Monday, December 7, 2009

Assemblyman Hwang Woo yea on the cost of native speaker English teachers.

The other day Robert Koehler sent me an article from the local paper Gwangju Dream (광주드림) talking about the high cost, as one lawmaker sees it, of native speaker English teachers. Assemblyman Hwang Woo yea (lol, 황우여), the Secretary-General of the Grand National Party (한나라당) objects to native speaker English teachers taking up so much of the education budget:
영어 원어민보조교사 확보를 위해 쓰이는 비용이 영어교육관련 예산의 60%를 차지하는 등 원어민 보조교사 채용에 문제가 있다는 비판이 제기됐다.

He also goes on to say that there is the problem of them committing crimes after hired.
국회 교육과학기술위원회 소속 한나라당 황우여 의원은 1일 보도자료(2010년도 교육예산안 심의)를 내고 “현재 영어보조교사 확보에서 EPIK(교과부 산하 국립국제교육원)를 이용해 확보한 영어보조 교사는 18.8%에 불과하다”며 “이에 자질이 부족한 원어민 보조교사가 선발되거나 선발 후 범법행위를 하는 등 문제가 되고 있다”고 지적했다.

The Gwangju paper goes on to talk about Gwangju, saying there are 130 NSETs in Gwangju's public schools, among whom 89 are hired through EPIK. The ratio of native speakers to schools is 44.2%, much lower than other areas such as Seoul (101.3%), Gyeonggi-do (98.2%) and Busan (91.7%), though of course many teachers in Gwangju, Jeollanam-do, and elsewhere work at two or more schools. Statistics we saw in October said Jeollanam-do---not including Gwangju---has the fewest number of NSETs in the country, though we saw those stats were wrong.

The expense of using so many native speaker English teachers is a great burden on local education offices, the article says.
문제는 특정 지역에 원어민들이 몰려 있는데다 원어민 확보를 위한 교육청 비용 부담이 크다는 점이다.

 광주시교육청은 원어민 영어보조교사 한 명당 연 4000만~4500만 원가량 지원하고 있다. 여기에는 입·출국 지원금, 퇴직금, 주거비 등이 포함된다. 시교육청은 원어민 등급을 1+에서 3등급까지 등급을 나누는데 1+ 등급 원어민 영어보조교사는 한 달에 260만 원, 3등급은 190만 원 가량 받고 있다.

The yearly cost is 40,000,000 won to 45,000,000 won, according to the Gwangju Office of Education, with monthly salaries being between 1.9 million won and 2.6 million won. The article closes with Hwang talking about using Korean English teachers proficient in spoken English instead of NSETs because the latter have not fulfilled expectations:
황 의원은 “지역 교육청별로 영어교육 편차가 크고 원어민 보조교사 교육 형태와 기간도 달라 효과적인 연수가 이뤄지지 못하고 있다”면서 “원어민 강사 대안으로 영어회화에 능한 한국교사들을 확보해 활용하자는 의견이 대두되고 있다”고 주장했다.


Talking about native speaker English teachers in Korea requires more sophistication than is often shown by those who do the talking on the subject. For instance, the remarks on native speaker English teachers by Seoul National University of Education's Lee WonKey at the 2009 Global English Teachers Association International Conference last month---some of which I've typed out on the post "Are native speakers part of English here?"---bothered a lot of people, me included. The post has 46 good comments so far, objecting to Lee calling English an American language, to him talking about "unqualified" NSETs, to him saying NSETs don't want to go to rural areas, and to him wanting to replace NSETs with Korean English teachers.

He also brought up the expense of hiring so many, saying in the plenary session:
Employing native-speaking English teachers who are not sufficiently qualified to teach English in Korea is a lot more costly than training Korean English teachers to be competent in English and English teaching methodology. To employ one foreign teacher we need to pay expenses twice more than employing two new Korean teachers. In addition, to employ foreign teachers is a yearly task, because once they finish their contracts many go home (and some even do so before they finish!). In contrast, once Korean teachers are trained and qualified with some initial investment, they will not incur extra cost until they retire. Training Korean teachers is more economical. And well-trained Korean teachers can do better in ELT than most foreign teachers.

Lee didn't cite his source for that information, and in a discussion on English in general I don't think he should be expected to. However, talking about money vis-a-vis native speaker English teachers is a little tricky, and one that doesn't boil down to simply numbers.

