Luring expats to islands, rural areas tough task

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Luring expats to islands, rural areas tough task

In December, MBC ran a short video report about the challenges facing a school on Haui Island in Shinan County. The report focused on how difficult it is to attract teachers to remote rural areas and islands and also underscored the challenges of filling the classes.

This particular middle school highlighted - which is actually combined with a high school - is the only one on the island and has a total of 24 students in six grades. Classes for two of the grades are held in the same room.

Several readers in the area shared their experiences with teaching in rural South Jeolla.

“I currently teach on Heuksan Island, the most remote island (a two-hour ferry from Mokpo) in Shinan County” with a native English-speaking teacher (NEST), writes Justin Kraus. “The only island farther out is Gageo Island, which is another two hours from Heuskan Island. I cover one elementary school, one middle school and six branch elementary schools on separate islands adjacent to Heuksan Island. You are certainly right about the lack of students. Most of the branch schools have between five and 12 kids. I’ve often wondered when the Shinan Education Office is going to decide that the huge expense of sending teachers to, and maintaining school buildings on, all of these islands is simply unjustifiable.”

He continues, “On the other hand staffing, in terms of finding the teachers, is not really a problem. Most of the teachers out here come voluntarily because a two-year stint basically guarantees them a promotion afterwards. Of course getting NESTs out here has been a problem. I’m the first on Heuksan Island, though apparently they had been trying for a few years before me.”

Kelsey writes of her experience in Jindo County: “There’s an island off the coast of Jindo, called Jo Island, that the middle school teachers (myself included) used to have to teach at from time to time. The middle school and high school were combined, and there were about 40 students total between the two, and we were expected to teach them all. Last I heard, they were trying to get a teacher dedicated to that school, but I’m not surprised they’re not having any luck; Jodo is an hour ferry away from the southernmost port, and that port is 45 minutes to an hour away from the nearest grocery store bigger than your standard Korean bodega/corner store. When it rains, the ferry doesn’t run. I enjoyed island life in rural Korea, but Jodo would have been a stretch even for me. I hope they don’t stick a foreigner there without giving him/her a heads up as to what they’re getting into.”

One way to combat declining student populations and the difficulty of finding native English-speaking teachers is to build “English Towns.” In Gangjin County, for example, where I used to teach, NESTs at individual schools were being phased out in favor of English Towns visited once or twice a semester.

“I can confirm as well from my year in Wando that they are focusing on English Towns as a way to ensure all the schools in the remote island county get teaching time with NESTs,” writes bza. “Its worth noting, too, that Wando County has already been downsizing over the years.”

Writes Adam: “Working in an English Town in a county where I deal with rotating students, I had never really considered the value of the English Towns as a solution to small enrollment schools, but it is quite a good one.”

By Brian Deutsch Contributing writer

*These comments were collected by Brian Deutsch from recent blog posts. To read
more, visit his blog Brian in Jeollanam-do at: http://briandeutsch.blogspot.com.

Readers are welcome to send suggestions for topics that they wish to be covered or blogs that they would like to see featured in this column. Please e-mail us at: estyle@joongang.co.kr.
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