Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Korean schools helpless in the face of foreign English teachers

On September 24, Money Today published the following article:
On native speaking English teachers: "[Is spending] 300 billion won useful? Well..."
"Classes are poor and if they have lots of experience their salary goes up" ... Criticism of living tape recordings.

In places of education there is growing criticism of the usefulness of the native speaking English assistant teacher system in comparison to the budget of 300 billion won which is poured into it.

In 1995, in order to teach students practical English education centered on listening and speaking, native speaking English assistant teachers began to be placed in schools across the country, and from 2008 their numbers rose as full-scale recruiting began.

According to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology on the 24th, currently there are around 9000 native speaking English assistant teachers placed in elementary, middle and high schools around the country. The related budget is based on funds from the education office and support from the local government, and this year 309.4 billion won was spent, with Gyeonggi-do spending around 68.7 billion won, Seoul around 51 billion won and Gyeongsangbuk-do around 28.3 billion won.

In places of education there are voices saying that this budget is excessive. In particular, the issue is being raised in regard to the large portion of the budget earmarked for native speaking teachers' personnel expenses, as it is excessively high in comparison to their ability.

An English teacher at an elementary school in Ulsan said, "It costs 60 to 70 million won per year to invite a native speaking teacher" and "At school everyone agrees that it's too expensive."

According to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology's "Native speaking English assistant teacher plan for the second half of 2011," native speaking teachers' monthly salary ranges from 1.5 million won to 2.7 million won depending on their level and region. In addition to the native speaking teacher's salary, the government also pays for costs such as a settlement allowance, rent, household appliances, and insurance.

[Korean] teachers with experience co-teaching with native speaking assistant teachers claim that in many cases these expensively employed native speaking teachers play the role of a "living tape recording."

A teacher working at an elementary school in Ulsan explained that, "The are even cases when all [the teacher does] is play an English video for the students." "When you see something like that, how can you not say negative things about such expensively employed native speaking teachers."

A teacher who has taught with a native speaking assistant teacher for the last two years at an elementary school in Gwanak-gu in Seoul said, "The Korean teacher always takes charge of planning the lessons, and there are many cases in which native speaking teacher does not properly carry out or finish the lesson."

A problem is that if a native speaking teacher who teaches classes poorly re-signs his contract after a year, his salary will increase in acknowledgment of his experience. According to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, "someone who re-signs a contract in the same school district" ascends one level and their salary increases by 200,000 won as well. They also receive 2 million won as re-signing bonus.

[Korean] English teachers who are responsible for native speaking teachers explain that "Because the evaluation system for native speaking teachers is in name only, native speaking teachers have "cursory" classes, re-sign their contracts, and receive a higher salary."

The teacher at the elementary school in Gwanak-gu revealed the reasons why it's difficult to give frank assessments, saying, "If the native speaking teacher's evaluation is low, there is a feeling that the school is branding itself as having a problem." "Also, there's no guarantee if the current native speaker doesn't re-sign that the replacement teacher will be better qualified."

In places of education there is agreement with the aims of the native speaking English assistant teacher system, but it is widely felt, "Not like this."

As a teacher at a high school in Seoul's Dobong-gu stressed,"That it provides a chance for low income students to meet native speakers is important," however, "There must be a system to properly evaluate native speaking teachers in order to see their true effectiveness."

A Ministry of Education, Science and Technology official said, "Because it is still in its early stages, more time is needed before everyone is satisfied with the lessons." "More effort is being concentrated on various things like hiring able native speaking teachers, discovering good examples, and training."
An elementary school in Ulsan spending 60-70 million won per year on each foreign teacher? Teachers getting a pay raise of 200,000 won per year? I don't think so. But then if the reporters didn't make stuff up or exaggerate, there wouldn't be a problem, would there? And reporters do have a duty to lead crusades to protect the nation, so we should try to give them our understanding.

And as with the 'foreigners run amok in Hongdae' YTN story from 2007, (in which the police said, "There’s really nothing we can do.") here again are these foreign teachers 'beyond Korea's control,' as they cannot be evaluated properly and are allowed to continue to work, even having the gall to receive (exaggerated) raises for each year they work at a school. When will this end? When will Korea cease to be so helpless in the face of these foreigners... that they invited into their classrooms? When, God, when?!?

In other news, EPIK orientation has begun in Gangwon-do, and, also in Gangwon-do, interactive video lectures done via internet by native speaking English teachers based in the U.S. are being implemented at 54 elementary schools and 5 middle schools in farming or fishing villages which will affect 1020 students. The system will allow for consultation between Korean and foreign teachers and will run for 14 weeks (until the end of the year) starting tomorrow. While the English teaching robots are idiotic, I'm curious if this would be a viable system or not.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Kim Jong-il on the Simpsons

The second-to-last scene in the season premier of The Simpsons had the guest star reminisce about "when I was in a North Korean prison being forced to write a musical about Kim Jong-il with a car battery hooked up to my nipples." Said musical was titled "Being short is no hindrance to greatness," and a snippet of the musical was shown:

"K is for Korea, just the north part,
I is for the internet he bans,
M is for the millions that are missing,
J is for our human-tasting jam,
O is for the Oh boy we love our leader,
N is for the best Korea, North,
G is for gee whiz we love our leader…"

A little too grim to be funny.

The "Taiwanese animated dramatization" of an incident in the show, on the other hand, was hilarious:

Other examples of such animation can be found here and here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Pyramid schemes

Last week the Joongang Ilbo had several articles about pyramid schemes in Seoul:
The companies operate as a combination pyramid scheme and cynical self-help cult: they lure young people with few opportunities in rural areas to Seoul with promises of a good job. When they get to the big city, they’re forced to borrow money from banks to give to the marketing companies. In exchange, they’re given indoctrination and basic consumer merchandise like vitamins, socks and wallets and told to go out and sell them - and get rich.

