Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Kukmin Ilbo editorial demands stricter government controls over foreign English teachers

On May 5 the Kukmin Ilbo published the following editorial:
Establish effective management measures for native speaking instructors

It's been revealed that an American male wanted for sexual assaulting a minor several times in the US has been working in our country as a native speaking instructor in places like elementary schools for nine whole years. This man isn't known to have committed any other crimes here in Korea and has been deported to the United States, but parents have not been able to conceal their anxiety. This is because a loophole in a system of hiring native speaking instructors which is unable to filter out criminals has been exposed yet again.

Foreigners trying to work in our country as native speaking instructors should receive a special qualification screening. According to the 'Act on the Establishment and Operation of Hagwons' amended in 2010, foreigners must submit things like a university degree, a criminal record check, and a health certificate containing things like drug test results in order to be issued an E-2 visa which allows them to work as native speaking instructors. Since 2011, native speaking instructors have frequently submitted batches of various certifications to regional education offices for verification of qualifications.

However, the verification system is incredibly lax. Criminal record checks only include final verdicts, and the fact that someone is wanted for a crime is not included. If a foreigner commits a serious crime such as rape or murder and flees to Korea and works as a native speaking instructor, there is no way to determine this. As well, the health certificate only includes the results of a urine and blood test, tests which can only detect drug use within the previous two weeks. Drug crimes by native speaking instructors are endlessly occurring, but since information is not exchanged between law enforcement agencies and education authorities, effective management of foreign instructors is lacking.

A bigger problem is unqualified instructors entering the country on tourist visas. The truth is that the supply of native speaking instructors can not cope with the demand of hagwons wanting to hire them. It's known that there are far more foreigners working as native speaking instructors than the 20,000 or so foreigners who are living in Korea on E-2 visas. The government should immediately remedy the loopholes in the native speaking instructor hiring and management system which allow people like fugitives, ex-cons and drug users to teach young students. It should not show concern through words only but put forward effective measures.
Where to start?

First off, the 'Act on the Establishment and Operation of Hagwons' was amended in 2011, not 2010. The writer seems to have run with the mistaken assertion seen in all of the other articles about this case that criminal record checks were introduced in 2010 (instead of 2007, after Christopher Paul Neil's arrest) and conflated it with the Hagwon Law revision.

It then brings up the problem that "criminal record checks only include final verdicts, and the fact that someone is wanted for a crime is not included." Considering how conducive Korea has been to responding to the CERD (seven months overdue come Friday), I'm sure a polite word to the FBI would get them to waive that whole 'innocent until proven guilty' basis of the American legal system to make Korean journalists happy.

We're then told that the drug tests foreign teachers get "can only detect drug use within the previous two weeks." This was first mentioned after the arrest for drugs of four foreign teachers in Busan in June last year, and another arrest in July was followed by a media chorus demanding random tests or hair tests for foreign teachers. Thankfully, though police were 'quoted' saying that there should be such tests, a Ministry of Justice official was quoted saying, "To have periodic tests without evidence simply because of the risk is an excessive regulation."

Of course, the Kukmin Ilbo seems to be suggesting that such tests might be necessary because "drug crimes by native speaking instructors are endlessly occurring." I'm not sure how they define 'endlessly,' but the last drug arrest that was reported (and I think it would be pretty rare that an arrest of an English teacher wouldn’t be reported) was almost 7 months ago. Endless! The Gyeongnam Sinmun even published a cartoon about that arrest (for eating pot cookies):

In speaking of the foreign teachers on tourist visas and saying that "there are far more foreigners working as native speaking instructors than the than the 20,000 or so foreigners who are living in Korea on E-2 visas," the editorial seems to be channeling a recent MBC report about foreign teachers on tourist visas which used ‘hagwon industry’ stats to say that there were 5,000 foreigners teaching English on tourist visas (which may well be true, give or take 5,000).

  ("Demand for native speakers: 30,000 ; legally registered instructors: 25,000 ; 
The difference: 5,000 -  Source: hagwon industry.)

The editorial says there are around 20,000 rather than 25,000, however. Perhaps they are using their own statistics. The Kukmin Ilbo has also reported on ‘unregistered’ instructors before, applying that label to both Korean and foreign hagwon instructors. The difference in the reports was striking, however, as it described in a neutral way Korean instructors doing something that was ‘illegal’ in an administrative sense, while the foreign instructors in such a position were introduced with "Drugs and molestation by native speaking instructors in hagwons are never ending."

One can only imagine the demands that would be made upon the government if it could exercise full sovereignty over US soldiers. Since they can't, similarly blue-eyed, blond-haired teachers are a fair substitute target, I suppose.

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