Seoul to add 90 native English teachers this year

The Seoul Metropolitan Bureau of Education plans to place 90 more native English teachers in Seoul elementary schools this year, despite growing questions from local teachers about their teaching effectiveness.

SMOE Superintendent Cho Hee-yeon announced plans in April to recruit teachers from English-speaking countries as part of efforts to improve the quality of English teaching in public schools and reduce reliance on private language teaching.

The education office has received applications from elementary schools looking to hire native English teachers for their classes and plans to send 70 native English teachers for the first semester and another 20 for the second semester, said said a SMOE official.

“In schools where native English teachers have been sent, the school assesses student satisfaction as well as parent and teacher satisfaction with native English teachers. In general, the level of satisfaction is very high,” the official told the Korea Herald.

At the end of December last year, there were around 327 native English teachers working in 341 schools. Some of them teach in two small schools. When the second semester begins this year, there will be 417 native English teachers in 432 schools, representing 77 percent of all schools in Seoul, according to the official.

But the Korea Teachers and Education Workers Union, which has some 50,000 members but is not legally recognized as a union, has demanded an end to the system that places native English teachers in schools .

“It is expensive to hire native English teachers, but the qualification of teachers and their contribution to teaching English to South Korean students remains questionable,” said Kim Hong-tae, policy officer at the Seoul branch of Korean Teachers and Education. Workers’ Union.

“Local elementary school teachers have received systematic training to be able to teach students. Why do we need native English teachers in schools even if the teaching effectiveness has not been proven? ” He asked.

The group represents around 5% of the country’s roughly 410,000 primary, middle and high school teachers, according to government data.

Currently, foreign teachers are selected and sent to public schools through a program run by the National Institute for International Education. They are paid by the regional education authorities.

Native English teachers team up with local teachers to teach 22 hours a week to students in grades three and up in elementary schools.

Despite the concerns expressed by the teachers’ group, the state-funded system of placing native English teachers in elementary schools appears to be welcomed by parents.

“In terms of learning about cultural differences and mastering correct English pronunciation, it is good that my children have native English teachers in their schools. Otherwise, the only way to help children learn to interact with foreigners would be to send them to private academies,” said Yang Seung-hae, 37, who has three children who attend elementary schools in central Seoul.

According to data from the Ministry of Education, about 18.6 trillion won ($16.5 billion) was spent on private education for elementary, middle and high school students in 2017.

“It would be better if children could get a high-quality education in public schools,” Yang said. “It would be great if the government could put in place a stricter recruitment process and invite more qualified native teachers.”

SMOE and the Seoul branch of the Korea Teachers and Education Workers Union have agreed to hold consultations to narrow their differences over the hiring of native English teachers in elementary schools.

(laeticia.ock@heraldcorp.com)