Drama! Thrills! Anger! Confusion! These and more are what many of my friends seem to be going through at the moment. I think I wrote a blog post back in late 2014 talking about budget cuts and the teachers here working in the public school system. Well, a few good friends of mine have lost their jobs (including my companion-in-arms TJ, who I will miss greatly) and other friends today found out that, from March, they will be teaching in multiple schools. Naturally, this seems to have gone down about as well as expected – that is to say, mostly badly. Many people are confused as to why the decision was made. Annette, our regional coordinator, sent out a response to this which I shan’t bore you with here. Needless to say, she is under great stress as a result of these budget cuts and is doing a fantastic job in keeping us informed when she can.
But this is part of a trend across Korea, which is more worrying for GETs in general – a cutback on native English teachers working in the public school system. In Seoul, they are only hiring for elementary level now. Across many regions this Spring, there will be many teachers losing their jobs. In such an environment, uncertainty flourishes and spreads a seed consisting of fear, doubt and anger. We don’t know (yet) how the budget cuts are going to impact on GETs hired through EPIK for the August intake. For all I know, I could be out of a job. In Korea, on a wider level, and a definite conversation amongst friends of mine, is a big question – how much are we needed here?
In my opinion, GETs are not really utilised in the most effective way. I currently see my First and Second Grade boys (I teach middle school) for an hour every week and my Third Grade boys for an hour every two weeks. Their classes with me are conducted entirely in English (my Korean ability being as useful as a chocolate fireguard). But the other however many hours of English they have a week are done in Korean, with little emphasis on spoken English. Yes, their grasp of grammar is good and is in fact what Korea seems to concentrate most on teaching. But this comes at a price – the ability to communicate effectively in English. Students here learn English from Third Grade at elementary school. Yet, I will have students who can barely communicate beyond “hello”. Naturally, the government is looking for reasons why and the blame seems to fall at the door of GETs. I would, however, argue that the system here is at fault. To genuinely improve English, there needs to be less of a focus on perfect grammar and more of a focus on speaking the language. It is a bit like trying to put a flat-pack wardrobe together using only a saw – you can follow the instructions as much as you like; learn them even. But it won’t get you anywhere. The sooner this is realised here in Korea, the better for everyone involved in teaching English in public schools.