Native English-speaking teachers in Korea are on edge over the recent budget cuts in Seoul to English education. This has caused concern throughout this demographic over the security of their own jobs in the nation.
Bloggers like Matt Van Volkenburg, author of “Gusts of Popular Feelings,” and the anonymous “Lost on Jeju,” among others, have been aggregating Korean and English news about the situation with the latter stating that this will become a nationwide trend and that it is only a matter of time before Jeju sees similar budget cuts to English education.
Recently, there has been a 2.3 billion won (US$2 million) budget cut to Seoul middle school native English-speaking teachers, as well as allowing many foreign English high school teachers’ contracts expire without renewal this August.
According to Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education (SMOE) Foreign Education Department Chief Choi Chun Ok, they have always intended to decrease the number of native English-speaking teachers when Korean English teachers were trained in Teaching English in English (TEE).
Kim said that though they are not resigning most high school foreign English teachers, “those wishing to renew their contracts would be moved to middle or elementary schools. ‘Losing their jobs’ is not a correct term. If they meet certain criteria for renewing their contract they will be moved.”
Currently, SMOE states that this is not the first step to replace all foreign English teachers with Korea English teachers.
“We will never stop hiring [native English-speaking teachers]. We have NO plan to make Korean English teachers replace them. We need to recruit hundreds of foreign teachers a year for the time being in spite of the budget cuts. But the number will be reduced,” Choi stressed in an email interview with The Weekly. Throughout the three-page response to our questions, this paragraph was the only one specifically written in English.
“Foreign English teachers have greatly contributed to the development of English education in Seoul. However, it is time to reevaluate the cost-effectiveness, considering a huge sum of budget (about 52 billion won, or US$45 million annually). So we are changing our policy from quantity expansion to quality improvement,” said Choi.
SMOE said the three reasons influencing the budget cut to middle school English teachers are the improvement of Korean English teachers in TEE, that according to their research foreign English teachers are most effective in elementary schools, and the need to provide cost-effective quality programs.
“So it is not a sudden decision or unprepared plan,” said Choi.
According to SMOE, the average monthly salary of a foreign English teacher is between 1.8 million to 3 million won a month, but when considering accommodation allowance, flight reimbursement, and contract completion bonuses it equals between 38 million to 48 million ($33,000 to $42,000) a year. For a native English-speaker with a teaching certificate but no experience, they earn about 43 million won ($37,000) a year (including accommodation allowance and other benefits), while a Korean with the same qualifications only costs SMOE 31 million won ($27,000) a year.
Kim insisted that though there will be fewer annual contracts, “there will be more openings for after-school English classes. So it is hard to measure how many teaching jobs will be affected.” Kim continued that this does not signify a nationwide trend which many have feared. Other cities have their own funds to hire foreign English teachers.
“This budget cut should not be exaggerated,” Kim said.
Gideon Williams, an EPIK teacher at an elementary school on Jeju for the past two years, said that if he intended to stay here longer, the budget cuts in Seoul would cause him to worry about his position.
“I would absolutely feel like my job is in danger,” Williams said in a telephone interview with The Weekly.
He believes that the reduction in foreign English teachers on Jeju is “inevitable” and that for those with families or planning to teach here long-term, the Seoul budget cuts are a cause for concern.
Jeju Provincial Office of Education (POE) English Program in Korea (EPIK) Coordinator Sunny Lee is steadfast that Jeju will not experience budget cuts like those in Seoul.
“In Seoul [the budget cut] was a very enormous change, but in Jeju it is not like that,” Lee said in a telephone interview. “They won’t cut funding like in Seoul.”
At the moment there is no plan to completely discontinue hiring native English teachers on the island. This year, Lee said, there will be seven fewer job openings than last year, but it has nothing to do with money.
“I calculate the school hours. Each school, they need a certain amount of hours,” and seven schools do not require an EPIK teacher to meet that quota, she said. “We have TaLK [Teach and Learn in Korea] scholars who only teach in the afternoon. They have too many afternoon classes so we are going to use TaLK scholars in the regular classes.”
Lee continued that even though they require seven fewer teachers, she has no intentions of not renewing contracts. “We have a re-evaluation system, so if they pass they are going to be renewed.” This is identical to what Kim said in reference to SMOE foreign English teachers.
Currently, Jeju EPIK has 151 foreign English teachers on staff, which is the same as last year. In February, there will be 144.
On Jeju, she said, it is not the budget that dictates how many teachers they hire, it comes down to the amount of cumulative hours the schools need. “Budget cuts don’t come first,” Lee said.
Though Lee could not definitely say if the budget cuts in Seoul would be start a nationwide trend, she was confident that “If they teach students properly and if they have a good relationship with their teachers they shouldn’t be worried.”