A native English teacher reads to students in his classroom at Myongwon Elementary School in Seoul in this photo taken in April 2013. / Korea Times file
By Lee Jin-a
The number of native English teachers at public schools has dropped nearly 42 percent over four years and is expected to fall further in the face of government funding cuts over alleged poor results.
Incheon, a port city west of Seoul, had the biggest drop of 71.8 percent, followed by Gyeonggi Province (63.1 percent), North Chungcheong Province (54.6 percent), South Chungcheong Province (47.3 percent), North Gyeongsang Province (46.8 percent) and Seoul (43.2 percent), according to education ministry figures.
As of early October, 4,962 native English teachers worked at public schools, down from 8,520 in 2012, according to the data. The ministry and regional education offices will soon decide the number of native English teachers to be hired next year.
"One of the main reasons for the decline was that municipal and provincial offices of education no longer have enough money to recruit foreign teachers," said Kim Jeong-keun, deputy director of the ministry dealing with the matter, pointing out that more money was needed for student welfare.
Another reason, the director said, was the lower than expected efficiency of classes involving native English speakers in improving students' English ability.
"We believe placing the teachers with the right talent in the right position is more efficient than merely increasing the number of foreign teachers," he said.
His claim was supported by 2012 research by the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education that English-speaking Korean teachers played a bigger role than native English teachers in polishing students' ability.
|/ Graphic by Cho Sang-won|
An official at the North Chungcheong Province Office of Education said the sharp cut in native English teachers in the province was attributable to the increasing availability of well-educated English-speaking Korean teachers.
"We used to recruit native English speakers as teachers to give students who couldn't afford a trip to an English-speaking country first-hand learning from native English speakers," the official said. "But now it's easy for children to meet native English speakers through social clubs and other casual and affordable ways. So we have decided to increase the number of Korean teachers who will be able to improve students' proficiency with various training and tests."
During the 2008-2013 Lee Myung-bak administration, the government expanded the number of native English teachers to improve the quality of public English education.
In 2009, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education said it would place at least one native English teacher in every primary and secondary school in its precinct by 2012.
But since 2012, Seoul has significantly reduced the number of English-speaking teachers, based on its survey of the effectiveness of the English education policies. The survey still serves as a theoretical backbone for the nationwide reduction of native English teachers.
In the survey, students (53.7 percent of 28,761) and parents (62.2 percent of 12,150) favored Korean teachers with high English-speaking skills over foreign teachers. It suggested students who had low English skills found it difficult to communicate with native English teachers and lost motivation to study English.
But there are experts who oppose the policy. Choi Hyung-jai, an associate professor at Korea University, claims the country needs more native English-speaking teachers to ensure fair education for students.
According to his 2013 study, high school students with mid-to-upper grades improved their scores in English tests while studying with foreign teachers more than students with lower grades did.
He said students who were confident in English and had better English-speaking skills could learn more from native English speakers.
He said the government should increase the number of foreign teachers and create special programs for students who lacked English-speaking skills to reduce the gap between students with upper and lower academic levels.