In November 2007, in probably my first lengthy rant on this blog, I loooked at a letter to the Korea Times that was full of misinformation on NSETs. Kang Eun-hee*, a teacher at a middle school and at the time a student at Korea National University of Education---wrote a piece "Korean English Teachers" which spouted all kinds of bullshit and which demonstrates the profound ignorance many have of who NSETs are and what we do. Read the whole thing if you'd like---and my follow-up in the Times as well as my more explicit blog post---but here's the excerpt relevant for today's post:
In the long run, the expansion of intensive training programs for Korean English teachers is more urgent financially, than the employment of native English teachers.

Additionally, Korean English teachers are aware of the importance of the quality of English education and the emotional effect it has on the students.

We will probably waste the national treasury in the long term, unless the government invests a lot more in training Korean English teachers rather than depending on the temporarily employed native English teachers.

The yearly cost for employing one native English teacher is approximately 45 million won in our school. The amount is almost as much as the gross income of a 25-year veteran Korean teacher (excluding the pension).

American English teachers accept many financial preferences. They are exempted from income taxes for two years and the rate of the pension and the health insurance is lower than ours.

Even the overtime pay is different. While they earn 20,000 won per teaching session, we get only 6,000 won. This is comparable to the 13.5 million won a trainee at the Korea National University of Education (KNUE) gets for six months.

One year intensive English training programs seem to be enough because we've already learned a lot about the methodology, grammar and reading from our former education. That means only two-thirds of the expenses for one native English teacher can create high value.

Going tit-for-tat is a bad idea because there's really no comparison. From my blog post in November, 2007, which responds to Kang:
One day I started to wonder if the temporary employment of native English teachers could fulfill our expectations: I have arrived at the conclusion based on my experiences.

In the long run, the expansion of intensive training programs for Korean English teachers is more urgent financially, than the employment of native English teachers.

Yes, training Korean English teachers does make sense. Though I do work with some wonderful people this year, I have encountered my fair share of dumb-fuck English teachers in the past two years, and am convinced that these unqualified teachers---who do the lion's share of English teaching anyway---do much more damage than the comparatively few inexperienced foreigners.

Based on what one of my coteachers has told me, it looks like there will be more opportunities for Korean English teachers to have intensive language and education training. According to him (so not sure how true it is), teachers have the choice to spend a semester studying at a university in Seoul, or spending a semester abroad. For teachers in Jeollanam-do, they have the opportunity twice a year to spend a month attending a training seminar in Damyang county.

Additionally, Korean English teachers are aware of the importance of the quality of English education and the emotional effect it has on the students.

Oh shit, she all done up and done it. If I may be so bold, I will suggest that a vigorous public smear campaign against foreigners and foreign English teachers has been more detrimental to the emotional well-being of Korean students than any of their imagined offenses. Based on what follows in Kang's piece, I would also suggest that "emotional effect" is another way of saying "kids are afraid to speak English (because I will hit them) so don't make them talk."

We will probably waste the national treasury in the long term, unless the government invests a lot more in training Korean English teachers rather than depending on the temporarily employed native English teachers.

The yearly cost for employing one native English teacher is approximately 45 million won in our school. The amount is almost as much as the gross income of a 25-year veteran Korean teacher (excluding the pension).

*Sigh* No need for hyperbole. Hiring white people will not waste the national treasury. Building a cross-country canal will do that. Relocating the capital from Seoul to Chungcheongnam-do will do that. Hell, ridiculous and misguided spending on poorly planned English Towns will do that. A foreigner in every school probably won't do that.

I dislike talking about money and salaries, especially when it comes to comparing mine to my Korean counterparts. There are too many factors worth considering. I get free airfare. They get holiday and performance bonuses. I get accommodation. They sometimes do, too, and they earn a higher salary. I have less work (sometimes), but they have more vacation time. I don't know what she's talking about with the 45 million figure, but I'm almost positive it's wrong. Even if my apartment were to cost a staggering million a month---which it doesn't, thanks to 전세---and even if you factor in the cost of a round-trip ticket, that hypothetical foreigner would still earn $200 more per month than me, and $600 more than a rookie. (I didn't figure in deductions like health care.)

I suspect what happened is she included other aspects of the budget, including the cost of creating and maintaining a "language lab," into that figure. Every school I've been in has had a fancy language lab, filled with computers, books, different listening devices, and a big TV. (In all of my schools, though, the equipment in the lab has been inferior to that found in other rooms). Anyway, it's unfair to include the cost of a language lab or an English Camp when calculating salary, especially when so many contributors to a Korean teacher's salary are left out. I hate pissing contests like that, and I really wish it weren't such an interesting topic of conversation for some.

American English teachers accept many financial preferences. They are exempted from income taxes for two years and the rate of the pension and the health insurance is lower than ours.

