Foreigners Out of Vogue in Korean Education

There is a dilemma facing many of South Korea’s foreigners. While Korea has long had a reputation as a huge job market for English speakers willing to teach, it is rapidly shifting away from native English teachers (NETs) toward English-speaking Korean teachers in the classroom.

s a result, many Westerners are now faced with a more competitive environment as good job prospects shrink, and the expectations on foreign teachers increase. The real question is what they will do now.

The impetus for this job decline was a government decision in December 2011 to gradually phase out about 85% of NET public school positions by 2014. While this verdict does not overtly affect private schools (commonly called hagwons), public school positions are generally seen as more prestigious, secure, and structured, making them the more desirable choice for employment. Nominally, the South Korean government wishes to save money, which is a fair point since NETs are much more costly than Korean teachers doing much of the same work.

However, it seems that many students and parents may simply prefer having Koreans as teachers. A survey released on December 2 by the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education found that only 29.7% of students and 26.9% of parents preferred NETs to Korean teachers, even though the same survey found a greater level of satisfaction among students for NET lessons.

As a result, the pressure of limited options is increasing for many foreigners. With English hagwon attendance decreasing on top of public school unavailability, China, Japan, and Taiwan are starting to look like much more attractive employment options for many.

Recent estimates put the NET population of Korea around 24,000, but as the government refrains from renewing public school contracts, the proportion of NETs in Korea to other East Asian countries will decrease significantly. At this point, many English teachers are starting to explore alternative options, and countries offering solid benefits will find no shortage of available educators for hire.

by Amy Gradin

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