Hid­den threats

A for­eign ed­u­ca­tor in China found to have a crim­i­nal past sex­u­ally as­sault­ing chil­dren in his home coun­try

Global Times – Metro Beijing - - FRONT PAGE - By Chen Xi­meng

When Emma Sun (pseu­do­nym), a mother of a 7-year-old girl at an in­ter­na­tional school, re­cently read a post say­ing that par­ents whose chil­dren

are at in­ter­na­tional schools in Beijing should be vig­i­lant in a WeChat group of moth­ers, she was shocked.

The post read that a for­eign teacher named Robert Robert­son from Canada, who has worked at Beijing Hui­jia Pri­vate School for six years, once had his teacher’s qual­i­fi­ca­tions re­voked due to sex­u­ally abus­ing stu­dents in Canada years ago.

“It is shock­ing news. I also con­tacted my daugh­ter’s head teacher to ask him whether it was pos­si­ble that such thing could hap­pen in her school. Though he said no, I was still wor­ried about her safety,” said Sun.

Af­ter hear­ing the news, she has talked with her daugh­ter to find whether there is some­thing wrong with her and taught her to keep her dis­tance from her for­eign teach­ers.

“How could this hap­pen? I have heard of other cases like this that have hap­pened be­fore. It is hor­ri­ble that child mo­lesters find China as their ‘par­adise,’” said Sun.

Robert­son is just one of a num­ber of for­eign teach­ers who were found to be pe­dophiles in China in re­cent years. School share­hold­ers sug­gest hav­ing a com­pre­hen­sive and care­ful check of for­eign teach­ers’ back­grounds and cre­den­tials and to use le­gal pro­ce­dures for re­cruit­ing them.

De­fend­ing them­selves

Ac­cord­ing to an Au­gust 31 re­port on van­cou­ver­sun.com, a Van­cou­ver news por­tal, when Robert­son taught at two schools in Canada, he was ac­cused of sex­u­ally abus­ing fe­male teenage stu­dents. He then re­signed from the jobs to dodge the in­ves­ti­ga­tions. In 2016, his teach­ing cer­tifi­cate was fi­nally re­voked by the gov­ern­ment in Canada.

Af­ter the news went vi­ral, Beijing Hui­jia Pri­vate School is­sued a no­tice on its of­fi­cial web­site on Septem­ber 1. In the no­tice, Robert­son said that he has not had any il­le­gal ac­tions with his stu­dents in the school. Yet in or­der to avoid any trou­ble for the school, he has al­ready re­signed from his post.

In a Septem­ber 2 re­port, Robert­son told South China Morn­ing Post (SCMP) that he had done “noth­ing wrong” and showed the sup­port­ing emails from his stu­dents at the school.

A girl stu­dent said that he is the “best PE teacher for­ever,” and that they also “love him for­ever” in an email. He said that he also did some vol­un­teer work and raised money for chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties in China, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

The school said in the no­tice that they have done care­ful checks of Robert­son’s back­ground and cre­den­tials ev­ery year since he has been work­ing at the school and found noth­ing to sup­port these find­ings. How­ever, Robert­son sug­gested the school knew about his past a long time ago, SCMP re­ported.

Not the ex­cep­tion

This is not the first time an in­ci­dent like this has oc­curred in China.

In 2012, Neil Robin­son, a former teacher work­ing at Beijing World Youth Academy from 2008 to 2012, turned him­self into Beijing Po­lice in 2013 af­ter be­ing ex­posed on so­cial me­dia as a fugi­tive who had sex of­fenses and pos­ses­sion of child pornog­ra­phy from 2000 to 2002 in the UK. In 2014, Robin­son was given a prison sen­tence of 12 years.

There are other sim­i­lar cases in Hubei Prov­ince and Shang­hai. In 2013, a former Amer­i­can teacher in a French school in Shang­hai was found out to be sex­u­ally abus­ing at least seven chil­dren for five years, Xin­hua re­ported in 2013.

“I do not know why such cases hap­pen again and again. How could they dis­guise their past and still work for years as a teacher in China? What are the re­quire­ments and stan­dards for be­ing a for­eign teacher?” said Sun.

What are the loop­holes?

China has a huge de­mand for for­eign teach­ers to teach English or some in­ter­na­tional cour­ses and they are of­ten in short sup­ply. Al­though there are some reg­u­la­tions re­gard­ing the re­cruit­ment of for­eign teach­ers, badly thirsty for them, some schools do not care­fully check their back­grounds.

Alex (pseu­do­nym), who has taught in mul­ti­ple in­ter­na­tional schools and con­sulted for schools in Beijing, has helped re­cruit many teach­ers. When re­cruit­ing for­eign teach­ers, a crim­i­nal back­ground check is re­quired in or­der to process a visa.

How­ever, Alex found that it is com- mon for some schools to hire teach­ers with­out pro­vid­ing them a work­ing visa, which means that through this process no back­ground check is re­quired. “I imag­ine this is a sit­u­a­tion in which teach­ers with a crim­i­nal record could en­ter the coun­try.”

Al­though be­ing with­out a work­ing visa is il­le­gal, they still do so be­cause of a large de­mand and growth of schools, but a short sup­ply of for­eign teach­ers, he said.

