Saturday, June 09, 2007


The detailed reporting on some of the problems that native English teachers in Daejeon are having with the local hagwon industry is a welcome sight to me and other foreigners. I would suggest that this article on the mess in Daejeon be translated into Korean and posted in every hagwon and public school English classroom in the country.

I would like, however, to point out a couple of things that many Koreans are not typically aware of.

First, in my experience, South Korea has the most restrictive teaching visa in the world. It is quite true that one is not allowed to teach private lessons. This oddity makes South Korea probably the only country in the world in which a foreigner can be fined, deported, or even imprisoned for teaching English.

Second, the restrictive visa system basically "imprisons" the teacher who signs a contract with any school. Typically, the teacher is recruited from overseas, without even meeting the school owners or seeing the school, and without inspecting the living accommodation in advance. If the teacher is unhappy for any reason with the job he has agreed to do for at least a year, he can only hope the school will release him from the contract. Otherwise, the only alternative is to leave Korea quickly and silently, hoping to re-enter the country later after signing yet another "imprisoning" contract with yet another school that the teacher has no real prior knowledge of.

Is it any wonder that Korea has the worst reputation internationally for ESL teachers? This system must be reformed. It was based on the Japanese system, and the Japanese modified their own system a number of years ago. The Mongolians adopted the Korean system a few years back and modified it within a couple of years, finding that it was unworkable and kept qualified teachers from wanting to go to their country.

Look to Singapore and other places where students learn English effectively from native speaking ESL teachers -- and scrap the entire labyrinth of regulations and visa restrictions, so that Korean students will have the same opportunities as students in other countries to learn from competent teachers, whether in a private institute, a public school, or in private lessons.

I have taught in Korea for about four years. I love the teaching and adore my students. But the visa issues and difficulties in NOT breaking the law (plenty of schools will try to get you to break Korean laws when it suits them) make Korea a giant headache. This need not be so. Wake up, Koreans.

I am now free from some of these problems, since I teach only at public schools and universities, but even then, there are visa issues that are pointless, expensive and time-consuming.

Connie Arnold, living in Nova Scotia, Canada, taught English at Pochon CHA University in Gyeonggi Province. - Ed.

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