[LEARNING CURVE]Profits take priority in English education

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[LEARNING CURVE]Profits take priority in English education

I began working as a teacher for a branch of one of the better-known English academy franchises in early 2003. Situated in northwestern Seoul, the school had a reasonably large number of students and faculty, a well-equipped teachers’ lounge, suitably equipped classrooms and a number of helpful staff at the reception desk, so I was confident that my career as a teacher would have a successful beginning.
Despite my lack of training for the job, I worked hard at adapting to the school and students and began to enjoy being a teacher.
But as time progressed and I became more familiar with the materials and the teaching methods at the school, I realized that a hagwon and a school share fundamentally different education philosophies.
A hagwon is not an educational institute. A hagwon is a business, and it is the principles of commerce that act as the driving force behind their activities.
The most immediate indication of the aims of the organization came in the form of the rigidly structured syllabi. I raised concerns when students found a book too easy or that a syllabus was not properly designed to keep pace with their progress.
It was pointed out to me that the school had a timetable as to when to sell its books to the children’s parents and that the progress of the classes would be based on this schedule.
The education of the students was apparently of lesser importance to this company than its product distribution strategy, an issue that recurred time and time again. There also was a general lack of consultation and inquiry in regards to the performance of my students.
While I appreciate that my job consisted of trying to make the materials interesting for the students, I feel that the hagwon’s approach to the business of education made it incredibly difficult for me to do this. My complaints to the school management were ignored, and they made it clear to me that I had better find a way to make it work.
I feel that the hagwon’s approach to education did not include providing a higher standard of education. This approach short-changes the students and their parents.
Korean parents sacrifice large amounts of money for their children’s education, and they have the right to expect the institutions to do their best. Some of these hagwons are taking advantage of these parents’ selflessness in order to run profitable businesses. They are doing a disservice to both these parents and their children, and I hope that the Korean people will demand a change.


by Robert O’Dwyer
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