There has been a lot of controversial talk over the past couple of weeks caused by an SBS news story claiming that Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education (SMOE) was going to remove 57% of native English teachers (NETs) from public schools. Their reasoning for doing this was based on a recent survey carried out and, as I am going to argue, a mis-interpretation of what the results of the survey mean regarding the needs of Korean education.
There have been plenty of blogs that have gone into the results of the survey and in doing so have demonstrated how the government have mis-informed the public about the results, I am just going to link them here
as there is no point repeating what has already been said. What I take issue with is that the governments justification for the cuts is simple, yet, as I am going to explain, it is this simple reason that actually means we should all be discussing an expansion, or at least a positive development, of the current program...
An anonymous SMOE summed up the governments reasoning for reducing the NET program when he simply stated: "Korean students feel more comfortable learning from a Korean teacher"
It seems to me that everyone has just accepted that this does provide justification for reducing the NET's. However, if we really think about it, this fact should be the saving grace for NET's and the one that we use to keep our jobs. Here is a quote from the Korean education authority itself... "The ability to communicate in English will act as an important bridge connecting different countries, and will be the driving force in developing our country, forming trust among various countries and cultures"
(Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Korea:2008)
Our job is to instill a generation of Korean students with the confidence and self belief TO communicate with foreigners. If the majority of students still don't feel comfortable communicating with foreigners then they obviously need more time in direct contact with foreign teachers, the programme has only been running 9 years, which, given the extensive history and isolation of Korea, is nothing. What this statistic should be telling the education authority is that with the current state of affairs, when this generation of students become a part of the business community, they are going to be unable to successfully communicate with native English speaking business partners. Do they really want business people who are too scared to pick up the phone to their American business partners? Especially in an age where forms of communication such as tele-conferencing are becoming so important. They are not going to be able to get away with simply putting it in an email, especially not when their neighbours in China, Japan and Taiwan are increasing the amount of exposure time their students are getting with NET's.
Now, moving on to teaching, why do the government think students are more comfortable with Korean teachers? The reason is quite obvious, their lessons are taught almost exclusively in Korean. Of course it is easier for them to understand, and thus it is more comfortable, but the point is, if Korean students can't understand their NET they certainly will not be able to understand their American business partner. Now I don't want to take anything away from my Korean counterparts, they do a great job in difficult circumstances. At the end of the day, given the nature of the multiple choice reading comprehension exam, the teaching methods they use get the results they need. NET's are not constrained by this examination system, as quite simply, our competency as teachers is not evaluated by our students' exam scores. We are free to communicate with the students in an open and honest environment. We are not just teaching our students English, but the makeup of a NET's duties here allow us to give the students the opportunity to practice creative communicative skills in general. At a time when Korean business leaders are stating their frustration at the younger generation's inability to creatively communicate this is an important skill for students to be practicing... Among respondents in companies human resources department, 75 percent said the education system fails to nurture the workforce the corporate world needs. The uniform way of teaching in schools was blamed by 59.3 percent.
Often a NET's class is the only opportunity in this very uniformed educational environment to nurture the communicative and creative needs of the future generation of Korea's workforce.
I'm not trying to say that the current system is perfect, every NET in a Korean public school would admit that we can be utilized more efficiently and effectively to give the Korean taxpayer the most value for their money, what I am suggesting is we focus our attentions on how this can be done. Let's create an open dialogue between the NET community, the education authority, the government and parent and students to work together to meet the targets of the English syllabus and give a young generation of Koreans' the skills they will need to continue Korea's remarkable growth when they enter the business world.
What are your thoughts on the role of NET's in Korea?
How can we take the role of NET's into the future?
I welcome any comments below.
