What Do English Teachers Think?
By Jason Lim
I don't know about you, but the volume of public debate on the recently announced English immersion plan by the president-elect's transition team is positively dizzying.
This overwhelming reaction is not altogether surprising. After all, Korea is probably the only country in which English education has created a unique sociocultural phenomenon nicknamed ``Goose Father.''
Everybody in Korea seems to have something to do with English education. Either you are a student, teacher, parent, policymaker, bookseller, content-provider, school administrator, politician, businessperson, or someone else associated directly or indirectly with English-education.
Accordingly, everyone has something to say on the proposed English immersion plan. English could possibly be the only topic in Korean society that can trump the latest juicy celebrity gossip on the ubiquitous portal sites. Countless viewpoints, ideas, complaints, and arguments are merging together in dynamics waves and striking fiercely against the shores of cyberspace.
Except for the voices of the native English-speaking teachers actually teaching English in Korea today. Their silence is deafening.
As one of the principle stakeholders in this public debate, native English-speaking teachers seem to be a natural resource and partner in informing this policy direction. After all, they are the people on the frontlines interacting organically with the children and fellow Korean non-native English teachers on an everyday basis.
They are the ones living this argument today. And if the proposed outsourcing of 23,000 native English-speaking teachers were ever to be realized, experiences of today's native English-speaking teachers in Korea would have significant value-added impact on today's discussion. Yet, amazingly enough, their voices are silent.
Where are they? What do they think? Has anyone asked them?
Granted, you can find some of them voicing their opinions on the editorial and letter pages of The Korea Times and other English language newspapers. Unfortunately, English language newspapers alone do not yet have the readership and influence large enough to carve their way into a public debate of national proportions. In any case, some individual teachers writing columns and letters on newspapers do not translate into a collective voice.
So what other channels do native English-speaking teachers have to voice their collective perspective and present their experiences, insights, and concerns? How can they share the institutional knowledge and wisdom that they have internalized as a group with the policymakers who will be making the final decisions? It is, after all, only their profession that the policymakers are deciding.
I don't yet see major Korean newspapers or TV networks' news reports inviting native English-speaking teachers to participate in a roundtable on this debate. I don't see any high-ranking native English-speaking teachers on MB's transition team staff. I haven't heard of any advisory group of native English-speaking teachers being formed to advise the policy makers.
Admittedly, this is a domestic policy matter. However, in order to be successful, any major policy initiative must have the support of key stakeholders that will be directly affected by the policy. And according to the current proposal put forward by the transition committee, native English-speaking teachers will be the critical cog in this English education machine that they are trying to build from the ground up.
So, why aren't they being invited to the table? And if their voices are not integrated in the planning stages of this policy, how do you expect to recruit 23,000 more native English-speaking teachers within a few short years? And even if somehow you manage to get them here, how are you going to keep them?
Although I personally support the incoming government's political will to rejuvenate and reenergize the English education system in Korea, I am concerned about the seeming lack of communication and collaboration exhibited by the transition committee up to now, especially with the most important stakeholder group in this equation.
Then I thought: Why not create a tool in which the native English-speaking teacher would come together to voice their collective opinion in a fair and representative fashion? Therefore, I designed a simple online polling tool to do just that, much like I did for the Leadership Crisis Survey a few months back.
The questions would explore what native English-speaking teachers think about the current proposal, including points for improvements. Further, it will not be limited to the merits of the proposal; it will also ask simple questions about their experience as teachers in Korea.
Admittedly, this survey won't be comprehensive in that it won't cover all the various aspects of teaching English in Korea as a native English-speaker. However, it will be flexible enough to allow individual responses and opinions.
It will only take a few minutes. It is anonymous and non-attributable. I will share the results in my next column. Although I obviously can't guarantee that someone in a policymaking role will actually pay attention, I can promise that you collective voice will be faithfully collected, compiled, and reported.
Please participate by clicking on the link below and forwarding to colleagues and friends who may want to participate.
Jason Lim is a research fellow at the Harvard Korea Institute, researching Asian leadership models. He can be reached at email@example.com.