Friday, November 27, 2009

Culture educational programs and incorrect E-2 numbers

In a KBS piece quoted in a lengthy post at Brian in Jeollanam-do, we're told that:
Representative Cho Jeon-hyuk of the ruling Grand National Party, who is also a member of the parliamentary committee on education, proposed on Thursday revisions to laws on schools and private institutes.

The revised bills seek to make it mandatory for private institutes to have foreign teachers complete educational programs on South Korea’s culture and people.
Not a bad idea. It would be great if such looks at culture would take in a number of concepts such as those discussed by Horace Underwood (listed here) such as hierarchy, the emphasis on loyalty over honesty, and Chemyeon or 'face' in Korean culture, as well as the concept of Korea as a 'high context' society in comparison to Western 'low context' societies as discussed in ATEK's guide.

It would also be useful to look at things like traditional conflict resolution and how it leaves non-Korean speakers at a disadvantage. Allow me again to quote what anthropologist Linda Louis wrote in Laying Claim to the Memory of May:
As a social process, the Korean cultural scenario for conflict resolution involves the public expression of grievances by both sides, as a means of informing the neighbors, of shaping local consensus, and of mustering popular support for each side of the argument.

It is above all else also a process that relies heavily on the involvement of a third, mediating party for a successful outcome. In fact, it is through the public airing of the dispute that the antagonists solicit the intervention of others. Intense verbal aggression and the public expression of grievances serve not as a prelude to physical violence, but function to mobilize third party intervention, to prevent just such an escalation in the dispute.
Many foreigners are never going to get a fair hearing in such situations, simply because they can't speak Korean well. This would also explain how "concerned citizens" often appear to help Koreans who get into an altercation with a foreigner.

I certainly hope the definition of Korea's culture would not be limited to such things as '5000 years of history' and Dokdo, though - thinking of how the tour at Changdok Palace goes, with yawn-inducing comparisons of ondol vs radiators and how many gan a certain building is, but no stories of what happened to Prince Sado there - I fear that's what might end up being focused on. Which would really be too bad, because such classes could be a great opportunity, though I imagine the only way they could be made truly interesting and useful to foreigners in Korea would be if foreigners in Korea were consulted.

Our favourite Korea Times reporter has an article revealing the reaction to this, with the following title: "Foreign Teachers Unenthusiastic Over Culture Course." I am happy to see ATEK's statement there offering to work with the government, as I think that's a good approach on their part. The article ends like this:
Cho indicated that he is seeking programs that will help native English instructors better understand local culture and also improve their teaching skills.

"Schools and hagwon hire native English speakers but most of them are visiting Korea for the first time and have no teaching experiences," Cho said.

The number of the foreigners with E-2 or English-teaching visas has risen to about 43,000 this year from 29,236 in 2006 and 22,345 in 2003. In public schools, the number of E-2 visa holders has increased 20-fold over the past seven years. Cho's office expects the number of E-2 visa holders to reach 50,000 by 2012.
Once again, a National Assembly representative gets the numbers wrong because they're using the wrong statistics, much as Choi Yeong-hui did, though at least they're not being used to say 22,000 teachers are missing this time. The E-2 numbers were 19,771 at the end of last year, and according to Rep. Park Min-sik, there were 21,498 E-2 visa holders as of July.


Stephen Beckett said...

I agree that this would be a good idea in theory, but we all know exactly how it's going to go: Three days of broken English, explaining how Korean food is the most traditional and delicious food on earth, expounding upon the sublime beauty of the kayageum, the timeless wonder of neo-Confucian authoritarian values, etc.,etc., etc..

I do like Kang Shin-who's wonderfully tendentious headline, mind you. He can manufacture a dig from the scantest of circumstances, can't he?

kushibo said...

Stevie Bee, I have taught such classes at two different universities and worked with others who have been doing so for the US military or Korean government agencies for many, many years, and we did none of those things.

And my English, in fact, was better than that of my students.

ToddZilla said...

Yes, agreed this does seem like a good idea in theory. Kind of reminds me of a NY Times story from a few years back, "School District Tries to Lure Asian Parents". Any country that wants to effectively communicate its native culture or concepts to a resident, immigrant/foreign community needs to also consider the native culture of the immigrants. If I were in charge of informing immigrant, Korean parents in the U.S. about differences in educational culture, I would have a Korean speaker at our first meeting to talk with them in their native language. The same could be applied for foreigners living in Korea. Perhaps, long-time, foreign residents could present Korean culture & concepts in English – to new ESL teachers - to help bridge the gap. This is a similar concept to the theory which makes bilingual education more effective than just ESL

Anonymous said...

How is it justified to create a headline saying "Foreign Teachers Unenthusiastic Over Culture Course" when you have the representative of 1,000 teachers saying "This is a great idea."

Just another example of creating the news you want to create at the KT.

Cacique said...

C'mon, he DID interview THREE teachers!

Roboseyo said...

Actually, Cacique, to be fair, for all we know, he might have interviewed twenty English teachers, in order to find two negative quotes to throw a wet blanket on Greg Dolezal's positive quote.

Unknown said...

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Blackchild said...

this seems like a tremendous waste of time and another hurdle for English teachers

Dave MacCannell said...

Nobody comes here without learning about the culture. Problem is we come here with the skills to sniff out the B.S. so we get to the REAL culture, not the mythology that would no doubt be taught in these useless classes. And it would be taught poorly because of the much larger and more pressing problems in the Korean training system.
It looks like another attempt to get foreign teachers to behave like Koreans. I can't speak for us all but I'm different by choice, not through ignorance of the culture here.