Filipino women find a home in Korea: The classroom

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Filipino women find a home in Korea: The classroom

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DAMYANG, South Jeolla ― On a quiet afternoon in a school with 24 students in all, a dozen children echoed a Filipino woman with a dark complexion and petite frame, speaking in English. Clapping her hands, the teacher said in a loud voice, “Are you ready?” and then asked a student to describe another student in the classroom ― in English, of course.
For most people visiting this rural town, which is known only for its bamboo forests, seeing Filipino women, much less seeing them teaching English, may seem out of the ordinary. The county is far from a large metropolitan areas, where most would expect to find foreign residents. But this apparent backwater is actually at the forefront of rural education ― ints program to hire Filipino women married to Korean men as English teachers seems to be a model solution to the problem of educational inequity in Korea.
Facing an increasing number of international marriages, Damyang county has developed a program that helps foreign-born wives better integrate into Korean society, but that also taps their skills: In this case, English. As of March this year, there were 106 foreign-born housewives in the county of only 51,000; 44 of those are Filipino, 24 of whom have college degrees.
“Our goal is to teach children to speak basic English,” said Kim Min-ji, a Damyang county employee. “Since it’s an after-school class, it can have a friendly atmosphere in which [the students] can have free conversations. It does not have to be sophisticated English they learn. If they can communicate with a foreigner as much as possible and if they aren’t afraid to speak, we will have achieved our goal.”
When Damyang county launched the program, it had only one Filipino teacher at one elementary school, but now there are nine teachers rotating among 14 elementary schools. The county also developed a committee of seven persons, including English professors and teachers and two Canadian English teachers, to test the English writing, speaking and teaching abilities of its Filipino teachers. The county’s nine teachers were all given licenses by the committee (though 25 Filipinos have applied so far).
The after-school program has been well received by the community and the media because it gives the region’s children an opportunity to learn English they would otherwise never have ― the area is poor and there are few if any private institutes nearby, even if the parents could afford it.
“Many students live with their grandparents because their parents work in cities, and here, less than half the students live with their parents,” said Park Bok-won, the principal of Nammyeon Elementary School. “There are few young people. The number of students is declining. There is no industry here that will create jobs.”
Due to the lack of students, most elementary schools have been closed or have merged with other schools.
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If it were not for the after-school program, the remaining children might have nothing to do once classes are out. Unlike children living in cities, children in rural areas often cannot afford private tutoring.
This program has not only helped the students ― it’s also helped the teachers. They earn money, 35,000 won ($37) per hour, but they also feel that they are a part of the community.
“They came into our community to live with us, but they aren’t so well off,” Ms. Kim said. “We want them to settle down here and live happily.”
Fortunately, most Filipino teachers seem to enjoy their work and like the fact that they can earn money for themselves and to help their family back in the Philippines. At least, it’s better than working on a farm.
“It is interesting. I love children,” said Maricel Toledo Bullecer, 29, who earned a teaching degree before coming to Korea; she used to teach English at private institutions in Suwon. Born on the main island of Luzon to a family with six daughters, she met her husband, a cook, through the Unification Church and arrived in Korea in November 2000. Sometimes she sends money back home to help her younger sisters, who are attending college.
Ms. Bullecer moved down to Damyang two years ago to help her in-laws in farming. She said working on the farm was hard for her and that she felt lonely because she was unable to see her friends often.
“I can buy whatever I want and eat what I want. It is my own money. My in-laws are proud of me,” she said.
Maricel M. Vicar, 34, a Mindanao native who arrived in Korea in 1996, knows the feeling. “I can buy delicious food for my friends and family. I give a little money to my in-laws,” she said. Her husband operates a backhoe; they have two children. “Since I have a job, I don’t have to ask for money to my husband. I can also save money. Because I have a job, my in-laws are happy,” Ms. Vicar said.
Most of all, teaching at elementary schools enabled them to be connected with the community by getting close with their students and their students’ parents.
“They are very grateful to us, because it’s free,” said Yolanda R. Zalun, 39.
Ms. Zalun said one of the great moments was the time when some parents gave her a gift. “They gave me a gift on Teachers’ Day, long underwear and a card. It read, ‘I am very thankful for you.’ I cried,” Ms. Zalun said.
“The students made Christmas cards and sent them to my house,” Ms. Vicar said. “They call me and send short messages that say, ‘I miss you teacher’ and ‘I love you teacher,’ in English.”
Despite the benefits for the county and its resident, there are also some concerns about Filipinos teaching English to young students. Although English is commonly used in the Philippines, it is not the native language and most people speak with a thick accent. Some parents and teachers worry that the students will internalize incorrect pronunciations.
“Their pronunciation is not up to standard, but we still think that they are better than people like us or even ordinary English teachers here,” said Hwang Hye-kyung, a women’s affairs official for the county. Ms. Hwang said there is an ongoing program to improve the teachers’ pronunciation and teaching skills.
Ms. Hwang said one time she saw a mother out on the street, encouraging her child to try to talk in English to one of the Filipino teachers passing by. She said the scene convinced her that the teaching program has been effective.
The national government has recognized the success of the county’s program and has notified other local and provincial governments, encouraging them to follow suit.
“Residents in rural areas have abandoned their hometowns and have been running away to cities to find jobs and get better educations. As a way of preventing a bigger outflow of people from rural areas, we are trying to invest more in education,” Ms. Kim said.


by Limb Jae-un
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