The young people are forced to live in appalling conditions and are brainwashed by constant lectures that take advantage of their isolation and psychological vulnerability. As a result, even when police manage to raid their residences and free them, they don’t want to leave. They continue to believe the lies told to them by the companies’ managers: sooner or later they will get rich as long as they struggle hard - and stay in Seoul.
Here is a list of the articles/editorials:

Finding better ways to make a buck
Toppling the pyramids
How poor students become slaves of the pyramids
The brainwashing of the slaves of the pyramids

The 'brainwashing' part reminds me of the this film, which was about the recruitment methods of Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. Oddly enough, the term 'brainwashing' entered the English language during the Korean War; on that topic, a book well worth reading is "Remembered Prisoners of a Forgotten War: An Oral History of Korean War POWs," which looks in part at how vilified Korean War POWs were, culminating in their depiction in the film (and novel) "The Manchurian Candidate."

Friday, September 23, 2011

GIs teaching English in the 1990s

On November 30, 1997, Stars and Stripes published the following article about GIs teaching English in Korea:

As this article mentions the fact that family members of GIs taught Koreans English prior to the 1988 Olympics (sometimes volunteering), I'll try to dig it up another article I read about the frustration these same people felt during the anti-American wave that accompanied and followed the Olympics.

Oh, and it may be worth mentioning that several of the people who appeared in the photos of the "sexy costume party" put on by English Spectrum in 2005 - which set off the wave of negative media depictions of foreign English teachers that has followed ever since - were most certainly GIs (unless extremely short buzz-cuts were the in-thing among English teachers at the time...).

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cloud Atlas

It was reported last week that Bae Doo-na has been cast in the upcoming Wachowski brothers film "Cloud Atlas." It's nice to see her doing well and getting attention. I first saw her in "Take Care of My Cat" (one of the first Korean films I ever saw) and in Darcy Paquet's review he says of her that she was "poised perhaps to break out into a major star in 2002." Unfortunately, almost every movie she made after that was a commercial flop, at least until "The Host" in 2006 (a nice way to make up for the years before that by starring in the best selling Korean film ever).

At any rate, I found this interesting:
Bae will appear in the sixth episode playing the role of cloned human Sonmi-450 in a dystopian Seoul in 2144.
The film is to be based on the novel Cloud Atlas, and I decided to look around to find more about its portrayal of "dystopian Seoul in 2144." As it turns out, Gypsy Scholar read the book last year and blogged several times (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) about that book (and others by writer David Mitchell, who taught English in Japan for years) and its connections to Korea.

As he notes here, "The story, which I've only begun reading, seems to depict a future Korea in which the North and the South have unified into state capitalist version of a corporatist Juche society."

Sounds like fun. I'll be curious to see how it turns out in the finished film, especially considering how abysmal Korean-made science fiction films set in the future have been (these two come to mind, and on that note this post by Gord Sellar is worth a read).

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Another national assembly representative calls for stricter standards for foreign English teachers

Yesterday, Medical Today published the following article:
"Native speaking teacher who tested positive for drugs hired"
Rep. Park Young-a: "Strict recruitment standards must be applied."

It has come to light that a native speaking teacher was hired who tested positive for drugs.

National Assembly Education, Science and Technology Committee member Park Young-a stated that, according to material submitted to the National Assembly by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST), it has been confirmed that, although a native speaking instructor working at a middle school in Busan submitted a medical examination which tested positive for drugs through the TPBE test, he was re-hired by the school.

Before the native speaking instructor was arrested for a drug crime on June 24, 2010, he had worked at the school for one year and eight months, Rep. Park explained.

The native speaking instructor was first hired on September 28, 2008, and one year later when he filed a medical examination to renew his contract the drug test came back positive.

However, on September 8, 2009, a doctor gave the opinion that it could be an ingredient of a sleeping pill [that caused the reaction], and 18 days later on September 26 the teacher was re-tested and came up positive, and was re-hired on September 28.

Rep. Park said that, according to inquiries to agencies such as the police, the general opinion is that the narcotic components of the drug JWH-018 (spice), which the native speaking teacher in question had taken, cannot be detected in urine after 3-5 days.

As parents and students' satisfaction with native speaking assistant teachers who have been placed in schools to strengthen public English education rises, the number of native speaking assistant teachers continues to grow, but problems such as poor lesson preparation, insincerity and unauthorized absences are constantly being raised in some quarters.

In addition, in the last three years 21 native speaking instructors have been involved in various crimes such as sex crimes, drugs, and assault.

Rep. Park said, "There is a possibility that lax management in regard to drugs could lead to terrible incidents at school." "In the future, stricter hiring standards and supervision are needed for native speaking teachers."
The teacher in question was arrested on July 20 last year and a school official said there were "no problems" with his classes, and the judge who gave him a suspended sentence spoke of how he taught his students "sincerely." He had apparently ordered a small amount of JWH-018 over the internet in May last year to try it out and then bought a larger amount (for a total of 29 grams) in June before he was arrested.

I find it hard to understand how, if he was taking JWH-018 and it disappears from your system in 3-5 days [if this is true], he would not 'dry out' a few weeks before the drug test. To be sure, some people are that stupid, but considering how many over the counter and prescription drugs can give false positives on TPBE drug tests, it is entirely possible that a sleeping pill might have been the cause. It's understandable, of course, how in retrospect that positive test result is suspicious.

Apparently, Rep. Park Young-a thinks allowing a re-test is a bad idea. I should note that this is the same Rep. Park Young-a who last September erroneously stated that most of the native speaking English teachers teaching in Korea break their contracts after six months, causing the disruption of school conversation classes - an assertion made because she or her aides were unable to do basic math and misused the statistics.

As for the "problems such as poor lesson preparation, insincerity and unauthorized absences [...] constantly being raised in some quarters," those quarters would seem to be (at least most recently) the offices of New Daily and NoCut News (and let's not forget Yonhap!), with "poor lesson preparation" being a direct reference to the NoCut News article - an article Anti English Spectrum has taken partial credit for (first result).

As for the 21 native speaking instructors have been involved in various crimes over the past three years, I have no idea where that statistic has come from.

Oh, and speaking of New Daily, an opinion column there today by - apparently - a former principal of a 'Hanguk school' in Chicago also railed against foreign English teachers, saying in the first sentence that in countries like America and England that use English, criminals like thieves and robbers also use English, and dusts off 27-year-old chestnuts like 'not everyone who speaks a language can be a teacher,' saying that she couldn't tell if foreign teachers working at an English village were speaking English or Russian, bringing up the bus incident (by a guy who went crazy 'without cause') and the former gangster hagwon owner, and finishing off - like the article above - by saying that there need to be stricter regulations in regard to foreign teachers.

