I recently had to go to the doctor's office at a major hospital in Seoul. Basic / standard health checkup as required for getting an E-2 (English teacher) visa. Cost to me: 90,000 won, or about $77 USD. At first, I cringed at saying goodbye to essentially a day's pay, and was thankful that this is a once-a-year process. On the other hand, I forced myself to pause and count how many people I interacted with during my one visit alone. I wasn't simply served by one doctor; a nurse took some basic measurements and guided through the payment process; another doctor took a blood sample; another nurse presumably got to deal with the urine test, and another one got to answer the phone when I called for my results. Then there's all the other support staff and the supply costs to factor in.
Brian in Jeollanam-do has an excellent post about the words of Assemblyman Hwang Woo yea, the Secretary-General of the Grand National Party. Read his post so I don't have to quote him every other paragraph. If you prefer staying here, the assemblyman is essentially stating the thought that hiring foreign / native speaking English teachers is more expensive than hiring Koreans to teach English. There is one point that isn't talked about as much though.
Costs are relative. What I might call expensive you might call cheap, based on your frame of reference. My recent trip to Japan seemed quite expensive to me, but might seem cheap to someone coming from Europe. My perception that 10,000 won is an expensive movie ticket might differ from yours. If you go to a Southeast Asian country, that excellent meal for the equivalent of $2 USD would cost a local a lot more.
The costs talked about in Brian's post are 1.9 to 2.6 million won a month for a foreign teacher - supposedly twice as much as a Korean teacher. Let's think about that for a second. Your contract calls for paying for / reimbursing a teacher for a flight to your country. Not every country does that, and frankly it's an advantage Korea has over other countries that hire English teachers.
So how does Korea get away with paying half the salary to a local teacher? They live at home / with a spouse. Ever heard of the '880,000 generation'? Society hasn't yet caught up to paying the locals a wage adequate to be independent from parents or another support system. The traditional concept of 'live with your parents until you get married' is still the predominant mindset behind setting a wage. Another point to consider: teaching is considered a honorable profession, so one might choose it over a higher-paying, but less prestigious job.
At the risk of sounding cynical, employers are only going to pay as they have to in order to keep you, and no more. With foreign teachers, they have to pay something closer to a living wage - in virtually every case we leave external support systems behind when we leave our home country.
The assemblyman in Brian's post also talked about teachers being 'qualified', which has been beaten to death, picked up again, and beaten some more. If you're the one setting the qualifications, then you alone determine what exactly makes a 'qualified' teacher. Is it experience? A piece of paper? Being able to cheat on pass a test? Assemblyman Hwang Woo yea: What does the word 'qualified' mean regarding foreign English teachers?
Simply put, a language teacher must know the language inside, outside, up, down, forwards, backwards, and so on. They must explain it in a way that can be understood That sort of knowledge doesn't come solely from a book - and it definitely doesn't come when the teacher knows just a little more than their students. Some Korean teachers are not 'qualified' under any definition of the word - and some native speaking teachers aren't either. In the end, it's not about the money - throw all the money at a poorly planned, poorly executed project and crap is still what you'll get.
© Chris Backe - 2009