Contracted teachers fret over job security

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Contracted teachers fret over job security

Mrs. Kim, the mother of a second-grader in Seodaemun District, in northwestern Seoul, recently heard something curious from her son. His computer teacher, he said, told her students that she would give them toys if they enrolled in her class next year.

She also promised to treat them to pizza, the second-grader added, but only if they brought more students into the class.

The story from Mrs. Kim’s son is a prime example of the lengths some non-salaried workers will go to ensure they have enough students for the following semester. Bribing students with gifts or food is fast becoming a trend among contracted teachers, many of whom are worried about job security. There are an estimated 90,000 contacted teachers working at elementary, middle and high schools nationwide who are paid on an hourly basis.

In many cases, these non-salaried teachers are qualified to teach because they took certain education courses at university; however, most have not passed the state-registered teachers’ certification exam, and those who don’t pass often opt to work non-salaried, contracted positions.

For these types of teachers, to have students in their classes is to secure their employment. Hourly teachers lose their jobs if the number of students enrolled in their classes falls below a required minimum, and - as in the case with Mrs. Kim’s son - some will resort to desperate measures to guarantee that doesn’t happen.

The fact that these teachers mostly moderate arts or after-school classes only adds to their job instability.

“Because we are not guaranteed job security or consistent wages, we need to make sure we consistently have classes [and that we have] enough students for next semester,” explained Choi, 33, an hourly worker who asked only to be identified by his surname.

But instances of irregular teachers bribing students to enroll have raised concerns among parents over class quality and teachers’ weakening authority. These worries have led some parents to outright avoid classes taught by contracted teachers.

“Most parents prefer to have [permanent] teachers instruct their children rather than hourly teachers,” said Park Mi-ha, 40, the mother of a first-grade student.

A sense of marginalization among non-permanent teachers - in some cases, they are not involved in the school’s administrative tasks or invited to school events - is another aspect that concerns parents and educators.

Jung Ik-jung, a social welfare professor at Ewha Womans University, warned that negative working conditions for contracted teachers could “lead to a decline in the overall quality of education” as the number of such teachers has been increasing.

“We need government measures to promise them a certain degree of job security and improved working conditions,” the professor added.

Recognizing the issue, the Ministry of Education announced it would submit an education bill that would guarantee contracted teachers 15 to 20 hours per week at 15,000 to 20,000 won ($14.10 to $18.80) an hour, or about 1 million won per month.

“The bill has significance in that it tries to provide job stability to contracted teachers,” said Choi Hang-sub, a professor of social welfare at Kookmin University. “But to resolve the issue, the government should ultimately seek to narrow the income gap between [contracted] and [permanent] teachers.”

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