[LETTERS to the editor]For quality English education

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[LETTERS to the editor]For quality English education

In October 2007, English teacher and Canadian native Christopher Paul Neil was arrested for suspicion of sexual abuse of more than a dozen boys in three countries. Subsequently, the Justice Ministry last December tightened restrictions on obtaining an E-2 teaching visa. Ironically, such restrictions would not have stopped Neil from entering the country. Drug crimes rose 38 percent in Korea last year, according to the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, and the Korea Customs Service alleges that one in 10 of those were committed by English teachers.

The reputation in America of someone teaching ESL abroad conjures up images of a person incapable of coping with realities at home: men dodging alimony or criminal charges, college grad misfits evading the responsibility to enter the job field, and sexually repressed outcasts looking to land successful relationships with Asian women. It comes as no surprise, then, to most Americans that vagabonds, solicitors, and figures like Christopher Paul Neil and David Heyon Nam ? wanted by the FBI for his involvement in a murder ? would land in Korea. This reputation, of course doesn’t follow every foreigner teaching ESL in Korea. Yet, when former TESOL president David Nunan came out with a statement last summer warning Korean citizens to check the credentials of their English teachers, he was certainly accurate when he said that the quality of foreigners teaching ESL is down due to the large demand in English education. The supply does not match the demand.

If Korean school officials want to improve the quality of ESL in Korea, then why aren’t they targeting the thousands of graduates with education and ESL degrees from American universities [and elsewhere] each year? Instead, English academy officials treat teachers like part-time, high school waitresses ? expendable. It’s a game and we’re all just white-skinned pawns on their chess board. Quality education isn’t valued. With the demand for English education on the rise, the reaction has been to capitalize on the situation: turn ESL into a money-making opportunity. Foreigners whose native tongue is English are business commodities, advertising tools used to draw in customers. Bigger ESL academies print their own books littered with errors and typos, written by textbook authors who don’t even hold a master’s degree in ESL. Other academies use outdated sources and the training that ESL teachers receive is minimal at best. Teacher credentials are near nil and as a result, the quality of education suffers.

But who can blame entrepreneurs of English education when thousands of Koreans buy into it everyday? Serious learners of the language are heavily outnumbered by those who simply go through the motions ? they are expected to learn the language, not because they want to. Attending an English academy is just a “check in the box” for many and a nightmare for the serious educator. The vast majority of ESL students can’t even answer the question why they want to learn English.

But consider these recommendations: A school that separates serious students from those going through the motions would build its reputation as an elite institution. Make it part of the placement-interview process. A selective academy builds prestige. And given that students ought to expect and demand the most from their teachers, they need to recruit teachers from a more credible pool of educators. English academies that appeal to the serious student and whose teachers come from credible backgrounds can remedy this three-fold problem.

Everyone is happy. Students get serious goal-oriented teachers. Teachers get motivated students who put forth an equal amount of effort, and schools make money by promoting an image based on superior education and prestige.

As long as the need for English exists, we owe it to ourselves to serve a quality product.

Nathan T. Van Schaik, a former English teacher, YBM, Daegu
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