Earlier, The Korea Times reported about complaints from E-2 visa holders and problems with the "unfair" visa policy. In response, the Korea Immigration Service (KIS) said it would not change its policy to favor ethnic Koreans, while the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, responsible for overseeing hagwon or private institute teachers, said they would devise ways to close the loopholes.
However, the government has not come up with any measures in over a year to block unqualified ethnic Korean English teachers.
Immigration and education officials are passing the buck. "F-4 visa holders are allowed to do all kinds of jobs as it is a residential card, so hagwon supervisors have to weed out unqualified English teachers among the visa holders," said Jeon Dal-su, an official from the immigration office.
Chung Young-min, an education ministry official said, "If it's a problem regarding visas, then it should be a subject for immigration authorities."
In the past I've called Kang Shin-who the worst reporter in Korea's English language media, and for good reason. He's made a name for himself over the past couple years by distorting facts, twisting and fabricating quotations, and taking every opportunity to keep native English speakers in the news for all the wrong reasons. His unprofessional behavior is the stuff of legends, and will get some attention soon enough.
But in spite of the rotten headline today, he at least deserves some credit for looking at background checks vis-a-vis ethnic Koreans. The issue of "equal checks for all" raised by the Association for Teachers of English in Korea last year, by which teachers on F-series visas would be subject to the same screening procedure as E-2 visa holders, proved contentious to say the least, and was a fight Kang himself aggravated. I personally happen to think all foreign teachers should undergo the same screening regardless of visa status, because being married to a Korean---or being Korean yourself---doesn't necessarily make you "qualified" as a teacher (and I'll get to that use of "qualified" in a minute).
But the discussion needs to move forward, and people really need to be asking why business people---the hagwon bosses who hire illegal teachers---in the English education industry escape without much scrutiny. Native speaker English teachers are the face---the goofy, big-nosed, dope-smoking face---of this rotten industry, and take a lot of heat from politicians and reporters, but behind every teacher working illegally is a hagwon boss who hired them.
The buck gets passed a lot. We saw in the article immigration saying it's the responsibility of schools, and the education ministry saying it's up to immigration. In 2007 and 2008 after the arrest of Christopher Paul Neil, a man who taught at schools in Korea and who ended up wanted for Interpol for sex crimes against children in Southeast Asia. His arrest led to a whole uproar about "unqualified" teachers, and led to a whole bunch of new regulations on English teachers on E-2 visas (not necessarily applied to E-2 visa holders teaching other languages). It was all very ironic considering Neil wasn't even on an E-2 visa, and checks on his academic background or his criminal history wouldn't have turned up anything.
Now, there are certain limitations on what I can actually say with confidence. I can't say hagwon break the law with impunity because I don't actually know what the punishment is for bosses who are caught with illegal teachers. People on Dave's ESL Cafe have said nothing happened to their school, or their school was simply fined, but again I don't know for sure and I don't recall reading about any such cases in the papers. I'm lead to believe there's not much awareness about what teachers can and cannot legally do, considering the number of times I was asked by colleagues and people on the street to tutor kids on the side, and I've read plenty of cases about teachers being asked by their schools to work without a visa or to do things outside the scope of it.
Everybody's sick of hearing about "qualified" teachers because the authorities and the press haven't decided what it means. Sometimes it means a teacher with the proper paperwork---college degree, criminal record check, passport from "Big 7" country---to be legally employed. Other times it means a teacher with appropriate credentials, such as certification back home or an advanced degree in TESOL. Other times it simply means good teachers. In this particular article, it's used to mean teachers with the proper paperwork, though of course the writer can play around with that ambiguity. Right in the opening line, too:
Both immigration and education authorities have long turned a blind eye to loopholes in screening "unqualified" foreign English teachers.
That inattention occasionally horrifies parents and students when such teachers show their true colors.
The middle of the article talks about ethnic Korean teachers from overseas not subject to background checks, but then shifts to this:
Police announced Tuesday they arrested a group of unqualified English teachers who habitually took drugs.
I've seen no other mention of that arrest save for on The Marmot's Hole, where he writes:
MBC also reported that nine unqualified English teachers were busted for habitually doing drugs, and police plan to expand their investigation of hagwon English teachers.
If they were busted for habitually doing drugs, they're not really "unqualified" in the sense Kang is talking about in most of his article. Kang writes that they were busted for being unqualified, their drug habit something else.
The meme of the drug-taking English teacher isn't new, and you'll read about teachers who came to school high. When "unqualified" is conflated in the press it's often to mean teachers who use drugs, or dress poorly, or sleep with Korean women. The damn president of Seoul National University of Education is a fine example of this conflation of these stereotypes:
"The native speakers are not qualified and are often involved in sexual harassment and drugs."
That's what he said in a Kang Shin-who article last October, and though he confessed privately that he was misquoted, since he never made a public statement, we're only left with his quotation, which regardless of whether said by a reporter or educator, demonstrates how common the theme is and how flippantly those stereotypes are called upon.
"He is a killer, drug dealer --- and your teacher" says the Dong-A Ilbo. Found via Gusts of Popular Feeling.
These recent arrests and the accompanying media attention will probably start a little panic about who these ethnic Korean teachers are and what they're doing, and I'm sure the Times will do its part to keep E-2 visa holders in the news, too. In the past I've strongly disagreed with people who thought replacing foreign-looking NSETs with overseas Koreans would be a smarter, safer option. Certainly some of the criticisms made of the average native speaker English teacher---young, no overseas experience, not trained to be a teacher, just here to make money and party---can be applied to the worst of the gyopo community as well, and clearly nobody's paying too much attention to them.
This is an industry where any Kim, Lee, or Choi can open a school, and one made all the worse by those who hire the wrong teachers, who don't honor contracts, and who swindle parents. If you're really going to clean up the business, there need to be more headlines like "Hagwon Owner Vetting Needs Tightening," or a comparable headline that makes more sense.