Background Checking

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

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, 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 common 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.”

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