This is an interesting development:
The government said Thursday it plans to employ about 4,000 new ``English lecturers’’ for primary schools as early as 2010.
The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology announced the plan after a public hearing on the introduction of the new lecturers at the National Institute for International Education.
The ministry has been working on introducing teachers specialized in teaching English conversation, and expanding hours for English classes. It has yet to decide the exact number of English lecturers to be hired for secondary schools.
The ministry will call them ``lecturers’’ to distinguish them from existing teachers who have civil servant and permanent job status. The recruited lecturers will be working on a contract basis and not be given civil servant status.
I'm curious about the name "lecturer." Here's what one guy had to say:
During the public hearing, Cho Seok-hoon, a professor at Cheongju University, one of the research members for the project, said that working conditions for the teachers should not be the same as those of government employed teachers due to opposition from current teachers.
Regarding criteria for applicants for the positions, Cho said the ministry could limit the pool of candidates to those who hold teaching licenses, but would leave that consideration up to education offices in local governments.
Kim Young-ik, a high school teacher, asserted it was dangerous to open the positions to anyone simply because they can speak English.
Hmmm, at first I was kind of nervous about this because it seemed like an end-around current contractual obligations to foreign teachers, kind of like how the TaLK program let them import foreign students at a lower price, but then I realized that they weren't talking about foreign teachers. What this does suggest, though, is that perhaps these teachers will supplant native speakers. Talk about mixed messages.
On the contrary to Kim's line, though, I'd argue that "lecturers" who can speak English ought to be hired, regardless of whether they're credentialed or not. There is a serious dearth in Korean English teachers willing and able to conduct classes in English. All too often, teachers either can't produce an intelligible sentence, or they're embarrassed to speak English in front of their students. Students, likewise, will often laugh at Korean teachers who speak English awkwardly or with an accent. Anytime the teacher speaks English in my class the students either laugh or go "aaahhhh!" . . . and then laugh. Interestingly, if these lecturers can actually speak English well they will not be paid the same as "regular" teachers, and will not earn the same money and benefits that even imported native speakers do. Arguably they'd be even more qualified to teach English than other Korean counterparts. The thing is, though, that real English ability is a valuable asset, a skill somebody probably wouldn't waste toiling in public schools at a low wage.
I blogged a little about the push to teach English in English last month, where I quoted an article that said TEE was facing strong opposition from teachers. Here's a bit from that piece:
Meanwhile, more than half of English teachers are opposing the introduction of ``Teaching English in English (TEE)’’ teachers, planned by the government for next year. The government plans to recruit 23,000 TEE teachers, who will conduct classes only in English, over the next five years.
Korea’s largest teachers group, the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Association said Sunday that 56.7 percent of English teachers negatively responded to the TEE teacher plans in a recent survey, while 24.9 percent said they need TEE teachers.
Among those respondents against ``English-only'' teachers, 46 percent said it would bring unqualified teachers to schools and 21 percent said current teacher levels are already enough for English education. The teachers' group questioned 425 English teachers at elementary and secondary schools nationwide between April and May.
To the line about "unqualified teachers" I responded: "Could they be any more unqualified?" and asked if you'd tolerate a geography teacher who couldn't use a map, or a math teacher who wasn't good with numbers. Back to today's KT piece:
Kim Hye-ri, a professor of Seoul National University of Education, pointed out the new system has been introduced due to the lack of English skills of current teachers, so universities need to change their curricula so that teachers can conduct English classes in English and the government should strengthen teacher training programs.
They are expected to be hired based on four-year contracts.
Well, bad job market or not, I don't know if I'd sign a four-year contract if I were getting paid less than teachers less qualified than me. I wonder if that is a typo, and should read "four-month" instead, which is roughly the length of a semester.
There's frequently talk about teaching English in English, but as pointed out here and by just about every Korean English teacher I've talked to, it's just not feasible. Not only are teachers currently unable to do it, but as I just said there's an unwillingness to even try. I'll share something I wrote on an earlier post, a post that talked about spending more money on English-only classrooms training Korean teachers:
Funny anecdote, a colleague came back from spending a month at the teachers' training camp in Damyang. You know, the one where twentysomething white people show Korean teachers with twenty years' experience how to teach English? Yeah, anyway, she really enjoyed it and learned a lot, but told me that she won't use any of the activities at our school because her students don't like speaking English. Nice, a month of free training that amounts to little more than upward mobility and promotion points.
Elementary school classes can and should be conducted entirely in English. With few exceptions there are no complex tasks, and nothing that can't be said in English or demonstrated. In secondary school, though, the focus is not on communication and comprehension, but rather on grammar, something that really can't be done in English. That's a point that gets brought up to me and to the papers time and time again. Maybe that means the system needs to be overhauled to reflect communication skills, but given the vital importance of standardized tests, that's unlikely.
I've encountered a few lecturers in my time, hired to teach part-time to the lower-level students. They were studying for their teaching test, whatever that entails, were young and had pretty good spoken English. But, and I've got to say it at the risk of sounding mean, I'm not really sure we can count on Korean English teachers to conduct classes in English, certainly not by 2010. There are some teachers who use as much English as possible, sure, so this is not a slight against them. It's just that I've met far too many who conduct English class in Korean. If your class consists of giving out a story, translating it into Korean for the students, giving instructions in Korean, asking questions in Korean, and getting responses in Korean, then it's not really an English class.
While there are a number of reasons why Korean English teachers can be more effective in the classroom, especially the way native speakers and their minimal roles are often positioned in schools, with native speakers at least you can pretty much guarantee an "English in English" class. While students may speak Korean, and may occassionally try to communicate to the foreign teacher in Korean, with very few exceptions the teacher will conduct all business in English. I'm just not sure you can count on Korean lecturers to come through that way, and given the resistance you often see against native speakers of Korean ancestry, I'm not sure students or their parents would appreciate the switch, either.
The ministry plans to announce the final plans on the new positions by the end of the year, based on suggestions from public hearings.
But I guess we'll see. It's really hard to get a handle on this English education business as plans come and go pretty quickly. I plan on doing a monster post over the next few weeks on the topic, to be released during my vacation when I won't be publishing any new entries.