Native English teachers
Are native English teachers helpful in English studies at school?
The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education said yes for elementary school kids but no for students in middle or high schools.
Last week, the Seoul education office announced that it will lay off almost all English-speaking assistant teachers from the city’s middle and high schools by next February. Specifically, only 20 to 30 out of 180 native teachers at high schools will remain at Seoul Global High School and 10 other schools designed for special English education from the second semester that starts next month. All but four native speakers of the 264 will be withdrawn from Seoul’s middle schools by February, 2013.
The native speakers who wish to stay here will be transferred to the city’s elementary schools where the English-speaking native teacher system will remain intact.
The change stems from Seoul education officials’ decision that the policy is not cost-effective enough in secondary schools where English lessons are taught largely on the basis of grammar and reading, unlike elementary schools where native teachers are judged to be instrumental in speaking-based classes.
A survey conducted last year showed that more than 62 percent of 11,900 parents favored Korean teachers who have a good command of spoken English over native speakers.
The annual cost of maintaining a native teacher, including accommodation and air fare, is estimated at 46 million won, more than double the cost of hiring Korean English-speaking teachers.
The native English teacher system was introduced in 1995 to enhance students’ language skills through public education. The policy had mixed reactions ― proponents advocate the system saying English conversation can be taught through public education, whereas opponents downplay the policy citing poor cost-effectiveness.
The Seoul education office spends about 55 billion won a year on English education at schools, which critics say is too high given that students usually receive only a single one-hour conversation class per week. Some say native English-speaking teachers are kept to please parents who want their children to learn from them.
However, there will be a lot of problems if all native teachers are eliminated. First of all, secondary schools would have to give up English speaking and listening education, given that teachers who can give these lessons account for only 10 percent of all English educators in high schools.
The so-called English divide will also deepen as children of the underprivileged will be deprived of chances to be taught by native English teachers. The principle of equity would be broken as well because provinces have been increasing the number of native English teachers.
We suspect that there might be budget problems behind Seoul’s elimination of these teachers, particularly due to funds needed for the expanded free lunch program. The capital city’s budget for free lunches soared from 17.2 billion won in 2010 to 138.1 billion won this year. We urge the Seoul education office to reconsider its decision to lay off native English teachers.