THE PASSIONATE SKEPTIC
Thor May 1993 (c) Thor May, 31 July1993 all rights reserved
Note 1: This was a letter forwarded to the Federal Ministers of Immigration and Emplyment, Education & Training on 31 July 1997. Their minders showed no real sign of wanting to know about the issues raised. The communication followed internal critiques of CBT which I had made to the Adult Migrant Education Service, Victoria. Those critiques were summarised in two memoranda: Observations on the AMES Certificate in Spoken and Written English, and Assessment in the AMES CSWE which were circulated in the Adult Migrant Education Service teaching centres, Victoria, in early 1993. Teaching staff at a large meeting in the Myer House headquarters of AMES at that time almost universally endorsed the sentiments expressed. However the trenchant critique of CBT (competency based training) as applied to language teaching was seen as a political threat by AMES management, and my contract was not renewed.
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The Award of Fraudulent Certificates in Language Competency(c) Thor May 1993; all rights reserved
The Award of Fraudulent Certificates in Language Competency Thor May, 31 July 1993
to Senator Nick Bolkus Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs Parliament House Canberra, A.C.T. 2600
Dear Senator Bolkus,
This letter is written with regret, but I feel professionally compelled to bring to your attention the nature of the Certificate in Spoken and Written English now being issued Australia-wide by the Adult Migrant Education Service in the name of the Australian Government.
Attached please find a table which is a facsimile of a table printed on the back of the Certificates being given to adult migrant students. To earn this certificate a student must master two "competencies" from each of four categories in the stream (English for Study etc.) in which he or she is enrolled. "Mastery" is taken by AMES to be at roughly ASLPR Level 2 on the old global language scale; (a native speaker is ASLPR Level 5). This caveat on "mastery" is nowhere indicated on the certificate, so that an outsider, say an employer, is bound to take its claims at face value
There are severe difficulties in for teachers in evaluating language competencies, as I have indicated in other included material. Nobody can define what mastery at 2/5 of native speaker standard for a competency is. The concept is a nonsense. Teachers are awarding the certificates because they want to keep their jobs, and show a reasonable student throughput. My own experience, and that of colleagues to whom I have spoken, is a) that the range of achievement amongst certificate holders is very wide indeed; b) that a very large number of certificate holders could not be said to have mastered the competencies in any practical sense; and c) that large numbers of certificate holders would have had the greatest difficulty with some of these competencies in their native language, as indeed many English-speakingAustralians would. The daunting task of foreign language learning has been enormously complicated for these students by a whole set of extraneous skill requirements
.The Award of Fraudulent Certificates in Language Competency (c) Thor May 1993;
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However, my deepest professional concern relates to the construction which will be put on the certificates in the public domain. The employer or other non-specialist party who is presented with one of these language competency certificates is sure to take it to mean what it says. As a native speaker, he will feel able to quickly test its validity, and he will find that in many cases the claims that it makes are, to be blunt, quite fraudulent. This will have a number of undesirable consequences: a) it will make the certificate holder look bad (this is very serious for unemployed people); b) it will quickly devalue the Certificate in Spoken and Written English in community estimation; c) it will bring ESL teachers into disrepute; and d) it will bring the Adult Migrant Education Service into disrepute.
There is a further particularly damaging consequence flowing from fraudulent certificates of language competency issued in the name of the Australian Government. It was revealed to me by one of my own students. Like many other students she was well aware that the claims made by the certificate for her language achievements were fictional. She had the sense to express doubts about using it in Australia. However, as she gleefully pointed out, such a document would immediately secure her a very good job in her home country. You will be well aware that significant numbers of discouraged migrants are returning to their home countries after obtaining an Australian passport. Minister, Australia has a billion dollar education export trade. I can think of no faster way to undermine this country's reputation than a flood of shoddy, government-endorsed language certificates. It will be the "foot and mouth disease" of the education business.
The Adult Migrant Education Service has many excellent teachers. Its operation has been severely disrupted by sudden competition for contracts, and its administrators, thrust into a new entrepreneurial role, have made some poor decisions. Professional integrity has been the first casualty. My critique has rendered me the second casualty.
I do not wish to intrude personal considerations upon the issues I have raised, nor have this correspondence read as a personal grievance exercise. However, if you do follow up questions on the Certificate, my own integrity is bound to be questioned, so it is best for the record if you are aware of my situation. For that reason a curriculum vitae is appended. Also appended are two memoranda which discuss (for an audience of teaching colleagues) some problems with the Certificate. These memoranda have effectively led to my dismissal from the AMES venues (Myer House, Melbourne and Preston Community) where I have been a part-time sessional teacher (15 hpw) since late 1990 while also writing a part-time PhD in Linguistics at the University of Melbourne. AMES will deny dismissal; their claim is that work is not available. There has been no reduction in relevant classes, and a less experienced teacher who entered AMES service later has taken my position. I will have to find work somewhere else (not easy), but heaven knows what sort of referee comments will come from that quarter after this letter. Ce la vie.
Because the Adult Migrant Education Service serves two masters, I have forwarded a similar set of documents to your colleague, The Hon. Kim Beazley, Minister for Employment, Education & Training
Thor May (Mr)
The Award of Fraudulent Certificates in Language Competency (c) Thor May 1993;
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