Korea has long had an insatiable thirst for English. English as a second language (ESL) education is a billion dollar industry in this country of 48 million. Starting in third grade, all students receive compulsory ESL classes in the public school system; these classes continue through the first or second year of university. Some 40,000 children are sent to study in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, South Africa and Great Britain, as well as special camps in the Philippines, Malaysia and some other countries. ESL is a US$15 billion a year industry.
Since the 1980s, native English speakers from seven English speaking nations have been utilized for both public schools and private academies. There are nearly 20,000 teachers from the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, South Africa and Great Britain on E-2 visas. The requirements for this visa are a bachelor's degree in any subject from an accredited university in one of the aforementioned countries and, since 2007, HIV and drug examinations as well as police background checks. While many of these native English instructors work for public schools in the Seoul and Gyeonggi-do regions, the majority teach at private academies known as hagwons.
Finding native English teachers to work in rural areas far from Seoul or the southern port city of Busan can be very difficult. The national government and local education boards have attempted various schemes such as encouraging young overseas Koreans to return to their homeland and teach for a year or two. Despite such efforts, there are still perennial shortages in the number of foreign teachers for certain areas.
With the recent conclusion of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between India and Korea, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) has announced a plan to recruit 100 Indian teachers to fill roles in public school systems throughout the nation. According to MEST, this will "improve the system for assistant native teachers of English. We expect a number of qualified English teachers from India will come here."
There are currently just over 7,000 "assistant native teachers" working in public schools, as part of the English Program in Korea policy begun in 1995. Until now, teachers for this program could only come from the seven previously countries that are considered by the Ministry of Education to be 'native' English nations. Instructors from other countries that have adopted English as a national language, such as the Philippines or Malaysia, were forbidden from obtaining the necessary visa to teach English in Korea. The new policy allowing Indian instructors marks the first time instructors from a non-'native' English-speaking country to teach English in Korea.
"A large number of Indians are already teaching mathematics and English in the United States and Britain. I think we can expect much from those teachers," an official from the Ministry of Education told reporters. Currently, only 13 percent of English teachers from the seven 'native' English-speaking countries have specific teaching certifications. Teachers recruited from India will be required to have a teaching certification and will undergo oral and written examinations to ensure a high level of English ability.
Indian teachers will be integrated into public schools starting in the Spring 2010 semester. The new policy only applies to teachers working for public schools. Private academy instructors will still be restricted to the seven native speaking countries. In the coming years, Korea will allow teachers from other countries if a bilateral trade agreement is reached.
If the initial recruitment of 100 Indian teachers is considered successful, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology will consider expanding the program to 300 teachers.
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