Monday, September 19, 2011

"Measures are necessary for the protection of native speakers"

Yes, you read that correctly. On September 16 Newsis published the following article:
Measures against the unfair dismissal of "insignificant native speaking instructors" urgently needed

As the great damage done by unfair dismissal of native speaking teachers teaching English at Daegu area language hagwons comes to light, there is demand for improved treatment of them.

According to the Daegu Office of Education, there are currently 476 language hagwons in the city and around 1300 native speaking teachers teaching English in hagwons and public schools.

However, cases are coming to light of teachers who, while carrying out their work, have not properly received the bonus of a month's pay and the plane ticket home specified by the provisions of their contract due to their being dismissed before their contract expires.

They are at a great disadvantage when some hagwons abuse [their rights] and, when giving notice of dismissal before the contract has ended, do not pay their salary, bonus or plane ticket home.

In some cases hagwons give 3 formal warnings to native speakers, and when it becomes known that they are taking steps to dismiss the teacher based on the arbitrary decision that the instructor's behavior has not changed, there is suspicion that employment regulations are being abused.

Under labour law, when giving notice of dismissal, it must be given at least 45 days in advance and it is specified that the salary must be paid based on the amount of time that has been worked up to that point, and bonuses provided by the countract must also be paid, but these hagwons abuse their authority and give notice just a month or weeks before.

However, most native speakers who suffer unfair dismissal are not able to properly deal with such conduct by hagwons and are unable to wait the long time needed for the results of the labour law's protections, and forego their salary and pay their own way home.

For this reason, experienced and competent instructors avoid being hagwon teachers and due to this it is difficult to provide high quality English education.

As a result, when considering our country's educational reality which requires native speaking teachers, it is urgent that measures be prepared such as organizing related agencies into a task force to reduce the damage being done.

Also, it's pointed out that to prevent damage to efficient foreign language education, inviting verified native speaking teachers and also institutional protection of these teachers is needed.

G (30), a Korean American working at an English hagwon in Daegu, complained of unfairness, saying, "I worked for one year, but one week before my contract finished I was given notice of termination due to poor teaching, and in the end I left without receiving my salary, bonus, or plane ticket."

J (27), a female teacher from Canada, complained that, "I was moving from a hagwon to a public school and turned down an offer to re-sign at the hagwon, so they did not pay me properly, and I didn't receive a months pay or my bonus."

An official at a recruiting agency for native speakers said, "Of course, hagwons are not 100% at fault. Problems occur due to native speakers as well, but harming native speakers through unfair dismissal brings disgrace to the country."

An official at the Ministry of Labour said, "Although native speakers are protected by our country's labour law while working in Korea, there are limits to what can be done. Because of this, measures are necessary for the protection of native speakers."

Meanwhile, if native speaking teachers are registered with recruiters, they can ask for help and report hagwons.

When reporting someone, after the Ministry of Labour receives notice of unfair dismissal and once the Labour Relations Committee has investigated and found it to be unfair dismissal, according to our country's Labor Standards Act, the hagwon is notified that the teacher must be reinstated or be paid the amount of salary owed based on amount worked as well as receive compensation for the time not worked due to dismissal.

In this case, if the hagwon fails to carry out these instructions, they will have to pay substantial fines of 5 - 10 million won to force them to comply.
Two articles (including this one) painting foreign English teachers as victims of corrupt hagwons in one year? That's got to be a record. It's certainly a welcome change. And it's nice to see the equation being made between unfair treatment by hagwons and Korea being made to look bad, as well as the point that it drives out good teachers and harms English education (such as it is).

Friday, September 16, 2011

The budget cuts which hobbled GEPIK - Part 2

Yesterday I posted the first part of a look at the cuts to the Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education's (GPOE) supplementary budget by the Gyeonggi Provincial Council which left the GPOE unable to pay the salaries of the native speaking teachers hired by GEPIK working in the provinces public schools. Here is part two:

It should be noted that there were cuts across the board to the education budget by the provincial council, as this Yonhap article from July 18 shows:
GPOE's "strong dissatisfaction" over "indiscriminate" budget cuts.

At 9.9 trillion won, the special budget committee voted to raise the budget by 1.03 trillion won more than [this year's] original budget, but cut 80.6 billion won, 77 billion won of which is to be switched to a reserve fund.

The GPOE planned to have a budget of 17.7 billion won for free lunches for kindergarten children aged 3-5 for the second semester, but only received 7.5 billion for 5 year olds, and had 10.2 billion cut for ages 3-4.

The budget allowing early retirement for 100 teaching staff was cut entirely, while 15.6 billion won for native speaking assistant teacher expenditures, 1.5 billion won for additional staff needed by schools following the shift to direct management of school meals, and 5 billion won for (Korean) English conversation instructors was cut.

On the other hand, though the number of working days for cooks was increased, the supplementary expenditure of 2.7 billion was halted at the end of the first semester, while the expenditure for intern health teachers at large schools in city centers, which the GPOE had planned to fix at 600 million, was increased.[...]

The GPOE was not happy about the entire budget for early retirement being cut, as 210 teachers had already applied for early retirement in the second half of the year. They also did not hide their disappointment over the halving of the kindergarten lunch budget.[...]

[T]he [Korean] English conversation instructors expenditure is organized from supplementary supporting money from the government, but as this has been cut, it will have to be returned to the government.

As additional expenditures for native speaking assistant teachers for the second half of the year were also cut, schools will find it difficult to pay around 300 assistant teachers, the GPOE claimed.
So we can see that it was not just the budget for native speakers that was cut, but also for Korean conversation instructors (among many other things).

As pointed out at ROK Drop, a GEPIK email to teachers was posted at
Firstly, the news article stated that some contracts will be terminated before their full term ends and that those with current contracts may not be able to receive their salaries starting next month. There will be no early contract terminations unless you break Article 11-1 of your contract. Your schools will honor your full 365-day contract, which means your salaries, airfare reimbursements; severance pay, etc. will be paid to you as stated within your contracts. Contrary to the news article, your salaries will still be paid until the end of your contracts.

