Monday, July 18, 2011

GEPIK drinking parties and sadaejuui

On September 15, 2010, New Daily published the following article:
Are native speaking teachers introduced to Korean culture through drinking parties?

Controversy as drinking parties thrown by native speaking teacher during orientation become known of by the Gyeonggi Education Office.

The education office straightens out incorrect policies as the discontent of Korean instructors who kowtow to native speaking teachers in school simmers

The GEPIK orientation the introduces Korean culture through drinking parties.

A crack in the management of the Gyeonggi Education Office's adaptation program for native speaking teachers has been exposed. From native speaking teachers taking part in the Gyeonggi Office of Education-run 'Gyeonggi English Program In Korea' (GEPIK)* who have found disappointment in their dream to become a 'teacher' in Korea, it has emerged that the orientation process has little to do with studying English, and that unscheduled drinking parties are thrown at each GEPIK orientation.

According to multiple claims by native speaking teachers, those participating in the Gyeonggi Office of Education's GEPIK orientation listened to lectures that had nothing special about them, and at the final party soju and makkeolli were drunk until dawn. A native speaking teacher who worked at D middle school in Yangju complained that "It was distressing that alcohol was drunk until 4 am."

The negative reaction to such GEPIK orientations can be seen on native speaking teachers' blogs and facebook accounts with comments like, "It was killing me" and "it reminded me of university."

However, before gathering material for this story the Gyeonggi Office of Education was not aware of the problems taking place during orientation. A Gyeonggi Office of Education official who manages the GEPIK program said, "This is news to me." "I didn't know until now that during orientation native speaking assistant teachers were drinking alcohol."

A Gyeonggi Office of Education official said confusedly, "The GEPIK orientation emphasizes helping recruited native speaking assistant teachers improve their teaching abilities and adapt well to Korean culture. A month after arriving in Korea a three day orientation takes place to improve their teaching methods and and aid with adaptation, and about a year after arriving intense teaching method training is carried out."

The official promised, "We will find out the truth. If this (drinking) is happening at the training center immediate corrective measures will be taken, and things will be thoroughly managed in order to avoid similar problems in the future."

Native speaking assistant teachers served as if lords of the schools.

However the problems associated with native speaking assistant teachers do not end there. Due to the insincere attitude of native speaking assistant teachers in Gyeonggi-do's schools, there is a flood of complaints from [Korean] English instructors [who work there].

These English instructors are teachers on part time contracts but must hold a teacher's certificate and must meet the civil service education qualification. Among these, people fluent in English are picked. Their main duty is to "assist and support native speaking assistant teachers." Their annual salary is around 24 - 26 million won. Recently due to unemployment, many people with TESOL qualifications or overseas study experience are working as English instructors in schools. On the other hand, native speaking assistant teachers who come from a country that uses English and have only graduated from a 4-year university can apply. If they have a teacher's certificate they can make more than 2.5 million won a month but usually make 2.2-2.5 million won.

On the surface, it would seem that the English instructors would be treated better, but in school they suffer because of serious problems with native speaking teachers' qualifications and discriminatory treatment by the schools. Miss Hwang (28), who works as an English instructor at an elementary school in Ansan, said that "I've been driven to the edge by the insincere attitude towards work that the native speaking English teacher has."

Miss Hwang said, "Nobody does anything," and showed writing posted at an online education community called '○○ school' which points out the problems of native speaking teachers. '○○ school' is a community where mostly young teachers gather. As argued in many postings, in the eyes of these young teachers, many of whom have experience studying overseas and excellent English skills, native speaking teachers have substandard English proficiency.

There have been many complaints that they treat the English instructors like handmaids, that they spell even easy words like 'spicy' wrong, that they just prepare a single A4 sheet for a one hour class and kill time, and that every class they just show a movie or put together a puzzle and only give writing homework. One instructor let loose his/her anger at how easily a Korean American, who managed to graduate from school in the US and gladly became a native speaking teacher, could earn money.

However, for the English instructors their biggest complaint above all else is the attitude of the regular school teachers who teach English and that of the principal and vice principal. Because they are 'contract teachers' the school teachers ignore the English instructors while acting kindly towards and fawning upon the native speaking teachers. The English instructors do more teaching, but school teachers only express gratitude towards the native speaking teachers. Some school teachers order the English instructors around while making every effort to approach and help the native speaking teachers in every way.

Many English instructors express their discontent with school teachers' attitudes saying things like, "I'm fed up!" and "I'm worn out by this sadaejuui (toadyism)." In addition, native speaking teachers nominally make 2.2-2.5 million won a month, but in many cases they are offered housing, so their salary is actually around 1 million won a month more than the English instructors, which is another source of discontent.

As the GEPIK orientation drinking problem and attitude of the schools which bow down to native speaking teachers become known, it has led the English education related online community to the opinion that “The low quality foreign teacher problem is not simply a problem with the foreign teacher’s mind. Our country’s growing disposition towards sadaejuui (toadyism) is also an important reason.”

*The Korean name for GEPIK is the 'The Gyeonggi-do program to invite native speaking English teachers.'
While, when it comes to negative reports on foreign English teachers, the perennial target of the press has been the foreign hagwon instructor, there have been articles aimed at foreign English teachers working in public schools before, such as this one. But that seems to only scratch the surface in comparison to the one above, which delves into attitudes towards teachers and describes it as a problem of sadaejuui (toadyism).

