Thursday, December 15, 2011

SBS reports on the SMOE budget cuts and the fear of foreign teachers in hagwons

On December 8, after it was reported foreign teachers in Seoul public schools would be reduced, and Korean Americans who were working in hagwons as English teachers were caught with fake diplomas and were found to have been deported from the US for violent crimes, SBS broadcast a report:
'No questions asked hiring' of native speaking instructors... the uncomfortable inside story

Parents are greatly concerned after watching last night's 8pm news report about the dismissal of many native speaking teachers from Seoul's elementary, middle and high schools. It's not just the private education costs but also the difficulty of entrusting children to hagwon native speaking instructors.

In August police were searching a native speaking instructor's house and found not only numerous faked US university degrees, but also a plastic bag with marijuana seeds.

The house's owner was 38 year old Mr. Kim, a former US gang member, who was sentenced to and served ten years for murder before being deported to Korea in 2007.

Five months later he was working at a language hagwon as a native speaking instructor. He'd easily found a fake diploma using the internet.

Kim also gave a fake diploma to and found a job as an instructor for another Korean American who had committed a violent crime and was deported. [...]

At the end of June, there were 1300 registered hagwons in Seoul.

With such an abundance of hagwons, native speaking instructors are truly impossible to find.

Hagwons are not in a position to distinguish whether they are foreigners or gyopo, or whether they have qualifications or not.

Instructors disclose that it's common for backgrounds to be faked. [...]

Parents cannot hide their anxiety.

Shim Young-mi, Seoul Daechi-dong: It's scary. To some degree children learn from the teacher's way of speaking, behavior and character. This is a problem.

Native speaking teachers in the public school system will be sharply reduced.

Students will be driven into the private education market where teaching frauds abound.
Interesting. SBS seems to be inadvertently speaking out against cutting foreign teachers in public schools. The inference is that schools can weed out the fakes, while hagwons can't. Or as it says above, "Hagwons are not in a position to distinguish whether they are foreigners or gyopo"; something that I don't think is true at all - they just don't bother trying. Of course, there's no surprise there, since, once again, when Korean Americans (or the odd Canadian) are wanted for murder and found to be teaching in Korea, the media also find themselves "not in a position to distinguish whether they are foreigners or gyopo" - they're all "native speakers." This time is no different, since, if the Korean American criminals in question were deported to Korea, they must have all been Korean citizens, and there has never been a need for Korean citizens to provide foreign criminal record checks to work in hagwons (though perhaps this might start to be required after a few dozen more such cases). As for native speaking teachers being "impossible to find," that's not true at all, but it sounds good if you're making a case against hagwons and for public schools, I suppose. Of course, in the end, since SBS isn't making clear that it's because they were Korean citizens that they were able to get away with not having their criminal records found out, it still paints "native speaking teachers" as potential murderers and criminals.

Just for fun, the 'no questions asked hiring' in the title above echoes an August 18, 2006 Segye Ilbo article, which was titled "As long as they just speak English... The 'no questions asked hiring' of foreign instructors" (and which contained this cartoon).

As for the SMOE budget cuts for elementary and middle school foreign teachers, they are supposed to decided on today, according to this Joongang Daily article (which is much clearer than any other I've read):
"According to the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, the 4.4 billion won ($3.9 million) usually allocated to hiring foreign English teachers at city high schools was removed from next year’s budget proposal. [...]

The Seoul Metropolitan Council is also hoping to cut 4.9 billion won from the budget for foreign English teachers at elementary and middle schools in the city, however the council is currently going through a week-long deliberation period on the matter. The final decision will be made on Dec. 15 during the council’s general meeting."
Worth adding is that high school teachers may not necessarily be let go - those who are accepted for a new contract can move to a middle or elementary school.


King Baeksu said...

One sometimes hears the argument that one can only really understand Korea by reading and viewing its vernacular, Korean-language media. Articles like this suggest that such an approach might actually be a hindrance to obtaining an accurate view of Korean reality, much as regular viewers of Faux News in the U.S. are often unable to distinguish fact from pure fantasy.