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Given the news this week that almost all native English teachers (NET's) in Seoul are going to be removed I thought I should post about some of the alternatives NET's have to public school teaching. One of these is kindergarten. I taught kindergarten for my first year in Korea and I absolutely loved every moment of it (other than the school I worked for). It is really good fun and the kids are just amazing at that age. Anyway, an extremely good friend of mine, Amy, is much more experienced and qualified to discuss kindergarten teaching than I am, so I asked her what the top 10 best things about teaching kindergarten are. If you do decide to teach kindergarten I recommend you visit my page on how to find a good job in Korea
so that you end up working at a nice school.Amy’s Top 10 Reasons to Teach Kindergarten in South Korea
An open letter to my dear fellow native English-speaking ex-pats:
As the ROK, in all it’s wisdom, has recently chosen to drastically reduce the number of native English-speaking teaching positions in public schools, I thought I might share some reflections on my past 4 years as a kindergarten teacher in the hopes that some of you may decide to broaden your teaching experiences in this direction. First, let me assure you that I neither became a certified teacher, nor came to Korea, to teach kindergarten. I am a high school world history/social studies teacher in the US. Before coming here, I never considered a kindy position, but through the strange and sometimes cruel twists of fate, I became one. In 2008, I took my first position in an elem./middle school academy that suddenly decided to create afternoon kindergarten classes upon my arrival. Perhaps because I am a mother with grown children, I was quickly assigned to teach “the babies.” Little did these folks know, I never was too fond of pre-pubescent children!! If they might wet their pants, need a nap or fail to have mastered eating with utensils at the table, I figured they were too “needy” for my personality … which is only marginally maternal (if at all.)
Well, as it so happens, the out-pouring of love, near perfect innocence, adoration and fun
I experience every day in kindergarten (for me) has far
out-weighed my students’ lack of ability to discuss the history of the world with me, and I would like to pass on why, I think, kindergarten teaching is such a rewarding job opportunity. So, here’s my list of top 10 perks of working with kinders:
10. Lunch with the kids
– even if you don’t enjoy Korean food in general, there’s usually something tasty enough to broaden your culinary experience.
9. Gifts of gratitude from parents
– I’ve received everything from donuts and socks to cases of fruit, hand-made soap, expensive cosmetics and many “duty-free” items when families return from abroad.
8. Meeting with parents in social and educational venues
– I am constantly personally thanked by parents with heart-felt platitudes regarding the love I lavish on their children. If the child loves me, they thank me, if the child doesn’t, they apologize for their ungrateful (often disobedient) child.
7. All-day holiday parties and special events
– although special events may require un-paid after-hours or Saturday work, they’re mentioned in your contract, and never excessive. Examples are: “Family Sports Day, Pajama Party, International Day, etc.”
6. Field Trips
– Kinders get to go on field trips to museums, cultural events, movies, parks, resorts, fire and/or police stations, community services may visit your school with a personal safety puppet show or your children may be invited to perform for other members of the community or their relatives. As kinder teachers, we get to got to places we might not otherwise visit, and show-off the talents of our students in the process!
5. Small Classes
– The max. is usually 10. This allows us to really
get to know each student for an entire year. I consider this a privilege … this is my opportunity to imprint on my children the idea that foreigners can be loving and supportive influences in their lives and teach them to be less afraid.
4. 9 – 5 hours
– Kindergartens rarely begin before 9 nor stay open after 5 or 6 at the latest. For those new to the teaching profession, American teachers most often work from 7:30 AM – 5 PM, then take work home to grade, fill out endless reports, write report cards and disciplinary actions.
3. Creative liberal arts lessons
– In kindergarten, I have taught art, cooking, science, story-telling, drama, singing, multi-media, library skills, etc.
2. Kindergarten Directors
– The Director of your kindergarten is more likely to be more concerned about the welfare of the children than a Director in a hagwon for older students. If you’re lucky, they’ll also be more sensitive to the needs of their employees. And if you’re very lucky, they may even treat Korean and foreign employees on an even keel. The reality is that private hagwons are businesses, but kindys have to answer much more immediately and thoroughly than for elementary/middle school kids… it’s a kinder, gentler business. 1. The uninhibited out-pouring of love, affection, respect and honesty of the student to the teacher.
Thanks for considering kindergarten, A. ---
Do you work in kindergarten? If so would you recommend it?
Are you thinking about teaching in kindergarten? Post any questions you might have for me and Amy below!
I found the following article on The Guardian website while procrastinating writing my assignment last night. It reminded of how I used to feel when I taught this age group. Anyway I've posted it below, and I'll carry on my blog after you've read it!
