In the wake of the infamous case of Neil Robinson, the teacher jailed in the UK last month after being uncovered as a fugitive working at an international school in Beijing, concerns about schools’ vetting processes have never been far from the front pages.
At first glance, a story published Sunday in The Global Times (“To Catch a Predator") seems to simply rehash the issue of teacher background checks that many parents are now well-versed in.
But amidst these concerns lies a very serious allegation from an unnamed source who the paper claims to be a British teacher currently employed at an international school in Beijing:
The teacher said he found it "disgusting and astounding" when he learned some of his colleagues were in relationships with girls aged 16 to 18 at the school.
"I am certain there are teachers … who may be a danger to children. In conversation with other teachers, several relationships between teachers and sixth-form girls were mentioned, but as a new teacher … I didn’t know specifics," he said.
The article only quotes one source on this specific claim (an unnamed one at that), so beijingkids feels that the validity of the accusation should not be taken at face value. However, in an environment where it’s not unusual for teachers and older teen students to turn up in the same Sanlitun watering holes on weekends, it’s not entirely surprising to hear these charges.
Having said that, the article can also be read in the context of the largely anti-foreign agenda that emerged after the Robinson case, despite there being scant evidence that Chinese teachers have to go through the same background checks as foreigners.
Nonetheless, the issue of consensual relationships between teachers and older teens is one that has been widely ignored in the (sometimes scaremongering) debate on abuse in Beijing’s schools.
While The Global Times’ report editorializes that schools are putting “the prestige of foreign faces above students’ safety,” evidence indicates that’s not the case – indeed, criminal background checks have become routine for most foreign hires in China.
Since July 1 2013, all applying for work (Z) visas have had to provide a police clearance certificate from their home country. Having recently been through the visa process myself, I can confirm that this is well enforced.
But then it has not proven to be particularly difficult to teach in China without a work visa, as has been revealed by scandals involving schools employing teachers on tourist visas, for which no check is required.
Furthermore, an Australian report on child sex offenses provides an interesting statistic which, although not specifically related to teachers, gives food for thought – less than a quarter of child sex offenders in its study had previous convictions for sexual assault.
Background checks on teachers is something that beijingkids wholeheartedly supports, but this but one step in the process of keeping children safe. The onus is also on schools to implement close classroom monitoring and parents to remain vigilant participants, rather than distant observers, in their children’s education.
Image courtesy of Lisa Brewster (Flickr)