By Kia Pearson
During a recent administrative inspection of the Seoul Office of Education, Lee Su-jeong, a Seoul Metropolitan Council member representing the Democratic Labor Party, said that some U.S.-owned and other international schools had become ``royal academies" for the children of wealthy Koreans.
For instance, she said, 60 percent of students in the Seoul Academy International School were Korean. According to the education office's data, the U.S.-owned school had the highest percentage of Korean students among international schools here ― 101 out of 166 students. Coming next was the French Lycee International Xavier (43.2 percent), followed by the U.S.-owned Asia Pacific International School (36.6 percent), Korea International School (30.8 percent) and Centennial Christian School (27.9 percent).
Students who have lived abroad for at least three years are legally allowed to enroll in international schools. However, many of these schools will accept anyone whose parents are willing to pay the exorbitant fees. In fact, there are many students attending these international schools who have never lived abroad or who have only been abroad for holidays.
Such schools are ``cash-and-grab schools," or greedy schools, and they should be fined and forced to refund the school fees of those students who don't meet the requirements to attend an international school. The school should have the students withdraw and look for education elsewhere. Maybe councilwoman Lee Su-jeong could set up a committee to visit every international school and demand to see the passports of every student for verification of time spent abroad. I'm sure enrollments of a lot of these schools would drop considerably, and some might even be forced to close.
Many international schools have a difficult time recruiting qualified teachers and some parents are not satisfied with the teachers that the schools get. ``I think the education authority should take more care of this issue,'' said the mother of a student enrolled at an international school in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province (from the Korea Times article in July 2008, headlined ``Korea Sloppy in Overseeing Foreign Schoolteachers").
If these schools paid higher salaries, more qualified teachers would come to Korea. As it is, a lot of international schools pay their teachers a salary comparable to that paid by the average English academy or government-sponsored public school to native speakers ― for doing two to three times the amount of work.
Teachers at international schools are also required to be involved in various extracurricular activities and participate in a myriad of other activities as well ― such as marking tests and meeting students ― in addition to their basic duty of teaching.
Your basic English academy or government-sponsored public school teacher, among other things, has access to a lot of ESL (English as a Second Language) material online or from other sources, has the freedom to be creative, and is required to maintain a semblance of order in the classroom ― but is not responsible for a student's grade or the student's ability to pass the entrance test to gain admission to a Korean university.
Unfortunately, very few good, qualified teachers would ever accept employment away from his or her home country for the low salary that is offered by many of these so-called international schools. Those that do are probably working from a different agenda and have other priorities in coming to Korea.
Many international schools end up having to accept whomever they can get, and that means they will have to hire recent graduates without any teaching experience. Some of these inexperienced new graduates do very well as teachers, but they usually only stay for a year before moving on to more meaningful employment.
That doesn't lead to the teacher continuity that students need, and parents pay enough for tuition and other expenses to rightfully demand that their children be taught continuously by experienced teachers. The law pertaining to international schools requires that their teachers have at least two years of background in education (teaching experience), so those schools that hire new graduates without experience are doing so in defiance of the law. A foreign school in Gwangju, for example, consistently hires teachers without experience from the Princeton in Asia employment agency, and also accepts students who haven't lived abroad for the mandatory three years.
The Korea Times article I mentioned above stated that ``each regional office is not fulfilling it's duty properly, and they don't have the tools to correct any impropriety in international private schools".
``International schools are autonomous," said Kim Hong-sop, a director-general of the Education Ministry. In response, city and provincial education offices point out that the regulations are impractical.
``We have limits in supervising the schools. I don't know how many schools would report properly as we don't provide any subsidies to them as we do to other schools, " said Cho Wan-seok, an official of Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education.
Why should receiving a subsidy determine whether a school be inspected to insure that it is providing the right services for their students? Shouldn't all institutions in Korea be policed equally for impropriety by the education department? How can international schools be autonomous, and why don't regional offices have the tools to discipline and penalize delinquent schools?
Essentially, international schools are being given free license to charge anything they like for either inadequate or adequate education, and to hire any teacher regardless of his or her background and experience.
The writer has taught at Kyungsan University, Uiduk University and international schools in Japan and Korea. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.