First of all I would love to read a copy of the booklet so I could find out what these 12 common misconceptions are, although it would probably be in Korean, I'm sure Sora (my wonderful girlfriend) would be happy enough to translate it for me! I think we all know Korean people spend a huge amount of money on private education, I've certainly covered that aspect enough over the past few weeks, but this article does present an interesting dilemma, are English kindergartens damaging at such a young age, and is the damage worth it for the students to become fluent in English, which certainly gives the students an advantage for the rest of their lives.
Most of my blog has discussed the effects of studying for ridiculously long hours from middle school upwards, and the side effects of this. Kindergarten is a different issue though, as I'm sure almost all of them operate somewhere between 8am-5pm, so the kids are usually home by 5pm or so. The main argument in the article is that the kindergarten kids don't actually learn that much English in the kindergarten system, at least not so much that they can't catch up when they are older, but at the same time they are falling behind in language ability and creativeness.
I have to say I was surprised by both these arguments, I've worked in two kindergartens in my time in Korea and the rate at which they pick up English at this age I found quite remarkable. By the time some of the students left kindergarten they were almost fluent in English, with a lot of the students it was like talking to a native English speaker at the same age. Indeed my colleague at the time (and who regularly comments on this blog) had kids who had a higher reading level than would be expected from a child of the same age in the U.S.A. Also, the research I have read while doing my M.A TESOL has suggested exactly the opposite to this booklet, that the younger the student the easier it is to acquire a language. Their inhibitions are down, they are often full of confidence, they have no other problem or studies to deal with and so they can just concentrate, albeit unconsciously most of the time, on learning the language.
On the other hand, a child of 10 years, well we all know if we have taught that age, can be unmotivated, not really care, and at least in Korea, can have so many other studies to worry about they can't focus on learning English, especially not the conversational aspect of it.
There were a couple of things that did cross my mind when I was teaching this age group though, and these were if the child is in an English only environment, does their Korean suffer? I'm going to try and dig out some research tomorrow using the online access I have through my M.A (as tonight I have a date with starcraft 2!!!) I mean isn't that an important age to develop awareness of your own language? One of my Korean co-teachers at the time told me they have the opportunity to do that at home, but the kids were always so tired by the end of the day I couldn't imagine them doing anything but going home and sleeping in preparation for another day of twenty four 5 year olds wrestling with Alex Teacher!!!
The other concern I had was whether the teaching methods used with this age group could be damaging. When I was 5 years old the closest I got to studying was throwing finger paints at my sisters and driving a train through a tunnel!!! Alright, I did some reading with my mum, but it was hardly rocket science! I used to have endless arguments with the director of the first kindergarten I worked in, as he would expect the kids to be sat down learning from a textbook and expected us to use rote learning techniques with kindergarten students, some as young as 3 or 4 I believe, well I remember they were still wearing nappy (diaper) training pant things anyway!! Can you tell I'm not a father yet?! Me and my kids had very different ideas though, and almost every activity we did was using kinesthetic learning techniques, getting the kids up and out of their chairs and playing some kind of educational game. He had CCTV in the rooms and he used to go crazy!!! Haha, fun times!! I wonder if being subjected to strict learning techniques at such a young age is damaging though? I think so. If you can't just relax and enjoy yourself at that age when can you? Life is a game at that age!!! And the thing is learning techniques that get the students active are so much more effective, so why not use them? I'll try and think of the games I used to use (I made almost all of them up!) and post them under the 'ESL Teaching Guides' section of my website at some point!
What do you guys think?
Is pre-school English harmful?
Is it a waste of money?
What teaching methods/games do you find effective for this age group?
Do you have any advice for someone who is new to teaching and will be teaching this age group?
Please post your comments below, I really do read and appreciate every single comment made, and to be honest it really motivates me to keep writing my blog. So if you enjoy reading my blogs comment god damn you!! :D
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P.s.s.s Here are a couple of photos of me with some of my favourite kids when I taught Kindergarten!! Those days seem so long ago now!! Right, I will leave you to comment now!!!