Again, she has her wires crossed. I think any minor financial advantages are offset by things like not receiving performance bonuses, or adequate yearly salary increases, or not getting bribes, etc. And I'm not sure why she singles out American teachers. I have no idea about the pension or health care figures, though.

Even the overtime pay is different. While they earn 20,000 won per teaching session, we get only 6,000 won. This is comparable to the 13.5 million won a trainee at the Korea National University of Education (KNUE) gets for six months.

The 6,000 won figure is wrong. The 13,500,000 figure, when divided by six, is comparable to what a foreign teacher receives each month. At just over 2.2 million per month, that's more, in fact, than many experienced teachers stand to earn.

One year intensive English training programs seem to be enough because we've already learned a lot about the methodology, grammar and reading from our former education. That means only two-thirds of the expenses for one native English teacher can create high value.

Again, I agree that training Korean teachers is a smart idea. I'm not sure we can talk about value, yet, because it will be necessary to hire foreign teachers for these Korean trainees. What she's talking about sounds similar to what's already in place. Some foreign teachers in Jeollanam-do, for instance, spend 9 or 10 months a year teaching in a public school, then spend a month or two training teachers in Damyang county.

I don't want to be (too) mean, but let's not overvalue the training in methodology, grammar, and reading the Korean teachers have already received. I don't deny that some are very enthusiastic about their subject. But, with few exceptions, the methodology consists of reading aloud from a textbook, of translating the day's lesson into Korean, and of punishing students who happen to get in the teacher's way. The myth of the Asian grammar expert is unfounded, in my experience. It's true that Asians study grammar throughout their school years, but do they actually learn it? I have a decent understanding of grammar---I've forgotten a lot since college---and I've never met a Korean teacher who has stumped me or who has known something I have not. Hell, some of them have been studying English longer than I've been alive. Moreover, how many Koreans have you met that could produce even the simplest grammatically-correct sentence?


To get back to today's post, just looking at numbers is a bad idea, especially when they're incomplete. There are high costs associated with hiring native speaker English teachers, and when they're not used to their fullest potential they are inefficient. Moreover, if you ignore what supply-and-demand means to the business, it's easy to forget why the cost are what they are. But when talking about these high costs, if you're going to include airfare, housing, and severance when talking about NSETs, you'd also better include the costs of regular training programs, English-Only rooms, textbooks, and expensive toys like the eAMS-200** when talking about Koreans.

Discussions about training opportunities, as alluded to by Hwang, Lee, and Kang, came up in page four of this Dave's thread on the GETA International Conference. I mentioned, like I did in response to Kang, that in Jeollanam-do Korean English teachers do attend month-long intensive English sessions at the Jeollanam-do Educational Training Institute in Damyang county, and are able to attend sessions over winter and summer breaks. Moreover, teachers are able to do a half-year intensive program at Korea National University of Education, with a month of study at a university overseas. All of my former coteachers attended camps in Damyang, and one of my co-teachers capped a half-year session in Chungcheongbuk-do with a month at Michigan State University. I was also told that if teachers would like to obtain a Master's degree from a university in an English-speaking country, the government will pay half the cost.

When I posted about Damyang in December, 2007, I liked this quotation from another teacher down here:
So my last week of school and first week of holidays, I was at a camp teaching Korean English teachers how to teach English. Rather ironic considering they have had 4 years of Uni to learn how to do this and I have had none... but anyway.

I talked with coworkers about these Damyang sessions several times. It was a convenient discussion topic because sometimes these mandatory month-long sessions toook place in the middle of the semester. Anyway, though they found the training a bit inconvenient since they were away from their families five days a week, the teachers generally had a good time. However, everyone I talked to came to the same conclusion: the lessons weren't practical for their own classes because
1) Their students aren't interested in speaking English.
2) Their students' English levels aren't good enough to understand spoken English.
3) The activities they learned in Damyang can't be applied to large class sizes like those in public schools.
4) Teachers must follow and complete the textbooks and teach toward standardized tests, and don't have time to waste on speaking English.

That I heard the same thing so many times ought to tell you that if spoken English is to be taught in public schools, they need native speaker English teachers to do it.

Again, the biggest source of the challenges faced by NSETs and by those who hire them is the lack of planning and support that accompanies them, and a lack of vision for their success. It sure is inconvenient to import teachers every year with no idea what to do with them and no intention of using them to their fullest potential. Eventually it would make sense, as Lee suggested in his speech, to use NSETs mostly as teacher-trainers while Korean English teachers do the bulk of the work, but clearly we're not ready for that yet. Hell, don't forget Korean English teachers do the bulk of the work already: in Suncheon I saw each class once or twice a month. But just as it's bad to write-off NSETs based on ignorance and misinformation, so too is it wrong to champion these training sessions that haven't yet provided results. If you talk frankly with teachers you'll find they think these intensive programs neither convenient nor useful and that boils down to the same issues that plague the native speaker English teacher experiment: no planning, no support, no direction, and no vision.

