[Viewpoint]Get serious with verificationWhat do Columbia State University, La Salle University, Pacific Western University and the City University of Los Angeles have in common?
They are all based in the United States of America and they are all, despite their impressive names, diploma mills that issue or have issued worthless degrees. Diploma mills are by definition so-called educational institutions that grant fast-tracked unaccredited degrees for minimal academic work and the payment of a fee.
Korea has recently been rocked by revelations that some people have purchased such degrees and used them to obtain employment or advance their careers. First, the revelations about fake degrees, forged qualifications and untruthful resumes were confined to noted figures in Korean life and now the spotlight is turning to native English-speaking teachers in private language institutes.
In fact, the first time I ever met someone who admitted working with a bogus qualification was during my short stint as an English teacher in a language institute here in Seoul 20 years ago. At that time, one of my fellow teachers, an American, was teaching on the strength of a degree in astrology which he had purchased from a back-page advertisement in the National Enquirer for $50.
Although his formal education had ended in his mid-teens, this man was largely self-educated and was a reasonably effective teacher. However, his situation was similar to that of a person who drives for a living while using a bogus driver’s license.
At the same time, a good friend who was in an administrative position at a large language institute in central Seoul was able to show me forged qualifications he had received from people applying for teaching positions at his institute.
At that time it was well known that degree certificates could be purchased on a certain street in Bangkok; a recent documentary on KBS-TV showed that is still true. Bogus degrees purporting to come from bona-fide institutions and diplomas from diploma mills do nothing but hurt the quality of English teaching and the reputations of English language institutes, as well as undermine respect for the thousands of well-educated people who come to Korea to teach in language institutes, private and public schools, colleges and universities.
Since the widespread expansion of the private English language teaching sector in Korea that began in the early 1990s, I have known from experience that native English-speaking teachers here are often young, well-qualified recent college graduates or older people who have many years of teaching and life experience and are now looking to do something different in the latter part of their full-time working lives.
By and large, Korea benefits from the enthusiasm of the young and from the experience of the older veteran teachers. In this day and age, with Internet and e-mail, it should be easy to contact schools and verify qualifications granted by educational institutions abroad. Perhaps a special agency needs to be established in the Department of Education or other competent authority to act as a vetting body for teaching qualifications of non-national teachers. It is easy to compose a database of diploma mills and to insist that sealed academic transcripts be sent directly to the vetting body from the issuing institution. If people are needed urgently to fill positions they can be given conditional temporary work permits to stay here until their qualifications are verified.
It is also my experience, as someone involved in religious and educational work, that it is now standard practice throughout the world to expect candidates who wish to work with children to obtain or consent to a police clearance from the places where they have lived or worked before. If such child protection procedures are in place in many countries for voluntary Sunday school teachers and youth group leaders, they should also be in place for those who are teaching children here.
Of course, these all involve some expenditures of time and money but if standard vetting procedures are not in place, then these incidents of uncovering sub-standard practices and fraudulent qualifications will recur over and over again with the constant risk that unsuitable people will gain access to children.
It is no use pointing fingers at bogus teachers without putting the onus on those who employ them and those who issue their visas and work permits to see that all is done to insure the right people are hired for the right job.
*The writer is vicar for the English speaking congregation at the Anglican Cathedral in central Seoul.
by Paul Mooney