Starting in the fall semester next year, around 100 teachers from India will be teaching English at elementary, middle and high schools nationwide, a high-ranking official with the Education Ministry said yesterday.
The ministry has recently confirmed a plan to “improve the system for assistant native teachers of English,” including hiring English-speaking Indians.
“The Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement signed between Korea and India last Friday has opened a 1.2 billion-strong Indian market. We expect a number of qualified English teachers from India will come here,” said the source.
We've read before that the Indians are coming, but they haven't yet turned up in large numbers to teach English. Indians have found work teaching English camps and teaching English over the phone, although Kang Shin-who has written that non-native English speakers have not had luck finding jobs. Who knows if there are definite plans in place to hire Indian teachers, seeing as the source is unnamed in the Joongang Ilbo. This seems like another case of reporting possibility as probability.
The ministry will recruit around 100 Indians early next year and if the trial is successful, it could raise the number to 300. The source said there is a high chance that those teachers will be dispatched to regions outside the Seoul metropolitan area where there is a shortage of native English teachers.
Korean schools introduced the so-called English Program in Korea project in 1995 for “globalized education” and set the goal of allocating one native English teacher for conversation with students for every class. Currently, there are 7,088 assistant native English teachers employed but they are from seven English-speaking countries - the United States, Australia, Britain, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. Their monthly salary ranges between 2 million won ($1,700) and 2.5 million won.
The ministry has spent more than 300 million won a year on hiring and training those teachers but experienced difficulty gaining sufficient “qualified” teachers, given that only 13 percent of them have official teaching certificates.
I wrote about the misuse of "qualified" and "unqualified" in the Korea Herald in June, and have addressed it many times on this site, to such an extent that I thought we moved beyond that misnomer. I guess it bears repeating, for those who missed it the last few times around, that it is Korea itself that determined a four-year degree and the right passport are the qualifications for teaching English here. It is safe to say that nearly all the teachers in Korea are thus "qualified," and those who aren't slipped by a sleeping immigration. I'll quote at length from that Herald piece, though since you all have been through this a hundred times, feel free to skip a bit:
It is confusing to hear politicians and government officials talking about "unqualified teachers." After all, the government itself decided that nothing more than a passport from one of seven English-speaking countries and a bachelor's degree is necessary to teach English conversation on an E-2 visa. Schools, presumably, would like teachers with impressive resumes, so what is stopping the government from raising the standards? What's stopping schools from hiring better teachers?
Supply and demand is one reason. With English hagwon all over the place, and with more and more public schools after native speakers - or at least the funding that accompanies them - it is impossible to fill all these positions with experienced and trained teachers from native-English-speaking countries.
The language barrier is another, as most schools lack the English ability or the know-how to make reference checks or evaluate resumes. Furthermore, schools and school districts aren't willing to pay for quality, with public schools only offering an extra 200,000 won ($155) per month for teachers with a master's degree. Of course, teachers don't enter the profession to get rich, but since Korean teachers are among the highest-paid in the OECD, experienced and trained native speaker English teachers should be rewarded for teaching such a high-priority subject.
There are a couple of other points that undermine the overuse of "unqualified." Even today there are schools in Korea that refuse to hire blacks, Asians or overweight teachers, demonstrating how important the appearance of a native speaker still is. Each year we read about non-native speakers busted for teaching English illegally, which tells us that either the school couldn't detect a non-native accent, or that it was so eager to hire a foreign face that it didn't matter whether their English was any good.
However, a big reason Korea hasn't hired more "qualified" teachers is that it hasn't decided what a qualified English teacher really is, and thus doesn't know what to look for. The ambiguity of the word "unqualified" is in part a product of the ambiguous role native speakers play in the classroom.
From the Joongang Ilbo again:
Regarding concerns that some Indians who are fluent in English speak with local pronunciation and intonation, which has led to the term “Inglish,” the ministry will pick only those with teaching certificates of English and scrutinize the screening process through written and oral exams.
Well, we read last month that the school board in Yeosu city, Jeollanam-do, isn't hiring blacks or Asians, and we know that many phone hagwon advertise that they do not use Indians or other Asians, so we'll see how this goes.
However, I'm sure these teachers come cheaper, and I consider their introduction more indication---together with the new domestic English test, the thousands of Korean English "lecturers," and the increased contract funny business by public schools---that South Korea is moving away from hiring native speakers from the Big 7. Though thousands of native speaker English teachers have been hired for public schools over the years, a near-total lack of planning and support on the part of co-teachers, schools, and education offices has prevented them from reaching their full potential and has essentially set them up to fail. I suspect it won't be too long until the NSET experiment is over.