



Jiangxi Science and Technology (Normal) University Nanchang

Jiangxi Sheng,

28.682892, 115.858197