The an­nual mar­ket de­mand for for­eign ex­perts is around 100,000, but only 30,000 for­eign­ers can get for­eign ex­pert cer­tifi­cates, ac­cord­ing to Xia Bing, di­rec­tor of the State Ad­min­is­tra­tion of For­eign Ex­perts Af­fairs’ cul­tural and ed­u­ca­tional ex­perts depart­ment at a meet­ing in 2013.

When you do not have enough or even no for­eign teach­ers for the kids in a new class, imag­ine how that would af­fect your stan­dards of re­cruit­ing. At that point, al­most anyone who walks into the in­ter­view and has a nice smile can get the job. If you can­not process them a stan­dard visa, no prob­lem, the school will sort out other meth­ods to keep the teach­ers in the coun­try, said Alex.

“There is also not enough time to per­form a back­ground check by con­tact­ing the teacher’s former em­ploy­ers, so you re­ally have no idea about the per­son’s his­tory.”

A Bri­tish teacher at an in­ter­na­tional school in Beijing, who re­quested to re­main anony­mous, claimed his

school al­lowed him to work for a year with­out re­quest­ing a back­ground check.

He re­called that his school orig­i­nally left it to him to ar­range crim­i­nal record cer­tifi­cates from the UK and China. He then had dif­fi­culty do­ing this and even­tu­ally for­got about it, which means that he worked the en­tire year with chil­dren de­spite the school hav­ing no proof that he was not a crim­i­nal.

“I thought if Chi­nese par­ents knew the school al­lowed this they would be re­luc­tant to send their chil­dren to school in con­fi­dence,” he said.

When he learned that some of his col­leagues were in re­la­tion­ships with girls aged 16 to 18 at the school, he found it “dis­gust­ing and as­tound­ing.”

“I am cer­tain there are teach­ers who may be a danger to chil­dren. In con­ver­sa­tion with other teach­ers, sev­eral re­la­tion­ships be­tween teach­ers and sixth-grade girls were men­tioned, but as a new teacher, I didn’t know the specifics,” he said.

Pro­tect the stu­dents

Vi­vian (pseu­do­nym), an Amer­i­can teacher at an in­ter­na­tional school who has been in Beijing for 12 years, found it “very dis­turb­ing” when she learned about the re­cent case be­cause she thought that this kind of thing should have come up in a back­ground check. She said that with a Google search of Robert­son’s name and coun­try, one could find a news ar­ti­cle from early 2016 that could have been a warn­ing. “It is not just China. Any coun­try can get bad teach­ers like this. It de­pends on the back­ground check per­formed,” she said. “I think in­ter­na­tional back­ground checks can be dif­fi­cult, but they are nec­es­sary. A sim­ple web search of a name could have pre­vented this one.” Alex sug­gested that in the short term, on the schools’ side, in or­der to avoid let­ting child mo­lesters in, run­ning them through stan­dard visa pro­ce­dures should solve most of their prob­lems. Sure there might be one or two peo­ple who slip through, but that hap­pens ev­ery­where, un­for­tu­nately.

At the same time, the key is to know how to re­ject, spot and re­port un­wanted be­hav­ior, he said.

There are usu­ally mul­ti­ple teach­ers in a class. Schools can of­fer sex­ual ha­rass­ment train­ing for their teach­ers on what be­hav­ior with kids is not ac­cept­able, as well as for the kids on what kinds of be­hav­ior from adults is not ac­cept­able. If so, it might help stu­dents re­ject the un­wanted be­hav­ior and other teach­ers can spot it as soon as pos­si­ble, he ex­plained.

He once saw a teacher who was ac­cused of sex­u­ally mis­treat­ing chil­dren even though there was not much ev­i­dence. It deeply dis­turbed the teacher and harmed his rep­u­ta­tion with ev­ery­one he knew. In the end, the ac­cu­sa­tions came to noth­ing.

“I think it’s im­por­tant that peo­ple are not quick to la­bel oth­ers, and so train­ing and ed­u­ca­tion on how to re­ject, spot and re­port un­wanted be­hav­ior is very im­por­tant. Don’t la­bel the per­son; la­bel the be­hav­ior that one thinks is not ac­cept­able.”

A long-term so­lu­tion is to in­crease the sup­ply of for­eign teach­ers in China.

Alex said that that is a com­pli­cated is­sue. From his per­spec­tive, China is not one of the most pop­u­lar places among for­eign­ers out­side of the coun­try look­ing for em­ploy­ment. Many peo­ple are turned off by pol­lu­tion, sto­ries teach­ers have writ­ten on­line of be­ing tricked by agents or mis­treated by em­ploy­ers and low pay and ben­e­fits com­pared to coun­tries like South Korea and Ja­pan.

“If China were to be­come a more at­trac­tive place for for­eign­ers to work, there may be a greater sup­ply of qual­ity teach­ers that are willing to work in the coun­try.”

Photo: IC

A re­cent case of a Cana­dian teacher who was re­port­edly re­voked of his teacher’s cer­tifi­cate for his sex­u­ally abus­ing fe­male stu­dents back in Canada has trig­gered much con­cern among par­ents and for­eign teach­ers in Beijing.

IC Photo: Page Ed­i­tor: chenxi­meng@glob­al­times.com.cn

A school share­holder sug­gests care­fully check­ing the back­grounds of for­eign teach­ers and train­ing teach­ers to know how to re­ject, spot and re­port un­wanted be­hav­ior.

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