Secondly, due to the recent budget cuts, schools will not renew or sign new contracts starting from the month of October 2011(1st of October). Hiring teachers will resume next year once the budget has become more secure and stable. Once everything is set in place, schools will begin hiring on March 1
As ROK Drop also noted, the Korea Times reported on July 22 that GEPIK did not plan to cut all foreign teachers.
A provincial education authority said Friday that it will maintain the number of foreign English teachers it employs at the current level of about 820 next year.

The Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education (GPOE) said there will be no cuts in jobs for foreign teachers at elementary, middle and high schools over the next couple of years.[...]

“The council’s budget cut will not affect the plans for hiring English teachers next year,” said an official from the GPOE who declined to be named. “We’ve decided not to reduce the number below 819. This is the minimum required to continue our English education. We will make sure that the necessary budget is secured.”

The council’s budget cut drew criticism from the GPOE which claims it had to include the request in the supplementary submission as the council had previously rejected it. However, council members disagreed.

“We gave them everything they requested in the main budget and now they’re asking for more without properly explaining why they need it,” said an official from the council. “They didn’t give us specific reasons for needing the money. We can’t give out extra money without getting specific and detailed explanations of how it will be used.”

Council officials said hiring foreign teachers was quite costly.

“There is a long-term plan to reduce the number of foreign English teachers,” said Shin Jong-cheol, a member of the GPC. [and the head of the Special Committee on Budget and Accounts.] “In the past when English was difficult to learn, the role of foreign teachers was important. However, now students can interact with foreign teachers overseas through video, so their role here has significantly decreased.”

“Just having one foreign teacher per school doesn’t really have much of an effect,” he said, explaining the need for the reduction. “The GPOE knows this as well and this is a matter that has been agreed upon.”
Well, according to the head of the Provincial Council's Special Committee on Budget and Accounts, English is no longer difficult to learn. And how happy the GEPIK teachers must be to know that what they do "doesn’t really have much of an effect." The article continues:
It costs about 3.84 million won a month per foreign English teacher. This includes salary, housing, pension and insurance contributions, and flight costs.

“On average, their monthly income is 2.3 million won and the housing fees range from 500,000 to 800,000 won. This is about 3 million won on average. Of course the flight costs and other fees need to be added. If we only look at the monthly income, we pay more to Korean teachers, but overall, foreign teachers cost a lot more,” an official from the GPOE said.
There are some problems with those calculations. According to the article from last November translated here, for Gyeonggi-do foreign teachers, "[b]y [pay level], 46 teachers were at Level S, 89 at Level 1+, 320 at Level 1, 452 at Level 2+, 791 at Level 2, and 487 at Level 3, and 18 others [are not known]." How much each level is paid can be seen here, so this chart lays things out:

After doing the math you end up with an average of 2.166 million, not 2.3 million as stated above. I'd make a guess that pension and health insurance (which the school matches) are around 150,000 a month, with airfare (divided by 12 months) coming out to a little less than 200,000 per month, making for an average total expenditure per month (before housing) to be around 2.5 million won. As the article says, "On average, their monthly income is 2.3 million won and the housing fees range from 500,000 to 800,000 won. This is about 3 million won on average." They've factored the housing in at an average of 700,000 per month, so if we add that to the total of 2.5 million won, we end up with 3.2 million won - 640,000 won less than the proposed 3.84 million. It might not seem like a big figure, but when you multiply that difference by the 2185 teachers in the above figures, you end up with a total difference of around 1.4 billion won per month.

The statement from GEPIK that they would start not renewing contracts from October may or may not be entirely true, as this July 29 posting at notes:
I got renewed for another year at my school and signed the new 1 yr contract back in June. Then about a week ago I got an email from GEPIK coordinators (in English) that sent out an official GEPIK statement saying they will stop hiring from Oct to Dec, but if you signed a contract already, it will be honored for the 1 year term and nobody has to worry about getting terminated in the middle of the contract.

Now I just got a phone call from my CT a few minutes ago and she told me the GPOE called her and told her they don't know anymore if they can send funding to our school. So the Principal has to scrap my 1 yr contract and make a new one tomorrow to last until December instead of the full year at next September.
As Shin Jong-cheol, the member of the Gyeonggi Provincial Council quoted above, said, "[N]ow students can interact with foreign teachers overseas through video." Three weeks after mentioning this, Yonhap published an article (translated here) on August 10 revealing that such a video system would be implemented on a trial basis:
From September until next February 50 elementary, middle and high schools in Gyeonggi-do will operate a pilot project in which native speakers living overseas will hold live 'telelectures.'

On the 10th the Gyeonggi office of education said, "To bridge the gap in English education we plan to have native speaker telelectures at 50 schools during second semester." [...]

The provincial office of education will decide whether to continue and expand the use of telelectures after analyzing the results of the pilot program.

The provincial office of education expect that the telelectures will help bridge the English education gap for students in areas where it's difficult to hire native speaking teachers.
No mention was made of the budget cuts as a possible reason for implementing this pilot program, so it's hard to know if this was something that was already in the offing for rural areas "where it's difficult to hire native speaking teachers," or if it was in response to the budget cuts.

On August 24, Yonhap published the following article (which was reprinted or summarized by half a dozen other news outlets) about the GEPIK budget cuts:
The Gyeonggi Office of Education second semester native speaking instructor unpaid wage crisis.

Related budget cut by provincial council ... provincial office of education says, "There's no way [to pay]."

(Suwon, Yonhap News) With the provincial council having cut the entire related budget, Gyeonggi Office of Education is in a crisis as it is unable to pay the personnel expenses of around 1000 native speaking instructors.

The provincial office of education notified each school that if they use the school operating budget to pay the native speaking instructors first, it will be made up to them later, but the schools are also actually in a difficult position.

According to [a statement by] the provincial office of education on the 24th, on July 18 the provincial council, while deliberating over the first proposed revised supplementary budget, said "a sufficient basis for the compiled budget was not provided" and cut the entire budget of 15.6 billion won for the personnel expenses of native speaking instructors.

This budget was for the provincial office of education to pay the salaries of 1000 native speaking instructors from August to next February.