* An example of a Korean with an unprofessional email address. If you're a Korean English teacher trying to argue that native speaker English teachers aren't effective, please don't use an email address like "fungus55."

** Not sure how much this costs when new, but I've found used versions for 400,000 won and 700,000 won while searching Naver. Not terribly expensive, but a lot to play for something that never gets used.

16 comments:

hwarangi said...

Another excellent post, Brian.

I've always thought that part of the reason for the lack of planning and poor utilization of NETs was connected to the misconception that merely being in the presence of a "foreigner" was a ticket to native-like fluency, comparable to other popular pseudo-scientific notions like 'playing basketball makes you taller' and 'eating chicken necks makes you sing well' (Okay my examples are a little flippant, but I am being serious). You know, like Koreans who have been to America and spoken to foreigners speak English well, so if my child interacts with a foreigner, s/he will pick up English fluently.

Obviously this is not going to happen, so the NET is often doomed to failure due to these unfair and unrealistic expectations.

Of course it would make economic sense to only use Korean English teachers (Many of whom are competent speakers of English), and many NETs (due to no fault of their own) are probably superfluous in many situations, but, as you said, until the culture of teaching to the test, and its accompanying methodologies (Longwinded grammar explanations in L1) change, it's a moot point.

For all the ferver over education (especially English education) in this country its a shame (and very frustrating) that they cant get this right. There are plenty of countries where people graduate from high school speaking English fluently (Scandinavia, Germany, The Netherlands (OK, linguistically similar, but even the Chinese aren't that bad)), only ever having learned it from native (i.e. native to their country) teachers.

L Tron said...

When talking about the length of time that NETs spend in the country, don't forget that EPIK, the government's own program to improve education, only allows teachers to stay in the program a MAXIMUM of three years. They have already guaranteed that they will never retain teachers with a view of improving their effectiveness. And then they turn around and complain that teachers don't stick around.

앤디오빠 said...

With the current exchange rate, I am getting just over half the pay, that I was getting as an entry-level elementary school teacher in Australia.

I didn't come to Korea for the money.

3gyupsal said...

T-tron, don't know where you are getting this maximum of three years figure, but I don't think that it is right, since there are a lot of EPIK people who who have stuck with their jobs for more time.

But to the meat of the article, the money. It seems as though this assemblyman is just trying to find a political issue and is simply blowing smoke. Korea has had a long term plan to get a native speaker in every school by 2011 for at least three years now, (It was 2006 when I just heard about it) so the price of which is probably something that the local education boards probably had already expected in their budget projections.

Now the first time I heard about that, I was in a Korean university run TESOL course that wanted to facilitate this demand for NETs that was being put forward by the government. The university ran the TESOL course for only three semesters before it finally gave up and found that it was cheaper to just pay the would be TESOL trainees a decently hourly rate and use them as a large pool of teachers to teach colege freshmen, and whatever extra programs that the university made.

I found a lot of the things covered by that TESOL to still be valuable to this day, however, one of the professors of the TESOL course (A U.C. Santa Cruz professor who was getting paid 100,000 won per hour) had the same complaint that has been thrown around by many NETs, that is they invited him to teach this course, but they didn't exactly know what they wanted him to do. (This was a one week intensive course that was worth credit at U.C. Santa Cruz.) So the guy just kind of showed up and winged it.

S said...

Speaking of shiny replacements, in my tiny visiting school of 46 students, we have this crazy contraption that arrived about the same time I did. It's in the library (the same place they stuck me, actually) and has been largely ignored except right before the school inspection this year. It's called the CyberTalker, and is supposedly able to recognize students' faces and voices and do some kind of English training with them. Aside from wasting several English class periods trying to make the thing recognize all the students, I don't think it's even been turned on.
Promo video with bonus blonde children in hanbok! http://www.desco.co.kr/movie/talker.html

Roboseyo said...

I love the names: lee wonky, and Macho Man Randy Savage's favorite Korean: Hwang Woooo Yeeeeah!

ZenKimchi said...

Not sure if it's relevant, but remember all the money they wasted on those crumbling English villages too.

Chris in South Korea said...

Or Sejong City.

Or the study in massive tunnels to connect Korea to Japan / China.

Or any number of other government projects.

CAPTCHA: festre

Peter said...

