Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Ask a Korean! News: Seoul Public Schools to Phase out Foreign English Teachers

Here is a piece of news particularly relevant to a lot of the readers of this blog. Seoul's public school system (Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, or SMOE) is set to gradually phase out native-speaking English teachers by 2014, citing the preference of the students and parents for a Korean teacher teaching English. SMOE currently employs 1,245 native-speaking English teachers (NSETs). By next year, 707 positions will be eliminated.

Lest there should be any misunderstanding -- this does not mean that there will be no place for non-Koreans to teach English in Seoul. They simply won't be able to work at a public school in Seoul. Each educational district makes its own decision on this topic, and whether the rest of the country will follow suit remains to be seen.

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  1. What's the state of the budget for SMOE? Could they just be using that to justify cutting the costs of employing native teachers, which from what I've gathered is quite expensive comparatively.

  2. I think this is a good idea actually. Foreign English teachers should be restricted to private language schools unless they are proficient at Korean and can teach English but explain in Korean if necessary. Since doing this however they should drop the visa requirements for a universe degree to teach English in any institute in the country.

  3. Citing the preference of a good and fluent Korean teacher to a foreign teacher teaching English. As it stands, what the survey actually found is that both students and parents are happier with the way the foreign teachers are performing compared to the Korean English teachers. So the district is actually going against the preference of the students and the parents. But I understand the need to spin the results of this survey in the media this way, as what I've heard from most of the parents at my school, and what my coworkers have also heard from other parents, is that they'll be pretty pissed off if they ditch the NEST.

  4. It think this decision was inevitable with how much turnover there is with native English teachers. Most people tend to leave their work after one year here and out they go with all their experience with them. Any employer would be infuriated at that turnover rate. I would estimate the turnover rate for NETS to be between 50-30% which is high compared to the USA's teacher turnover rate of 16%.

    1. Robert:

      Given the way that many private schools, and even PUBLIC schools, treat their Native English teachers (with an almost palpable air of disapproval), to say that the level of teacher turnover is unexpected is remarkable. Let's start by discussing living conditions- the housing I was given by a "high end" private school was atrocious by any living standard. I literally took a tape measure and measured the dimensions of my apartment and found it to be eight and one half feet wide by eleven feet long- no larger than a US prison cell. Other NET's in my area talked of having to kill roaches, of having their "supervisor" arrive unannounced (the Korean supervisor claimed that he "owned" the NET's and therefore could come and go as he pleased). Couple this with some private schools (and even some public ones) that paid their teachers late if at all, and anyone can see why there is such a high turnover.

  5. As it stands, what the survey actually found is that both students and parents are happier with the way the foreign teachers are performing compared to the Korean English teachers.

    Overall yes. But not at high school level.

  6. Teaching both middle school and high school in Daegu, I do have to say that the 1st grade middle school students have a much higher ability level than the high school seniors. The gap is so large that it's very embarrassing for the high school seniors to admit. The elementary school next to my middle/high school have an even better comprehension level and are more inquisitive when they have a discussion with me at the bus stop. I do think that English is getting much better from the "ground up", a better foundation. The older students, not necessarily their fault (although my high school students attend a low-ability vocational high school for flunkies)--had to deal with changing curriculum, incompetent teachers, and lackluster books.

  7. Of course the native teacher is expensive - compared to the local Korean teacher who will (claim to) teach the same thing for a fraction of the price. Whether the NEAT test proves it or not is a different story.

    Right now, every hagwon owner is hoping this will come true. For one, they'll find it easier to find teachers (because they don't want to leave Korea), and they'll find it easier to find students (since they won't be getting native teachers anywhere else BUT the hagwons). It's a win-win for them.

  8. "Overall yes. But not at high school level."

    "Seoul's public school system (Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, or SMOE) is set to gradually phase out native-speaking English teachers by 2014, citing the preference of the students and parents for a Korean teacher teaching English."

    I don't really see how either the original article about the survey, SMOE's plans to phase out the foreign teachers, or what you've written at any point concern themselves solely (or even primarily) with high schools, so I'm a little confused about the relevance of that statement. The original statements were all "overall" statements. So shouldn't we focus on the "overall" results, in that case?

    But. Just as a bit of insight, every single foreign English teacher I've known who has worked at a high school in SMOE has said the exact same thing -- that between 50 and 75% of their classes end up "canceled" because of either exam prep or class trips. In that case, it's no wonder they're considered less effective than the Korean teachers.... they barely even see the students. And it's a fair point that, as the system is failing to make hardly any use of them at all at the moment, it would be better to just not have them.

    But again. We're not dealing only with high schools here.

  9. Could this be related to the free lunch program? The money for that has to come from somewhere.

  10. Does Seoul really have enough truly fluent English teachers to take every native speaking teacher's place? I've been teaching English in an elementary school way down south in a relatively tiny city for the past three and a half years, and there's just no way every native speaking English teacher could be replaced by a fluent Korean teacher here. Several of my friends work in schools where they are the only fluent English speaker. Many of the English teachers they and I have worked with scarcely speak English at all. It's often said that elementary school students don't know the difference between fluent and non-fluent, and as such having a fluent English teacher is an expensive luxury, but the English students learn as elementary school students forms the foundation for all the English they will learn later in their academic lives. I'd be willing to bet that many of the most common English mistakes heard and seen at the middle school, high school and university levels were taught to them by non-fluent teachers in elementary school. Old, bad habits die hard.

  11. I kind of agree with their idea of getting more Koreans teaching English, except it seems a bit to radical.

    Because, it does help a lot if the teachers can speak both Korean and English. And Korea does now have a very large portion of fluent English speakers.

    It really depends on what type of Korean English speakers they are going to use. And how they are going to make it work since Koreans fluent in English would probably cost more.

    However, I still think some foreign teachers should remain in Korean public school. I mean there are teachers who are actually really good at teaching. Moreover, some have contributed a lot for Korea in their own ways.

  12. from what i've heard, there are some pretty serious budget cuts coming down from the education ministry, and seoul, gyeonggido and gangwondo are all deciding to cut that money from the foreign teacher invitation program.
    i just was at a meeting in chungnam where a supervisor discussed this, and she said that she also was asked to cut the number of foreign teachers by about half, but as a result of feeling that the program has been quite successful in chungnam her office is not going to comply. individual schools here are being given the option to request to not have a foreign teacher for the coming school year, and based on those requests the numbers in this province will be reduced. we were told that there's a low chance that any of us that applied for renewal for 2012 will be denied.

  13. The best way to learn a language is with a teacher who doesn't speak your language. I've learned four languages (Italian, French, German, Latin and Spanish) and the difference in how quickly I learned and became fluent in the languages with a non-English speaking teacher was astounding. The best way to learn is through hearing natives speak and having interactions with them, and a Korean teacher who isn't fluent (I never met one who was, or heard of any from my friends) or a voice on a tape are not the same or anywhere near as effective.


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