Marek Kiczkowiak: This article was written in a response to my enquiry about the hiring policies in a big teacher training project in Malaysia. The author of this article, who runs the project, would prefer not to disclose his name. His bio note can be found below.
Equal hiring policies is a subject that I too feel quite strongly about and have striven to honour that belief by recruiting under the policy that credentials and ability are the main criteria and nationality is a secondary issue.
This particular project was started in 2011 and we were so pleased that the initial contract with the Malaysian Government had the criteria of academic qualifications, ESL qualifications and ‘Native Speaker Competence’. This word competence was extremely important to me as I am so much aware that the simple term of ‘Native Speaker’ is extremely difficult to define. You have attempted to give a good definition of this in your site, but it is still a subjective opinion and open to different interpretations depending upon the proclivities of the user.
By and large at the commencement of this project the Malaysian Ministry of Education accepted candidates based on this definition, though subsequent officers who replaced the original sponsors of the project have had various views about this definition and have denied applicants based on nationality rather than competence. I have had considerable correspondence with the Ministry regarding this issue, specifically for them the define exactly what they mean by a native speaker, but have so far received no definitive response. I have, also to be very careful about this as they are the paymasters and as such they make the rules of employment.
Actually the main issue we find in Malaysia is not so much the non-native speaker aspect (we employ numerous personnel from Europe both west and east) but one of nationality and race. Whether we like it or not, there are perceptions amongst some people that other races are ‘inferior’, stereotyping them into different educational or roles depending not on their individual ability, but on a national trait. For example, in Malaysia the majority of ‘foreign workers’ who are employed in the manual labour sector are from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Indonesia, Myanmar etc and the perception is that anyone who is employed as a professional from these countries would not have the credibility of personnel from other more prestigiously viewed countries such as Europe, USA, Australia etc.
Whilst this perception is incredibly subjective and seems to lack any form of credibility, it is something that is deep rooted in our psyche and is very difficult to shake. We seem to expect that certain nationalities or races fulfil certain roles – there is always something strange in eating in an Indian restaurant that is not staffed by anyone who does not look ‘Indian’. A purely racist and totally illogical point of view, but nevertheless is a commonly accepted phenomenon. Whilst we seem to be slowly shaking off these nationality stereotypes, progress in this field is not as rapid in some areas of the world as it is in others
I have submitted applications for very suitably qualified personnel from India and the Philippines that have been rejected on the grounds of ‘non-native speakers’ and despite my appeals to the definition of ‘native speaker competence’ their applications have still be turned down. The hypocrisy of this situation was exemplified when I submitted the credentials of two applicants on the same day. One was a lady who had a MA, 7 years teaching experience and was already in Malaysia, the second was an applicant with a BA, with 4 year’s experience and was still working abroad. The first was denied, the second was accepted. The first was an Iranian the second an Italian. The Iranian was denied as she was a non-native speaker, but the Italian was accepted!
I must also emphasise, that despite some of the anomalies stated above, I have been able to employ numerous applicants of different races from various countries and they have been accepted and worked extremely well on the project. It would appear that occasionally my applications may fall on the desk of an ‘un-enlightened’ officer and that is where I have difficulties. On the whole the Government has been extremely supportive and helpful in this matter
I will, however, continue to submit applications from so called non-native speakers and constantly challenge the odd (not meaning peculiar) official who seems to stereotype applications. The need for your website surely demonstrates that this is still an uphill battle, but it is one that I think is worth pursuing and whilst I am the project manager of this programme will continue to abide by the principle of credentials (which include personality and attitude) over and above nationality.
Author’s bio note: Married with two teenage daughters studying in local college / school in Malaysia. Came to ESL late in life but for the past twenty four years has worked in Universities in China lecturing in Linguistics and specifically psycholinguistics and also taught communicative English to students from every age group from Kindrergarten to retirees, Special needs children to business executives. For the past ten years have been involved in teacher training programmes sponsored by the Malaysian Ministry of Education as both a trainer and a manager. Personal details available on request.