About 1 week ago a friend stumbled on a document on Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education website regarding the contract renewal process for native English teacher’s (NET’s) in South Korea. The very last point on the document indicated that all high school NET’s will be forced to transfer to either a middle or elementary school. Obviously this came as a bit of a surprise to the high school teacher’s finding out only one week before we have to decide whether to renew our contracts that don’t run out until March 2012. We were also informed that we would not know whether we were being transferred to middle or elementary school, or where we would be living, until the end of February 2012, one week before our new contract would start!!!
This may seem quite unfair, well it’s extremely unfair really, that they knew about this and decided they would not tell us, but unfortunately that is part of being en ESL teacher, especially in Korea. If you’re thinking about becoming an ESL teacher, be prepared to be messed around, have contracts broken and generally be treated in a way that we would consider completely unacceptable in our home countries, it is just part of the industry, and there’s no point worrying about it or getting annoyed about it (although sometimes easier said than done!!). The positives of this job more than out weigh these negatives (for me), and well, it keeps you on your toes,t here’s always another job!!!
But what does this mean for the Korean education system? It means that from the age of 16 no student in Korea will have the opportunity to learn how to speak English in the public school system. If they want to learn to speak English they will have to go to a private academy. It also means that, in what is already an extremely homogeneous society, at the age range when children are developing into adults and developing their views and attitudes of the world they will have no opportunity to converse with anyone from another culture, unless they are willing to pay. You see, Korea’s not like the U.S or U.K. Every teacher in the school is Korean apart from me, almost every person on the subway is Korean apart from the one foreigner every now and again. It is rare that Korean people and foreigners interact in any way other than through school, and this has been taken away.
Many of the students in my class are genuinely interested in where I am from, my culture, my family, my beliefs. Three of my students came to ask me only 10 minutes ago if there would be any possibility for them to go to England and stay with my family this winter vacation!! These are opportunities that are being taken away from them and I think it’s genuinely sad. It seems the younger generation of Koreans may well be destined to be too scared to speak to foreigners on the street or venture out of Korea Town when they visit London or the U.S, unless of course, their parents can afford to buy this opportunity for them.
In a purely educational sense it is also going to create difficulties. In 2014 Korean high school students will be required to take a listening and speaking exam in order to get into university. Given this I presumed that Korean teacher’s would take over the conversation classes from next year, apparently not. According to the head of the English department in my school they have decided that they will just not have conversation classes from next year. So how will they pass the exams? They will have to pay for private tutors, if you can’t afford a private English tutor your chances of getting into a good university have gone from small to impossible.
As a teacher that loves his job and loves his students it is really sad knowing that only the one’s who have wealthy parents will have the opportunity to learn anything about people from different cultures other than what they see on T.V.
It’s just bonkers really isn’t it. Can’t you set yourself up on a street corner with a sandwich board over your neck saying ‘available for free English conversation, ask me anything,’ wonder what the take up would be!