By Chris Baumann and Shu Setogawa
Academic research has established that Koreans have a clear preference for Korean teachers and professors, followed by a slightly lower preference for Caucasian teaching staff.
Negative preference values, however, were found for Chinese and Indian teachers. Our study extends testing the “country of origin” effect previously found for products such as cars or cosmetics to the services sector.
Korea has long employed foreigners as English assistant teachers in an attempt to improve the next generation’s English skills. Australians, Americans, Brits and Canadians, in some cases Filipinos, were employed as native speakers to teach at Korean elementary, middle and high schools.
Recently, however, education employment
practice has undergone changes in Korea’s major capitals. In Seoul, native English-speaking assistant teachers will be replaced by Korean teachers with a stronger focus on comprehension and grammar rather than speaking and playing games.
In Busan, the education authorities monitor foreign teachers more closely, evaluating their teaching ability, work attitude and manners, indicating that there must have been issues in this respect in the past.
While generally Korean teachers demand more respect and enforce stricter discipline, Korean students and their parents in fact prefer Korean teachers. Local teachers working attitude and manners reflect the Korean culture, whereas in English conversation classes led by foreigners the teaching style may deviate from the traditional Korean approach.
Our study found significant preferences by Koreans for their own teaching staff (teachers and professors), followed by a slightly lower preference for Caucasians. The study measured these preferences on a scale from one to seven, where values above four indicated a preference, four itself indicated no preference either way, while values below four indicated dislike.
Values for Chinese and Indian teaching staff were found to be slightly negative, indicating that when Koreans do have a choice, they prefer a Korean or Caucasian teacher. The chart below visualizes the Koreans ethnicity preferences for educational services.
Our study is based on the theoretical foundations of country of origin, homophily (love of the same) and animosity (negative emotions toward a nation) that seem to explain our findings.
We have identified and measured three explanatory factors visualized in the figure below: country image, perception of service quality, and trust. The Koreans in this study, sampled in Australia, view their home country in a positive light, and generally also view Caucasians (represented by Australians in this study) positively. Values for Chinese and Indians revolve around the neutral zero mark.
Education is one of the four distinct service industries as identified by the academic Christopher Lovelock’s classification of services but our study also looked at ethnicity preferences for financial, medical and cleaning services to ensure we cover all types of services.
The strong preferences found in our study for Korean and Caucasian teaching staff seem to be explained by country of origin effects, or the overall positive or negative country image, also reflected in varying levels found for trust and service quality.
Education is not only about transferring knowledge but also about passing on inspiration and cultural values such as etiquette and behavioral standards. The Koreans seem to trust their own teachers most in keeping up high standards in education and passing on cultural values.
Foreign teaching staff needs to better understand the level of competitiveness in Korea with its unique blend of traditional Confucian values and a modern, pragmatic and dynamic approach to the economy and education.
The Korean education sector can continue to employ Westerners where native English skills are required but besides scrutinizing their academic credentials, Korea must evaluate their teaching ability, work attitude and manners to ensure they are in line with the Confucian heritage of the country.
Koreans with their preference for their own teaching staff want to protect the Korean education and economic miracle and foreigners need to be able to demonstrate the same spirit if they want to teach in Korea.
Dr. Chris Baumann is a senior lecturer at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. His research includes customer loyalty, competitiveness in education and society, ethnic marketing and East Asia (China and Korea). He has been appointed as a visiting professor at Seoul National University in Korea and at Aarhus University in Denmark. Shu Setogawa is a student at Macquarie University and is supervised by Dr. Baumann. He is currently completing his bachelor of marketing honors degree with a thesis titled “Ethnicity in services: Consumer preferences for frontline staff’s ethnicity as explained by country of origin, homophily and animosity.”