Korean Education Policy Continues to Baffle Me…

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Yesterday, there was an article in the Seoul Times called “South Korean Teachers Reach for the SKY” and it was about why South Korean teachers are just so much better than anywhere else.

Yesterday, there was an article in the Seoul Times called “South Korean Teachers Reach for the SKY” and it was about why South Korean teachers are just so much better than anywhere else.

Beyond tradition, South Korea actively raises the status of teaching as a profession by doing two things. First, it makes entry to teacher training very selective. Teachers are recruited from the top 5 percent of each high school graduate class. Second, teachers are paid generous starting salaries of 141 percent of GDP per capita, which is significantly above the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average of 95 percent.

I’m not sure where they get this statistic or if it’s grossly inflated by the few superstar hagwon teachers who freakishly manage to make 5 million won a month (roughly $5,000). Public school teachers make less than the foreign teachers whose base salary is 2 million won a month with small increased increments given for experience, advanced degrees and the like. A lot of tension between the Korean teachers and foreign teachers in public schools is that we apparently make a lot more money than them, especially when the fact that they pay our rent is factored in.

Let’s look at this bit:

South Korea is able to pay teachers high starting salaries because it employs relatively fewer teachers than other nations. As a result, the student-teacher ratio in South Korea is 30:1, compared to the OECD average of 17:1.

Yes, but there is only so much a teacher can do in a class with 30+ students other than lecture. Every single child education theory (at least that I’ve read) stresses that smaller classes and time for one on one attention  is the key to superior education. Lecture classes in universities with adults who are capable of sitting still is one thing…have you ever tried to get 8 year old children to sit still for an hour, let alone all day?

The article only cites star hagwon professor’s salaries and doesn’t mention just how low the public school salaries can be.  I mean I’m glad that teachers are given great respect in Korea, I think that we play a vital role in society, shaping the minds of the next generation and all that. I just think that there is a lot of room for improvement and articles that seem to blindly praise a system without examining it through a critical lens aren’t doing anyone a favor.

Also: if teachers are so selectively chosen than how come most of my fellow native English teachers have co-teachers who can barely speak English?



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