As the entire related budget was cut, the provincial office of education is in a situation where it cannot pay the personnel expenses of native speaking instructors during this period.

The provincial office of education sent a document to each school with a native speaking instructor ordering them to not renew the contracts of native speaking instructors whose contracts have expired and to pay the salaries of native speaking instructors first using the school operating budget.

As well, they were instructed to switch the provided housing to monthly rent and use the key money to pay the salaries of the teachers.

In this way, if first salaries are paid, then in November when the second supplementary budget is compiled the related budget can be secured and [GEPIK] can be maintained.

However, small scale schools are complaining of difficulties because they do not have enough in their operating budget to use to pay the salaries of native speaking instructors.

They are also in situations where things have not turned out due to problems with the native speaking instructors' contracts or using funds such as the key money to pay their salaries.

A school official at a high school in Pocheon said, "There is still some of the related budget left to pay the salary of the English instructor for now, but not enough to cover it until next February." "We do not have enough extra operating budget to borrow from for personnel expenses."

There is concern over the possibility of native speaking instructors at some schools suing for unpaid wages.

In addition, some provincial councilors still have a negative perception of placing native speaking instructors [in schools] and it is thought that it will be difficult to guarantee a budget for GEPIK when the provincial office of education compiles the 2nd supplementary budget.

An official from the provincial office of education's international exchange and cooperation department said, "We are worrying over the various ways in which to maintain [GEPIK] after having first used the school operating budget." "But for now, the truth is that there is no particular way to secure the personnel budget for native speaking instructors during the second semester."
It seems the office of education is doing what it can to try to keep what teachers it can. I'm wondering if there is anyone working for GEPIK who has experienced the things mentioned in this article like converting the jeonse key money into a means to pay their salary.

There has been talk that the cuts to GEPIK represent the future of native speaking teachers in the public school system, but this is likely premature. As I noted here, other provinces and cities are hiring more native speaking teachers, not cutting them, and the GPOE was forced to make hard choices due to the actions of the Gyeonggi Provincial Council.

Also worth noting, considering their role in all of this, is that the Gyeonggi Provincial Council passed a bill in May which, citing problems with 'drug addicts' working as native speaking instructors, amended the hagwon law so as to punish with fines or closure hagwons who hire drug addicts (and sex criminals, both Korean and foreign, though this has been played down in the media). The catch? The hagwon law didn't allow for such penalties for hiring people with drug arrests in their background (though there were plans to amend the law), but despite the fact the bill wasn't quite legal, it was passed unanimously by the Gyeonggi Provincial Council anyways.* This may give some idea of how the council members feel about foreign teachers. Or it may not - it's also worth remembering that they cut the budget for Korean conversation instructors (who are intended to replace native speaking teachers) as well.

I have to say though, I don't quite understand the 'progressives' who dominate the Gyeonggi Provincial Council who set about implementing free school lunches for the richest 50% of the population while cutting the only access to native speaking teachers that low income students will be able to get (as well as cutting the budget for the Korean conversation instructors intended to replace them). If there's some sort of coherent policy there I certainly can discern it.

*There are Korean language articles about the hagwon bill being not particularly legal but being unanimously passed anyway which will be translated and posted here soon.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The budget cuts which hobbled GEPIK - Part 1

Two months ago, on July 20, it was announced that, due to budget cuts by the Gyeonggi Provincial Council, GEPIK would be forced to cut hundreds of jobs for native speaking teachers. At the time I started researching this article and then got too busy to finish it. Here is the first half:

Below is a bit of background to help put the budget cuts in context. First off, here is the structure of power in Gyeongggi (and all provinces):

Executive Branch: Gyeonggi Provincial Government, headed by Governor Kim Moon-soo(GNP)
Gyeonggi Province Office of Education, headed by Education superintendent Kim Sang-gon (Progressive)
Legislative Branch: Gyeonggi Provincial Council (Dominated by Democratic party)

Progressive education superintendent Kim Sang-gon was elected in a by-election in April 2009, and was indicted for negligence in March 2010 for refusing to follow orders to take disciplinary action against "15 unionized teachers for their issuance of an anti-government statement," which should give some idea of where he stands. He was re-elected in the June 2010 elections; Governor Kim Moon-soo was also elected at that time. They are both profiled here. That election also saw the Democratic Party win the majority of seats (76 out of 131) in the Gyeonggi provincial council (it's members are listed here).

The council legislates the funding for the executive branches; in Seoul, the Seoul Metropolitan Council diverted funding from mayor Oh Se-hoon's pet projects to fund free lunches. Gyeonggi-do has seen similar things happen. On September 18, 2010, the Joongang Daily reported that
A student-rights ordinance and a supplementary budget for free school lunches were passed by the Gyeonggi provincial council yesterday.

The two bills, the first of their kind in Korea, were submitted by the Gyeonggi provincial office of education and approved by the Democratic Party-dominated council. Councilors from the minority Grand National Party were absent from the session.

Gyeonggi education superintendent Kim Sang-gon won his position in May 2009 on a campaign pledge to expand free school meals to all school children. Control of the provincial council passed to the Democratic Party after elections in June. [...]

The free lunch budget supplement is for 19.2 billion won ($16 million), which covers half the cost of lunches for 5th and 6th grade students in 22 cities and counties for this year. The rest is expected to be financed by city and county budgets. The bill will be implemented this month.

“Indiscriminate distribution of free school meals to all students regardless of their parents’ economic status is not right,” said Gyeonggi governor Kim Moon-soo, member of the GNP.
On December 20, the Joongang Daily continued the story:
Gyeonggi Governor Kim Moon-soo of the GNP conceded on Dec. 15 to demands by the DP-controlled Gyeonggi Provincial Council to start free meals in elementary schools next year on the condition that he [SIC - it] wouldn’t cut budgets for Gyeonggi’s key projects.

