An anonymous SMOE summed up the governments reasoning for reducing the NET program when he simply stated:
“Korean students feel more comfortable learning from a Korean teacher”
It seems to me that everyone has just accepted that this does provide justification for reducing the NET’s. However, if we really think about it, this fact should be the saving grace for NET’s and the one that we use to keep our jobs. Here is a quote from the Korean education authority itself…
“The ability to communicate in English will act as an important bridge connecting different countries, and will be the driving force in developing our country, forming trust among various countries and cultures”
(Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Korea:2008)
Our job is to instill a generation of Korean students with the confidence and self belief TO communicate with foreigners. If the majority of students still don’t feel comfortable communicating with foreigners then they obviously need more time in direct contact with foreign teachers, the programme has only been running 9 years, which, given the extensive history and isolation of Korea, is nothing. What this statistic should be telling the education authority is that with the current state of affairs, when this generation of students become a part of the business community, they are going to be unable to successfully communicate with native English speaking business partners. Do they really want business people who are too scared to pick up the phone to their American business partners? Especially in an age where forms of communication such as tele-conferencing are becoming so important. They are not going to be able to get away with simply putting it in an email, especially not when their neighbours in China, Japan and Taiwan are increasing the amount of exposure time their students are getting with NET’s.
Now, moving on to teaching, why do the government think students are more comfortable with Korean teachers? The reason is quite obvious, their lessons are taught almost exclusively in Korean. Of course it is easier for them to understand, and thus it is more comfortable, but the point is, if Korean students can’t understand their NET they certainly will not be able to understand their American business partner. Now I don’t want to take anything away from my Korean counterparts, they do a great job in difficult circumstances. At the end of the day, given the nature of the multiple choice reading comprehension exam, the teaching methods they use get the results they need. NET’s are not constrained by this examination system, as quite simply, our competency as teachers is not evaluated by our students’ exam scores. We are free to communicate with the students in an open and honest environment. We are not just teaching our students English, but the makeup of a NET’s duties here allow us to give the students the opportunity to practice creative communicative skills in general. At a time when Korean business leaders are stating their frustration at the younger generation’s inability to creatively communicate this is an important skill for students to be practicing…
Among respondents in companies human resources department, 75 percent said the education system fails to nurture the workforce the corporate world needs. The uniform way of teaching in schools was blamed by 59.3 percent. (http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2011/12/07/2011120700522.html)
Often a NET’s class is the only opportunity in this very uniformed educational environment to nurture the communicative and creative needs of the future generation of Korea’s workforce.
I’m not trying to say that the current system is perfect, every NET in a Korean public school would admit that we can be utilized more efficiently and effectively to give the Korean taxpayer the most value for their money, what I am suggesting is we focus our attentions on how this can be done. Let’s create an open dialogue between the NET community, the education authority, the government and parent and students to work together to meet the targets of the English syllabus and give a young generation of Koreans’ the skills they will need to continue Korea’s remarkable growth when they enter the business world.
What are your thoughts on the role of NET’s in Korea?
How can we take the role of NET’s into the future?
I welcome any comments below.
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I believe that the problems with native speaking speaking English teachers, (and please don’t feel the need to be an apologist about the term. If you grew up speaking a language, you are a native speaker of said language), in the SMOE, EPIK, GEPIK, and generally in Korean education at large are rooted in the problems that are inherent in the Korean education system, a system which is not native to Korea at all.
Addressing the issues at the foundation of the system, (and in society at large) , would be the best first step.