By Kang Shin-who
Native English teachers responded unenthusiastically to a proposed bill, which would obligate them to undergo "culture courses."
The reaction came after Rep. Cho Jeon-hyuk of the governing Grand National Party (GNP) submitted a bill aimed at providing a mandatory course on Korean culture to native English speakers at elementary and secondary schools as well as private language institutes.
Some native English speakers spoke negatively of the plan. "Nothing should be mandatory. The course should be offered, but optional. Also, I hope to get some sort of reward after taking the courses," said Mark Whitty, who works as a teacher of English at a kindergarten in Seoul.
Another instructor Christopher Kim said "I think teachers, many of them, will not take the courses seriously. I don't also think it will make big impact on them."
On the other hand, Greg Dolezal, president of the Association for Teachers of English (ATEK) in Korea said "This is a great idea, if it's done right. I think foreign teachers should be included in making the content of the program to make sure it addresses the most salient challenges to cultural adjustment in Korea."
"ATEK is working on a similar project. We would appreciate the opportunity to consult the government on this and be a partner in educating visa-holding teachers on cultural adjustment," he added.
In reality, education authorities including regional education offices offer orientation programs covering rudimentary tips on life in Korea.
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.
According to the lawmaker's office, 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.