And I'm forgoing my vacation blogging to have a bit of a rant. (Yes I'm in Qingdao for another 24 hours).
The Korea Times has the word on Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education's (SMOE) latest plan to get rid of over 300 odd Middle and High School Native English Speaking "Assistant" teachers before February next year:
The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education said Monday it will pull out nearly all English-speaking assistant teachers from the city's middle and high schools by next February, considering that secondary schools put more focus on reading and grammar than speaking.
I have taught middle school English in Gyeonggi-do, and while I don't think there is a major difference between curricula of the two areas (Metro Seoul and Gyeonggi-do) The emphasis as far as I saw was very much on speaking. Thank God. While I can not speak more highly of the importance of reading in learning English (both in terms of learning language systems (Grammar, vocab etc) and in experiencing and using language) I am still at a loss as to why Korea insists on this emphasis on grammar - almost exclusively and at the expense of using the language, i.e. SPEAKING!
More on that in a minute. The article continues:
Only 20 to 30 out of 180 native-speaking teachers in city's high schools will remain at Seoul Global High School and 10 other schools designated for special English education by the end of next month, with all but four native speakers of the 260 to be withdrawn from the city's middle schools by next February, according to the city office.
So the SMOE will have about 34 Native speakers at there disposal to teach how many middle and high school students in how many schools under the office's jurisdiction by the beginning of the next school year!? I cant access Google Drive right now - but in there I have a list of schools and Student numbers - there is a lot. More than 30 something teachers can cover that's for sure!
Thankfully those teachers look like they will be able to keep their jobs:
The native speakers who hope to stay in the country will be relocated to the city's elementary schools, where the system will be put in place after an evaluation process, it added.
The move is based upon its decision that the policy is not cost-effective enough in the secondary schools where the focus of the English education is put on reading and grammar, in contrast to elementary schools with speaking-based curriculum, according to the office.
OK, so I have some sympathy here for the SMOE. The native English speaking teacher policy, started in 1995, is not the most cost effective way to educate your young'uns, it's not only salary, but also accommodation and air fares that schools need to find budgets for. HOWEVER in terms of the intrinsic value of having a native speaker teach a language, that value can't be measured! I know I certainly learned French a whole lot better with a Native Frenchman. I dare say the SMOE might get a bit more value for money though had they hired "qualified" English teachers ("Qualified" is a debate for another time, many people have decried Korea's policy of letting any University Grad - with blond hair and blue eyes - come into the country and teach English, if I could link to them while here in China I would.)
The apparent "evaluation" process mentioned in the article scares me a little, BUT I am for reasoned, reliable and valid assessment of teachers. And If we can get more kids learning English in elementary school then so be it. Officially English Instruction begins in Grade 3 in Korea, but increasingly instruction has begun as early as first grade - and with an extra 300 teachers in the elementary system this may well become the norm.
The article draws on a survey of parents conducted in 2011:
It also cited the results of the survey it conducted last year, where 62.2 percent of some 11,900 parents said they favor "Korean teachers who have a good command of English speaking and teaching" over native speakers as desirable English instructors.
Likewise I have little argument with the parents of Seoul, who, if they are dissatisfied with government English policy will chuck their kids into Hakwon anyway. The issue here is "Korean teachers who have a good command of English speaking and Teaching". As someone involved in Korean Teacher training I have to say that, while there are some good teachers, there are fewer that have the kind of command of the language required to teach it. (That small body continues to grow as I teach more and more teachers....)
The article argues against me thus:
"Scrapping the policy won't lower the quality of public education, as we see an increased number of young Korean teachers who have overseas experience, and we have the so-called 'Teaching English in English' certification system of English teachers," a city official said.
Sure there are many teachers who have overseas experience, but very few of them have been educated overseas. I had the pleasure of doing some teacher training with a student who completed her education degree in Australia. Sure she had a good grasp of English herself, but she was also au faite with the theory involved in teaching a language. By contrast other of my students, products of Korean teacher training and education in general, struggled to apply the theory.
At issue here is not necessary English (And I'm still getting to my point from above, hold on) but the education system and / or teacher training. I know very little about the so-called "Teaching English in English" certification - but it seems to be a farse. Perhaps the system will right itself as younger teachers go through the system, but they will always be constrained by a system (or curricula) that make the wrong decisions about what students should be learning. Students should be USING language, not writing grammar exercises.
Now to my point:
So I have been in China for 4 days. Admittedly in a sleepy fishing village a smaller city (by China standards) but the level of English spoken here is pretty poor. In Korea everyone, EVERYONE is able to at least point and shout some nouns when required for what ever reason (like a dumb foreigner asking for the menu...). Taxi drivers, bus drivers, shop clerks, EVERYONE in Korea speaks a little English. In China? Not so much. Of course I have to work on my dodgy Chinese accent, my dodgy Korea accent by contrast is a work of art.
So Korea should be pretty happy with itself. What it needs to do is work out policy whereby people will be more able to use English (rather than just pointing and shouting nouns). I think removing Native English Speaking Teachers form middle and high schools, is not going to achieve this.
I'm sure Matt at Gusts of Popular Feeling will have lots more to say about this, but being in China, I can't get to anything on Blogger.