As for the drinking at GEPIK orientations, I hadn't realized they did not happen at the beginning when the teachers first arrived (or at least that's what some of the stories I read said), but instead months later when many already had the lay of the land and for whom a lot of the information was not particularly useful. This is different from SMOE, which had its orientation when teachers first arrived and has other workshops a few months later after normal class hours have finished (instead of busing hundreds of teachers to the middle of nowhere for three days in the middle of the school year). At the SMOE orientation I attended, there had been a ban on alcohol until the last night, when the person in charge told us we could drink that night if we chose (but "not too much"). The idea that the higher ups would have no idea what was going on strikes me as unlikely. I'll quote one description of an orientation below - many blog posts I've seen were written in a way as to make we wonder what the hell the writers are doing near a classroom (talking about it being "a waist of time," for example, and grammar mistakes which are clearly not typos). But I digress...

New Daily may be best known for this oh-so-slightly-biased article about foreigners in Itaewon inspired by a former member of Anti English Spectrum, which was written by Jeon Gyeong-ung - the same author as the above article.

Oddly enough, when I first summarized this article (at the bottom of this post) a few weeks after it was published, I wrote, 'As AES's Lee Eun-ung once put it, "Ah, the eternal subject - the low quality foreign English teacher."' As it turns out, it was the correct connection to make (though the mention of "저질 외국인 강사" should have given it away). A search for the article on Naver turns up this result:
The photo of the garbage can isn't in the article, but as it turns out, it had been posted a month earlier at Anti English Spectrum, where they commented on such boastful evidence of drinking until 4am and asking, "Is this training?":

In fact, this is mentioned on their list of achievements (which can be found here; the translation of it here needs to be updated, and will be soon):
Are native speaking teachers introduced to Korean culture through drinking parties?
Article about problems with the Gyeonggi Education Office's GEPIK native speaking instructor training program (drinking party) and examples of the problems and harm to Korean teachers caused by unfit native speaking assistant teachers. [...]
It should be pretty clear, between the exact same photo being used, the same author, and AES themselves taking credit for it, that they're responsible for the article. The following blog post about attending a GEPIK orientation after the New Daily article came out is not only well written, it also conveys some important information:
The Orientation schedule was actually quite long and demanding. They obviously didn't want us to have too much time to ourselves in case we got up to trouble (apparently in previous years GEPIK Orientation had been treated as a non stop drinking party by the English teachers so now we were paying the price with a midnight curfew, a no soju rule and with not being allowed off the training centre premises without a pass which no-one seemed able to get!) [...]

After the mass games we were finally free to drink and make merry, though we were under strict instructions that if we wanted to take photos we should not put them up on Facebook etc. and tag them as GEPIK Orientation as the anti-English contingent in Korea would seize on it as proof that we hadn't actually been doing training but had just spent the 3 days partying at the Korean tax payers expense. This despite the long hours we put in and the fact that most of the people on the training did treat it seriously and did work hard and attend all the required lectures. It seems that there is a small but vocal section of Korean society who don't want us here and think that English education is a waste of money. They're welcome to their opinions of course but I'm not sure that GEPIK should be kow-towing to them really.
One gets the impression GEPIK was aware of the source of the article. As for GEPIK not Kow-towing to Anti English Spectrum and the New Daily, AES posted this update to their list of achievements:
2011 April - July
The Gyeonggi Education Office bans instructors from bringing alcohol to native speaking instructor training. An article exposed the excessive drinking at the Gyeonggi Education Office's 2010 GEPIK native speaking instructor orientation and demanded the relevant institutions rectify this. The Gyeonggi Education Office prepared a guideline banning instructors from bringing alcohol from April 2011.
The banning of alcohol at GEPIK orientations was written about by Brian back in April. As for this sentence -
It seems that there is a small but vocal section of Korean society who don't want us here and think that English education is a waste of money.
- it actually, in many ways, predicted AES's updated mission statement, which I'll post tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

Great post, looking forward to your followup.

matt said...

Thanks - though maybe it'll be the day after tomorrow...

ZenKimchi said...

Yes, another great piece of work. I gave lectures this year for EPIK's orientation, and they had strict alcohol policies too. They had two orientations--one for people who had just gotten off the plane and one a month later for the others.

I'm no Picasso said...

All I have to say about the last half of the article is that I had an English instructor last year who continuously complained straight to my face that the other Korean teachers treated me like a part of the group, whereas she was outcast, and how it wasn't right, because she's Korean and I'm not. She constantly badgered me about how much money I made, insisted that I was lying to her about how much vacation time I got, and asked about how much my free housing must cost. She was angry that the students obeyed and respected me, but would bulldoze over her, once again because she is Korean and I am not, and therefore they should respect her more.

The other Korean teachers could not stand her and were positively livid when I told them what she had been saying to me. In their own words, being Korean or not doesn't matter, so long as someone is actually able to do their job. They showed respect to me and treated me like a part of the group, because they knew they could leave the students in my care and I could handle it, and run the classes by myself, which was more than they could say for this instructor.

No surprise to me that this issue is coming up. Our English instructors have had loads of trouble adjusting to their jobs, which they expect to be like the small hagwon classes they've taught before, when they are nothing of the sort.

Darth Babaganoosh said...

Our [Korean] English instructors have had loads of trouble adjusting to their jobs, which they expect to be like the small hagwon classes they've taught before, when they are nothing of the sort.

Bingo. Assuming hagwon classes are the same as public school classes is just asking for trouble. Slapping around the little princes at the hagwon is frowned upon in public school.

I think a non-insignificant number of Koreans still believe teachers should be given automatic obedience and deference. When they finally get in a public school class and they don't receive it (and they see the NEST does), well, it's because everyone kowtows to the foreigner, of course. (eye roll)