The latest Vietnamese education story to stir up controversy concerns the city Department of Education and Training’s decision to hire 100 Filipino teachers to provide English lessons at select elementary, middle and high schools here in Hồ Chí Minh City.
Supporters of the plan argue that English is the common language of education and daily life in the Philippines, therefore Filipinos should be just as good at teaching the language as native speakers.
While it is true that many Filipinos speak very good English, there simply is no substitute for someone who speaks it from the time they become able to talk and goes on to use it every single day, like native speakers from countries like the US or the UK.
Learning a second language is hard, and few people are able to completely master something other than their mother tongue.
Therefore, even excellent non-native speakers can make mistakes when it comes to grammar, pronunciation and word usage.
Time in the classroom can’t make up for years of daily immersion in English.
Critics of the Education Department’s plan argue many of the above points.
Understandably, officials have come out to defend the idea of hiring Filipinos, but one recent Tuoi Tre article included a very dubious quote from the department’s director.
He claimed, unbelievably, that they couldn’t hire native speakers because Australian teachers demanded a salary of $5,000 per month, while teachers from the UK demanded a massive $10,000 a month.
Let’s look at why these numbers simply can’t be true.
As a former English teacher here in Saigon, I can say from experience that most ESL teachers at language centers make roughly $2,000 per month.
Teachers at places like RMIT or the international schools make more, but nowhere near $5,000 a month, and certainly not an eye-watering $10,000.
Given the low cost of living in Việt Nam, $2,000 every month is more than enough to live relatively comfortably.
In that light, the claim that teachers are demanding multiple times that amount just doesn’t make sense.
Perhaps the biggest reason the supposedly requested salaries provided by this official are incomprehensible is that even in these teacher’s home countries they would be enormous.
A $5,000 monthly salary equals a $60,000 annual one, and a $10,000 per month salary comes out to $120,000 per year.
According to the UK Department for Education, the average starting salary for a teacher in that country is 23,010 pounds, or $36,750.
Experienced teachers can make up to $100,000, but only after long tenures and years of hard work.
Even college professors in the US, home to arguably the best university system in the world, make an average of just $73,000 per year.
These are people who have Masters and PhDs and other advanced degrees, not a simple 4-week TESOL certificate.
Does the Vietnamese Education Department official really think British teachers would ask for a bigger salary to teach ESL than a professor of, say, nuclear physics makes annually?
The real story behind this whole situation may never be told, but surely native speakers asking for obscene salaries is not what actually happened.
The best way to learn English is from native speakers, but for some strange reasons officials seem unwilling to give local students that opportunity.