The province’s budget for meals will be raised to 40 billion won ($35,000) from the current 5.8 billion won.
By that time, plans were in motion to begin cutting the number of native speaking teachers in Gyeonggi-do. According to a November 23 Yonhap article, the Gyeonggi Office of Education planned to reduce the number of native speaking teachers for the first time in 2011. At the time, out of 2,183 elementary, middle and high schools, 2032 had 2,256 native speaking teachers working for them, and the plan was for 200 (or 8.8%) to be cut in 2011. The Gyeonggi-do office of education has pointed out that they planned to increase the budget for native speaking teachers by 500 million won to 4.5 billion won in 2011 and hire specialist Korean English conversation instructors.

A November 25 Donga Ilbo article elaborated further on the latter instructors, saying that Gyeonggi-do began selecting Korean English conversation specialist instructors in June 2009, and that there were currently around 650 working in schools, with plans to raise the number to 1000 in 2011.

A article published November 29 (and translated here) had quotations from Rep. Jo Myeong-ho, a member of the Gyeonggi provincial council’s education committee, which make clear how he felt about foreign teachers:
Rep. Jo Myeong-ho stated that, "If someone possesses a 4 year degree from a university in countries like the US, Britain or Canada, they can work as a native speaking teacher whether or not they have a related major or teaching certificate," and, "Expenses for a single teacher cost more than 40 or 45 million won per year, but there is no data to objectively evaluate their educational effectiveness."

"The time has come to verify their educational ability and qualifications," and, "it's time to improve English education which has given unconditional preference to foreigners with inadequate qualifications and ability," he added.
Keep in mind that the provincial council’s education committee and the office of education are two completely different entities.

A March 1 Korea Times article looked at the Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education's plans to reduce the number of foreign teachers:
According to the Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education, the budget allocated to hire foreign English teachers fell to 22.7 billion won ($20 million) for this year from 30 billion won in 2010.

Cho Young-min, senior supervisor of the education office, said the budget cut is in line with the plan to reduce the number of foreign teachers in phases in the years to come.

"We plan to cut about 200 teachers in 2011 from this month. We will also gradually cut the overall number in the coming years," the supervisor said. [...]

Arranged as a three-year project, the English program by the provincial office had hired more teachers over the past three years. In 2010, the number of teachers increased to some 2,252 in Gyeonggi, a 110 percent jump from 2008 when they first started out with some 1,000.

However, after reaching its peak last year, the number of foreign teachers is expected to slide over the next three years in the province surrounding Seoul.

Cho said the cut will be made upon requests from schools, with Korean English conversation teachers replacing them. [...] [He also said,] "The rumors that the budget was cut because of the free meal program is not true," Cho said, emphasizing that the reduction was planned all along.
Despite Rep. Jo Myeong-ho saying that
there was a need to "verify [foreign teachers'] educational ability and qualifications," as if such a thing had never been done before, the same article had this to say about foreign teachers in Seoul:
In a 2009 survey conducted by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, more than 90 percent of 5,500 parents, students and teachers said that they thought the program was helpful, while 93 percent of Korean teachers were very satisfied with the foreign teachers’ qualifications and class performance.
That certainly sounds positive. It makes one wonder why there are so many negative articles about foreign (public school) English teachers. But I digress.

On March 29, the Korea Herald reported on a hiring freeze of native speaking teachers in Gyeonggi-do:
The Gyeonggi-do English Program in Korea announced that it would not hire any new teachers, or renew current contracts ending between this May 25 and Aug. 31.

An email sent Tuesday signed as from GEPIK coordinators and Gyeonggi Province Office of Education seen by The Korea Herald said the three-month freeze was to allow the organization to restructure and streamline the program.

“We are aiming to set contract dates for September 1st and March 1st so that the GEPIK structure will be more standardized,” the email to its employees stated.
Another Herald article from April 5 about differences in hiring of foreign teachers in different regions of the country showed Daegu leading in hiring this year, and added that
Gyeonggi Province saw a drop of 11 percent in the number of teachers hired ― a total reduction of about 250 teachers. The decline is less than an 18 percent cut announced in November, but more than the 200 cuts it hinted at in March.
On July 20, the Korea Times (found via I'm No Picasso) reported that
The Gyeonggi Provincial Council passed a supplementary budget bill submitted by the Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education (GPOE) Tuesday, but excluded the 15.6 billion won needed to extend the contracts of foreign English teachers.

Officials from the council said that they cut the budget as part of long-term plans to eventually reduce the number of foreign teachers and replace them with Koreans.

With the budget cut, about 819 teachers will have to find new jobs in the coming months, officials said.

Out of the 1,119 foreign English teachers in elementary, middle and high schools who receive their salary from the education office, 300 have already been laid off. [...]

The contract for foreign English teachers in local schools is valid for one year. Those whose contract expires in October, November and December will not be able to renew them. Contracts for at least 196 teachers are to expire during those three months.

However, the remaining 623 teachers whose contracts are just underway are the ones facing immediate trouble because they may not be able to receive their salaries starting next month.

The budget cut is drawing criticism even from GPOE officials.

“The situation is ridiculous. It’s not even a half reduction or one-third reduction, but a total reduction. We feel very uncomfortable with the decision right now,” said an official from the office. “The budget should not have been taken away. If we don’t receive this, we’re not even getting what we should be getting. This has never happened before.”
Much the same information was to be found in the only Korean language article specifically about the cuts to GEPIK by NoCut News, titled 'Gyeonggi Provincial Assembly cuts entire budget for native speaking teachers..."What are we to do suddenly?"' It adds the following figures:
According to the NoCut News article there are 2093 native speaking teachers in Gyeonggi-do, with 1,161 in elementary schools, 569 in middle schools, and 372 in high schools. Of these 2093, 1,119 are provided for by the Gyeonggi-do Office of Education (GPOE), while the other 974 are provided for by local city or county governments.
So we know that of the 1,119 teachers funded directly by GEPIK, 300 were [being] laid off, leaving 819, while from the 2,256 total native speaking teachers in Gyeonggi last November, there were (as of July) 2093.

As it turns out, however, these budget cuts affected more of the education budget than just GEPIK. I'll look at that more closely in part 2 [here].

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Yonhap piece about B.R. Myers

Andrew Salmon wrote a piece for Yonhap about Brian Myers:
He is currently researching how pan-Korean nationalism undermines state patriotism in South Korea. Successive Seoul administrations have neglected to inculcate pride in the republic as a state entity, Myers says, instead equating it with the Korean race: "This is no problem when you have a nation state like Japan or Denmark, but is a problem when you have a state divided."