Interesting, comprehensive post.

At my last Elementary school, the English lab was a fully-functioning computer lab, with about forty brand new computers ... which were almost never used, as my classes were supposed to be as focussed on speaking as possible. Those computers could have been used for other classes, or the money could simply have been spent on something else ... but no, they just sat there in the English lab, looking impressive and collecting dust.

The Korean government has demonstrated a willingness to throw money at anything even remotely related to English education, with little thought given to how that spending will help anyone actually learn English. If the government wasn't paying for NSETs, they'd just be spending that money on even more gadgets and spectacles that pay lip service to English without really helping to teach anybody anything.

L Tron said...

My three year figure is actually directly from the EPIK website and my recruiter. I just looked at the website and it's not there now, so it may have been a mistake. If so, I apologize.

Walter Foreman said...

I posted a comment in the "Are native speakers part of English in Korea" thread, but perhaps it is more relevant here...

...another point on which I feel Professor Kim errs is that foreign English teachers are more costly than Korean teachers of English. He says:

To employ one foreign teacher we need to pay expenses twice more than employing two new Korean teachers.

I challenge Professor Kim to support his claim with facts. The facts I have read from the OECD state that the average salary for a Korean teacher in Korea, with the bare minimum of training, is approximately 31,500 USD (about 36 million KRW). On the EPIK site, a beginning native-speaking English teacher with the bare minimum of training receives a yearly salary of approximately 18,700 USD (about 21.6 million KRW). At the top of the pay scale, the inequality is even more pronounced. The average top pay grade for Korean teachers in Korea is approximately 87,600 USD (about 94 million KRW). Conversely, the top pay grade for native-speaking English teachers in EPIK is approximately 28,000 USD (about 32.4 million KRW). This amount is not even the same as a novice Korean teacher!

Professor Kim also mistakenly suggests that once trained, Korean teachers of English incur no further costs until they retire. Again, I challenge Professor Kim to support this assertion with facts. For the past five years, I’ve been working for a government-sponsored six-month in-service teacher training program. All of the participants in the program are practicing Korean teachers of English. The fee for each trainee is approximately 11,000 USD (about 13 million KRW) for six months of training and is paid for entirely by the Korean government. The 11,000 USD figure does not include the cost of hiring a six-month replacement teacher for each of the nearly 300 teachers per year who take the program. Many of the trainees in the program have taken several such programs throughout their careers.

If anyone is interested, the OECD figures I quoted come from here:
http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/32/24/41277858.pdf

Ryan.G said...

Walter, some very interesting thoughts you have, thanks for sharing.

It's interesting to see how unequal the situation really is. Maybe the government would do better by hiring more foreigners for teaching positions to save more money?

Mike said...

Personally I did come here for the money... among other things. I was buried in debt in the U.S. with Psychology/Sociology double major from a well respected liberal arts college. I could have gotten a job... and been paid anywhere from $12/ hour to $28,000 a year. In both cases doing something terrible and cringe-worthy.

So instead I quit my marketing job and high tailed it to the "best bang for your buck" country on the list.

I disagree that being among those here "for the money" makes me a bad teacher. I spent over 40 hours doing a TEFL (which was far under the minimum of 100 hours to get me the pay raise in SMOE) and researched a lot about Korea so that I would be effective.

And I also tend to disagree that the role of a NSET is superfluous. I am utilized as a measuring device against which my Korean counterparts are measured. It was summed up perfectly by my co-teacher: "No one knows if we speak English well, especially the principal. He doesn't speak English. So he asks you to tell him who speaks English the best. They will be your co-teacher next year."

Wow. Logical. I also think our role in the classroom is beyond correct pronunciation and common phrases. We are here (hopefully in large part) to implement different methods of education, discipline, language learning, etc. We know different games (go fish, for example) and are the result of 20 years of a different sort of education system. Ignoring that is the real waste of money.

As a side note, I'm debt free and still here... not for the money but because I actually started to like teaching.

3gyupsal said...

Well said Mike, money is a big factor in working here. As Walter Foreman has pointed out, the amount we are paid isn't much, but it is a big number for people fresh out of college, who might other wise work in a box factory because their liberal arts degree has a less than obvious practical aplication in a modern workplace, not as much as an engineering degree, or real technical skills that companies actually want to pay for.

jay said...

ive been here off and on since 1996 or so. honestly, there are more people studying english, but not that much more "fluent/ish" speakers. the best speakers usually leave or get a super-high position in some company, not education.

i personally doubt if they will ever be ready to get rid of foreign teachers. If they had that many great speakers, i dont think those people would become teachers. you know?

brett said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.