The write-up of this SBS News report is egregious in its muddled thinking and outright deception. It, too, is "faux news."

Despite the fact that the subjects of scaremongering in this article are, as you have noted, most likely South Korean nationals (and according to previous reports, probably were sent to the U.S. as children and hence are not even technically "native speakers"), the words "재미교포" or Korean-American only appear twice in the article, buried mid-way through, while the words "원어민 강사/교사" or native-speaker teacher(s) appear seven times in the article, including most prominently in the title itself, and four more times in related articles at the bottom, which in two cases are accompanied by photographs of illicit drugs.

To my knowledge, the words "원어민 강사" signify first and foremost in the Korean consciousness Westerners from countries in which English is the first language, such as the U.S., Canada, Australia and Great Britain, and in the past four or five years have acquired a connotation of all manner of moral depravity due to constant sensationalized Korean media reports. They do not, as far as I know, primarily signify "교포," and yet that is the bill of goods that we are being ask to pay for in this article. More to the point from a legal perspective, "교포" teachers are differentiated under South Korean law from all other citizens of Western countries in which English is spoken as a first language, are they not?

At the very least, then, articles such as this need to be more rigorous and clear about the terminology they are using, lest they contribute, whether intentionally or not, to the further sullying of the reputation of an entire group of non-Koreans working and living in Korea. The overly facile opposition between "foreigners" and "Koreans" just doesn't hold up here, since kyopos occupy a third category which they are allowed to exploit to their own advantage in certain areas of the law (i.e., an F-series visa evidently allowing them to avoid criminal background checks and drug checks when applying for ESL teaching positions). Since the term "원어민 강사" is essentially code for "foreigner" first and foremost, it is simply too vague, and at the very least should not be used when one is discussing the very specific case of kyopos or Korean-Americans – especially when they are actually South Korean nationals and not even technically "native speakers."

To wit: How many Korean Netizens simply scanned the title of this article without reading it carefully and saw the pictures of white powder and marijuana at the bottom, and were subliminally "mind controlled" as a result?. Quite a few, I'd be willing to bet.

King Baeksu said...

[Continued from previous comment]

Moreover, the problem once again is not even really "native-speaker teachers," but rather shady hagwon owners who are not properly screening their teachers. The fact that university degrees were forged by these teachers indicates that the hagwon owners knew, at the very least, that this was a legal requirement for hiring them. When I applied for an E-2 visa from Hongik University back in 2006, I was required to have my university send them a sealed transcript which I never actually touched myself, but because I had lost my physical diploma during a recent move and the replacement I ordered did not arrive in time, I had to wait a month into the first semester before finally obtaining my visa and beginning the actual job. If South Korean Immigration was so strict in the processing of my visa application – in effecting denying it the first time around despite the fact that my sealed transcript clearly stated that I had "graduated with academic distinction" – why was it so much less demanding in case of "native-speaker teacher" Mr. Kim? Why aren't they on the ass of dodgy hagwon owners who can't be bothered to do any checking themselves?

Of course, one knows the answer already. It's because "native-speaker" English teachers without Korean blood in them are held to a higher standard than those with it. Certainly, if South Korean Immigration ensured that the university diplomas of kyopo (or dual-national) English teachers needed to be accompanied by sealed transcripts, as was the case with me, then that alone would weed out a large portion of Korean-American former gangbangers - even without requiring criminal background checks or drug testing. After all, if you have actually graduated from a four-year university, the odds of you being a gang member are significantly lower, are they not?

In other words, having Korean blood makes you "innocent until proven guilty," while lacking it makes you "guilty until proven innocent." That, in fact, is the real subtext of this SBS News report, which hews to the classic Korean narrative in which the Korean minjok or nation is morally superior to the rest of the world, the facts be damned (as if there were no indigenous gangsters in Korea!). Thus, Mr. Kim, evidently a South Korean national, somehow becomes a "foreigner" through the magic of deceptive, coded language.

Come to think of it, I may just have to revise my original thesis: Regular reading and viewing of the Korean-language media really is the only way you can truly understand and know Korean "reality."

Hey, if enough people believe it, then I guess that makes it "real," right?