This explains why, he continues, there were no mass protests against last year's North Korean attacks. Moreover, the issue impacts beyond the strategic space: It also hinders South Korea's globalization.

So Myers won't be departing Korea quite yet? "I want to be here for unification," he says, though he warns that it could be cataclysmic. "Ultra-nationalism is an appealing ideology -- the Third Reich fought to the end, even sending their children into battle," Myers muses.

"We should not underestimate its appeal."
His current research topic was the topic of a presentation given a year ago, titled "The Unloved Republic? On the Lack of State-Nationalism in South Korea," and it will be interesting to see how he develops the topic.

Friday, September 09, 2011

NoCut News: There is 90% satisfaction with foreign English teachers. However...

Yesterday NoCut News published this report about foreign public school English teachers:
Elementary and middle school native speaking assistant teachers 'half-heartedly' prepare classes and only chat during class.

"We have to look after them" - an explosion of complaints from some support specialist instructors

Native speaking assistant teachers, who have been drastically expanded by the current government in order to strengthen public English education: According to Ministry of Education, Science and Technology statistics, 9,300 native speaking assistant teachers have been placed in schools nationwide.

At each school there are as many as two people placed there to teach English speaking. There are many advantages such as giving students who cannot afford private education a chance to get rid of their fear and speak with foreigners.

For this reason, a survey conducted by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology in large cities such as Seoul, Busan and Daegu found that there was a 90% satisfaction level [in regard to having foreign teachers].

However the assessment on the ground is different.

Due to the poor Korean ability of native speaking assistant teachers, Korean interpreter teachers have been put into class during lessons but, because of this, complaints by students about their difficulties in class have come to light.

Ms. Gwon, a first year student at a middle school in Yangcheon-gu, said, "The foreign teacher's pronunciation is really odd so I can't understand what he/she is saying." "The Korean teacher also doesn't understand and doesn't translate properly, and because he/she lists the words he/she hears, the class does not go properly

Because the students are confused by frequent changes in teachers, poor class preparation, and classes in which [the teacher] kills time, many students lose their desire [to learn].

Another middle school student, Ms. Lee (14), said, "The native speaking teacher jokes around and half-heartedly passes the time." "If you have class you should create a proper atmosphere, and when this doesn't happen we feel let down."

The dissatisfaction of some [Korean] English conversation specialist instructors who help native speaking assistant teachers is on the verge of exploding. This is because, though they are overloaded with work, their duties have even come to include finding places to live for the native speaking assistant teachers.

Mr. Ahn, an English conversation specialist instructor working at an elementary school in Uiwang, Gyeonggi-do, complained that, "My role extends to the native speaker appointment process, and so I have to contact the agency, recruit them, find them a house, and fill it with household items." "I feel like I'm a servant or a secretary."

Mr. Kim, an instructor working at a middle school in Chungcheongbuk-do, vented his frustration, saying, "Because they are poor at our language, they can't even deal with various documents and have problems with tests." "We are busy taking care of even the native speaking teacher's work, and when I actually see him/her playing games or chatting every day I burn with anger."

An average of 40 million won per native speaker is invested throughout the country every year, but doubts about the usefulness of native speaking assistant teachers are being put forward while such institutions as the Gyeonggi-do office of education plan to gradually reduce the number of native speaking assistant teachers from next year.
It seems NoCut News has another article to add to its large collection, of which these examples are a tiny fraction:

Delinquent foreign instructors, "Freeze!"
(about AES)
"In Jeju as well, case after case of foreign instructors smuggling pot"
'Troublemaker' native speaking teachers being governed through visa
Ever-increasing native speaking teacher crimes ... [better] verification urgent
There needs to be a hearing on Native speaking instructors

I couldn't see the phrase "explosion of complaints" regarding Korean conversation instructors in the subtitle without thinking of the New Daily article about GEPIK drinking parties published almost exactly a year ago. In fact, there is a pretty clear similarity between this line - "The dissatisfaction of some [Korean] English conversation specialist instructors who help native speaking assistant teachers is on the verge of exploding" - and this subtitle from the New Daily article: "the dissatisfaction of Korean instructors who kowtow to native speaking teachers in school is on the verge of exploding."

[In Korean:
New Daily: 원어민 교사에 굽실대는 학교에 한국인 강사 불만 폭발 직전
No Cut News: 원어민 보조교사를 지원하는 일부 영어회화 전문강사들의 불만도 폭발 직전이다.]

If I had to guess, I'd imagine NoCut News reporter Kim Yeon-ji cribbed from the New Daily article (which itself was inspired by Anti-English Spectrum). One wonders if she used the same or a similar forum for Korean instructors as the one mentioned in New Daily as a source.

As I started reading, I thought of this March 1 Korea Times article I discovered the other day:
In a 2009 survey conducted by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, more than 90 percent of 5,500 parents, students and teachers said that they thought the program was helpful, while 93 percent of Korean teachers were very satisfied with the foreign teachers’ qualifications and class performance.
I wouldn't mind finding the results of that survey (or the one mentioned in the above article). It's fascinating that there are so many negative articles about foreign public school teachers when there is apparently such a high level of satisfaction with them, something reiterated in the above article. That 90% figure came to mind as I started reading the above article, so I was surprised to see that this high level of 'satisfaction' was brought up, but then was not surprised to see it followed by "However...". It truly is impressive that the reporter was able to mention that there is "90% satisfaction" with native speaking teachers and then write an entirely negative article. As always, factual distractions from the 'truth' about foreign teachers must be discarded or ignored, in order to tell the age-old story: Koreans are victimized by foreigners.

I certainly enjoyed the part complaining about foreign teachers because they don't speak Korean, as well as the Korean instructors assigned to help recruit or translate for their foreign teachers blaming the teachers for existing instead of their superiors who gave the assignment (or themselves for taking the job in the first place).

As for the final sentence -
[D]oubts about the usefulness of native speaking assistant teachers are being put forward while such institutions as the Gyeonggi-do office of education plan to gradually reduce the number of native speaking assistant teachers[.]
- the reporter makes it sound as if Gyeonggi-do represents a trend, when in fact it is the exception. As I pointed out here, most provinces continue to hire more native speaking teachers (though I imagine the saturation point will be reached before long, if it hasn't already).

