Public Schools vs. Hagwons in Korea: The final showdown

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hagwon public school korea

In Korea, there are two major types of schools that hire native English speakers to teach English: public schools and private academies (hagwons). Public schools are represented by government organizations like SMOE and EPIK, as well as countless smaller recruiters. Hagwons, on the other hand, number in the thousands and come in all shapes and sizes. Mega-hagwons like CDI and YBM hire thousands of English teachers every year, while small mom-and-pop operations may employ only one lonesome foreigner. Inevitably, the debate arises over which kind of school is better to work for, and “keyboard warriors”–as they are dubbed in Korea–spill thousands of keystrokes defending their preference. I’m not pushing any opinion of my own in this post (my disappointingly bloodless answer is “it depends”), but here’s my take on the benefits of both:

Round 1: Reliability

Because public schools answer directly to the government, they have the reputation of being less risky in terms of being paid on time and having the terms of your contract honored. And while the  dangers of the shady hagwon owner have diminished over the years, the risk of getting a job with a badly run organization is real. Of course, you can minimize this risk to almost zero by doing your due research beforehand and/or choosing a major employer with a good track record. Who wins this round? I’ll give it to public schools by a hair, but it really depends on your specific school.

Round 2: Paid Vacation

Public schools typically give more paid vacation than hagwons but with less flexibility. The EPIK program, for instance, allots 18 days per year which can only be taken during winter and summer breaks. Most hagwons, on the other hand, offer a standard 10 days that can be taken at your discretion. Most hagwons do have blackout periods during which you won’t be allowed to take your vacation, but they are nonetheless more flexible than most public schools. Who comes out on top here? I say do the math: 18>10.

Round 3: Salary

Hagwons on the whole pay more than public schools. According to the standard payscale set by the public school system, a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree will make 1.8 million KRW per month. You can bump this up a bit by having other qualifications or taking a position in a rural province. With a hagwon job in Korea, newbies should be able to make at least 2.2 million per month, unless there are other benefits that justify a lower salary. And if you are a good candidate and can negotiate with finesse, you can often talk your way into a little more. I say this round goes to hagwons hands down–especially if you are  first-year teacher.

Which one do you think wins?
Teachers in Korea: if you could do your first year again, which would you choose?
Did I miss any big benefits or drawbacks of either?


 

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