In this webinar, Dr Neo Peng Fu, Senior Lecturer at NIE (Singapore) and Director of the Confucius Institute at NTU, shares his observations and analysis regarding the current landscape of Chinese language teachers in Maritime Southeast Asia.
REGIONAL SOCIAL AND CULTURAL STUDIES PROGRAMME WEBINAR
Monday, 21 November 2022 – This webinar examines the declining rate of expatriate Chinese teachers globally, with considerable focus on the decreasing demand for teachers from China. Dr Neo Peng Fu is joined by Professor Leo Suryadinata, Senior Visiting Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, who serves as a discussant for the webinar. Dr Siwage Dharma Negara, a Senior Fellow from ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, was the moderator for the event. The webinar attracted 43 attendees.
Dr Neo begins his presentation by elaborating on the functions of the Confucius Institutes (CI) around the world, and explaining how the demand for expatriate Chinese teachers is determined each year. It is said that yearly requests for expatriate teachers are collated and compounded into a list to determine the overall yearly demand for Chinese teachers.
Utilising the data collated between 2018 to 2020, Dr Neo observes that there is a decreasing trend of expatriate teachers requested over the years in regions such as North America, Africa, and Asia, with the greatest decrease observed in North America.
Addressing the situation in North America, Dr Neo mentions that due to the tightening of controls in the United States, there has been a political suppression of CIs in the region, thus leading to the drastic drop in expatriate Chinese teachers there.
In other regions experiencing falling demand for Chinese language teachers, Dr Neo argues that local teachers have been replacing expatriate teachers in CIs, thus resulting in a drop in demand for expatriate teachers from China. Notably, the CIs in Africa and Asia are relying on local teachers to fill up these teaching positions. Due to the availability of scholarships to China, many local students further their studies in China only to return to become Ben Tu Jiao Shi (本土教师), or local teachers.
Maritime Southeast Asia is also witnessing the same phenomenon. Citing the case of Indonesia, Dr Neo points out that a large number of teachers that teach the Chinese language and culture in schools and colleges are local Indonesians who have graduated from universities in China and Taiwan. He cites the example of how English became a global language through local teachers and suggests that the same pattern is taking place in Maritime Southeast Asia for Mandarin.
The discussant, Professor Leo, raises some arguments for further discussion. He questions if the demand for local teachers is limited to the Philippines and Indonesia, or if such a trend can be similarly observed in other countries in Maritime Southeast Asia. Furthermore, he suggests looking at the socio-economic reasons for the increasing demand for Chinese-language courses. Stating that the regional demand for CIs is often met by critical opposition towards China, he opines that the road for Mandarin to become a global language will not a smooth one.
In the Q&A session, the speakers addressed questions regarding the security implications of expatriate Chinese teachers to different regions, the types of Chinese language programmes, the association of CIs to the Maritime Silk Road, tackling the student demand of local CIs, the impact of the pandemic on CIs and Chinese scholarships disseminated to local students.