In other news, at a news conference for High Kick 3 (will it also feature white guys who speak English being attacked and threatened with death for hitting on Korean women?), Yonhap and several other articles had titles such as "I am a native speaking teacher" in reference to actor Julien Kang. It's not uncommon to see a flurry of articles appear when an actor speaks English well, touting the person as speaking at a "native speaker level."

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Korea: The more you know...

This video has been appearing on CNN to promote Korea, and just appeared on Youtube in several languages yesterday:

I was told about this video awhile ago by someone who saw it before it was released, and who was less than glowing in her response to it (to say the least). It would seem it was edited slightly to remove the African jungle man from the crowd at the end (which might be for the best, as he might not be allowed to use public transportation anyways).

This video, on the other hand, is rather amusing:

"When a foreigner speaks to you, do you want to hide?"
(This is our country.)
"We (should) say hello first."

Monday, September 05, 2011

North Korean Comics

This sounds like an interesting RAS lecture tomorrow (Tuesday):
Spy Hunting, Re-writing the Korean War and Sowing Fear of the World: North Korea has “manhwa” too!

Date: Tuesday, September 6, 2011 - 7:30pm
Lecturer: Jacco Zwetsloot
Venue: 2nd floor, Residents’ Lounge Somerset Palace, Seoul (north of Jonggak Station, behind Jogyesa Temple)
Admission: 5,000 won (non-member); free for members

Who said that Communist literature was all drab and boring? Certainly, most didactic texts out of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea seem designed to give headaches, not understanding, with their interminably long sentences and repetitive passages about juche this and seongun that, and the Great and/or Dear Leader intoned such-and-such.

But there are comic books (in South Korea called “manhwa”) made by and for North Koreans too. They have been in publication since at least the early 1980s, despite paper shortages at times. Some of them are barely more than illustrated storybooks for children, others are caricature-filled horror stories, while still others are finely crafted graphic novels – with barely believable plotlines. The content of these “manhwa” varies, but many seem to fall into three broad categories:

1. Warnings against spies and how to spot them
2. Cautionary tales about the evils of the world
3. Heroic tales set during the Korean War or pre-1910 Korean history

Most North Korean manhwa are written with children of varying ages in mind as the primary audience, while others clearly target well-educated adults. They are hard to get hold of outside the DPRK, but they are also not always easy to find within it.

In this lecture, Jacco Zwetsloot will give an overview of the North Korean comic book world, and introduce some extracts from a couple of his favorite volumes, exemplifying each of the three categories above.
As I have one of the comics I believe he'll be covering ('Rotten and sick world'), I imagine it should be fun.

Line 9 has more trains in service

I was surprised a week ago when the all-stop train I'd taken on line 9 stopped at Gayang Station and an express train came into the station ten minutes ahead (or behind) schedule. As it turns out, the planned expanded schedule I mentioned a few months ago has been put into place - at least at rush hour. I'm hoping we'll see more trains at other times as more of the new trains are put into service, but as it stands now the service has improved considerably, as this timetable at Gimpo Airport (headed east) shows:

There are now twice as many express trains (and 1.5 times as many all stop trains) at rush hour, which makes a huge difference. There are more options, time-wise, and with this the crowding has been greatly reduced in the morning.

In other subway related news, fares are set to increase, but considering it's been 4 years since the last increase, it's not that surprising.

Friday, September 02, 2011

If disco had a baby...

This was in the news last week:
Billboard launched a new chart, the Billboard K-Pop Hot 100, on Aug. 25 in conjunction with Billboard Korea.

Billboard Korea said that it is the second such chart in Asia after Japan, reflecting the rising potential of K-pop and its current worldwide popularity. [...]

Based on digital sales via major websites as well as downloads from mobile service sites, the rankings will be announced every week simultaneously in the United States and Korea and offered to other countries such as Japan, Russia and Brazil through the Billboard network.
I just thought it would be interesting to post what the Globe and Mail wrote about this in its Saturday edition last week (which I bought to read on the flight home - who knew Saturday editions cost $3.00 (+ tax) in Canada now?):

Okay, on second thought, maybe not that interesting, but it does go to show that there is at least some growing awareness of Korean pop culture out there. Oh, and the subtitle seems somewhat familiar...

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Money Today on the netizen response to the bus incident

Yesterday Money Today reported on the different responses netizens have had to the bus incident:
Ongoing war of words by netizens over bus disturbance by foreigner

Netizens continue to wage a war of words over the recent incident in which an American English instructor in his twenties assaulted an elderly person.

Recently a message was posted on a portal message board with the title "I hope people do not really hate foreign workers including instructors."

The writer said, "I worry about all the comments denigrating foreign instructors," and, "There are bad people, but only a few."

Actually, I’ve seen many cases in which Koreans, through staring at foreigners in amazement or using insulting language, have been disrespectful to the point of crossing the line with foreign instructors." "He deserves punishment for the assault, but we should look at how foreigners living as black people in Korean society have a great deal of stress and a victim mentality, and how this [can lead to] an explosion of anger."

On the other hand, writing about the “strange country in which foreigners hit Koreans” has received attention.

On the 30th, a message was posted on a portal message board wondering “what would happen to Koreans if they acted like this in America.”

The writer said "Letting him off for this or that reason would contradict the fairness and equality of the law." "The behavior seen in this incident stems from an attitude that very much looks down on Korea."

According to police, they were told that the American English teacher was in a conversation with a friend on a bus and became angry and engaged in profanity and violence after a passenger told them to be quiet. The English teacher was booked without detention for assault and injury.
It's nice to see some balance, though I imagine there are more comments condemning him than calling for tolerance out there (though it's nice to see letters like this one (published recently, but not about this incident) titled 'We must beware of extreme nationalism that calls for expelling foreigners"). Hopefully the netizens writing "all the comments denigrating foreign instructors" won't be invited to any immigration policy meetings. For a second time, I mean. Speaking of which, Anti English Spectrum has 7 or 8 posts about this on their site - far more than the number they had about the hagwon owner and teacher wanted for attempted murder.