Friday, November 09, 2012

Interesting op-ed in the Chosun Ilbo about new MOE requirements for foreign teachers

On November 5 the Chosun Ilbo published the following op-ed in its hard copy edition:
Expedient administration 'discriminates' against foreign instructors
Kim Ung-sik, Sogang University public policy graduate student

As the number of native speaking instructors in the private education market gradually increases, so do arguments over teachers who are unfit due to things like criminal records. To improve this, last October the amended "Act on the Establishment and Operation of Private Teaching Institutes and Extracurricular Lessons" came into effect and it became mandatory for native speaking teachers to submit copies of a criminal background check, references, a health check, their diploma, and their passport, visa and foreign registration card to the relevant education office for verification.

However, it should be pointed out that in this process the purpose of the law's amendment has been overshadowed due to administrative expediency.

Unlike other visas which are for working in Korea, for the conversation instruction visa (E-2) things like a criminal background check and diploma must be submitted to the immigration office. As well, within 90 days the results of a medical test taken in a Korean hospital must be included when doing foreigner registration. In other words, the fact that a foreigner in Korea possesses an E-2 visa and alien registration card is in the end the same as proof of verification at the national level. However, education offices demand the same verification materials again every time native speaking teachers change workplaces (hagwons, etc.) and if this is not followed, they can impose a fine of up to 3 million won according to the revised law. In this situation,the actual circumstances are that hagwons and foreign instructors are going to immigration offices to request that their information be accessed so that they can see the documents they submitted when they applied for the visa and submit copies to the education offices. Native speakers have also complained of how foreigners who have already passed through a legal process when entering the country and are already in the country repeatedly have ineffective materials demanded of them, and this has also caused a problem of administrative waste.

In the long term it will be necessary to develop a context dependent management program, but when native speaking instructors who have already entered the country change jobs, the most recent health check (including drug and marijuana test results) is enough to serve the purpose of the revised law. There are more than a few complaints that policies which view native speaking instructors as potential criminals are a form of discrimination against foreigners, but because these foreigners are a minority it is not easy to advance a political view or build up public opinion to improve the system. Korea is rapidly developing into a multicultural society. Therefore, it's urgent that we move away from an amendment which went along with public opinion centered on Koreans and establish a system for foreigners which everyone can accept.
You know, I honestly can't think of an op-ed or editorial that I've seen that has ever sided with foreign teachers (certainly these ones, this one by Lee Eun-ung of AES, and the one saying that foreign teachers are opium eaters didn't). It's nice to see that this was published, especially since the author has a clear grasp of the issues. And as he put it, "the fact that a foreigner in Korea possesses an E-2 visa and alien registration card is in the end the same as proof of verification" (something I looked at here).

The hagwon law revision stated that the "person who established or manages the hagwon must, when hiring a foreign instructor" must submit and "have... confirmed before hiring the instructor" a criminal background check, a health certificate (issued within the previous month and including the results of a drug and marijuana test), an educational background certificate, and "anything else prescribed by presidential decree." It also stated that according to the requirements above, "those currently working as foreign instructors must submit the documents listed in article 13-2 within one month of this law coming into effect." This was problematic considering that US and Canadian national criminal record checks take 3-4 months to process, and as was discussed at Dave's ESL Cafe (here, here, here, and here) some Ministry of Education branches would allow teachers already in country to make copies of their documents at the immigration office, while others wouldn't. During its "The Reality and Twisted Values of Some White Men" series this summer, NoCut News also mentioned the hagwon law revision and quoted a MEST official who said, "We are pushing ahead with an enforcement ordinance amendment which will omit the criminal record check and degree check for instructors who have been issued an E-2 conversation instruction visa." Of course, the NoCut News article railed against this 'weakening' of the revised bill (which would make it easier for white men to sully the motherland) and complained that "in the name of MEST's administrative expediency and due to the clamor of hagwon operators, the likelihood of wavering from the original purpose of a bill revised with difficulty gets larger and larger." Needless to say, it's ironic that both the NoCut News and this op-ed make reference to "administrative expediency," but mean it in opposite ways.

At any rate, I'm glad Kim Ung-sik took the time to write this piece, and it was nice to see the Chosun Ilbo publish it.

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