I have nothing against the Indian people. Seriously - they work incredibly hard for a fraction of what the rest of the world gets paid. They study harder than virtually anyone on the planet (that includes the Koreans) and have a vibrant history I would love to learn more about. I have had few difficulties conversing with the far-too-few Indians I've had the pleasure of meeting.
But this is a flat world (see Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat for reference), and that means competition. A LOT more competition. That's great if you're a business or a customer - who doesn't like having many different stores to shop at and choices to choose from?
If you're an employee, though, that flat world is probably more threatening to your current job / lifestyle than almost anything out there. Think about it - why would an employer keep someone if they can get the same thing from someone else for cheaper?
The story was first reported in the Joongang Daily, and has been blogged about by Brian in Jeollanam-do and Stafford of the Chosun Bimbo. A few quotes from the Joongang article:
The [Education] ministry will recruit around 100 Indians early next year and if the trial is successful, it could raise the number to 300. The source said there is a high chance that those teachers will be dispatched to regions outside the Seoul metropolitan area where there is a shortage of native English teachers.
So only 300 Indian teachers among 20,000 or so native English teachers already here? The NETs don't have too much to worry about... right?
Korean schools introduced the so-called English Program in Korea project in 1995 for “globalized education” and set the goal of allocating one native English teacher for conversation with students for every class. Currently, there are 7,088 assistant native English teachers employed but they are from seven English-speaking countries - the United States, Australia, Britain, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. Their monthly salary ranges between 2 million won ($1,700) and 2.5 million won.
Bear in mind that it's 7,088 teachers just in the public school system. Include native teachers in hagwon or universities and you're easily over 20,000.
On the low end, $1,700 x 12 = $20,400 / year; not precisely the stellar wage one might expect for a teacher. Even including the 'free' apartment (which is often being replaced by a housing allowance that may or may not cover the actual cost of housing), a certified / 'qualified' teacher may do better / have a better standard of living in their home country.
The ministry has spent more than 300 million won a year on hiring and training those teachers but experienced difficulty gaining sufficient “qualified” teachers, given that only 13 percent of them have official teaching certificates.
Finally - a partial definition on what being a 'qualified' teacher actually means - a freakin' piece of paper. This continues to beg the question - if you want teachers with a piece of paper, why haven't you made it part of the job requirement? Then, pay them what they're worth - if we can make the same amount in our home country, there's little reason to pay for a flight over (reimbursement doesn't count if you leave within 6 months and they take it out of your last paycheck), learn a new culture, prove our cleanliness / certifications / qualifications, and otherwise put up with live in a foreign culture.
Another thought: Korea is not hurting for applications anymore - Footprints Recruiting recently sent out an e-mail saying SMOE has already received enough applications for jobs starting in Spring 2010. It's November 2009. You do the math.
Park Jun-eon, a professor of English language and literature at Soongsil University, said competition for jobs will intensify if the Korean government brings in native speakers of English from Asian countries such as India and the Philippines who might better understand Asian cultures.
Hmm - this might be a valid point. The caste system of India would seem similar to the Confucian way in Korea. They would be more used to the food and lifestyle, being from a relatively similar country.
I seriously doubt a majority of native English teachers in Korea will be replaced anytime soon. It continues to look good if a school has a white face in the classroom, and it makes parents happy. But there is a lot more competition than there used to be. The solution? Be the best teacher you can be. Avoid just showing up on time, and just doing your job - there are far more ways of getting involved around a school. When's the last time you made a worksheet or got out of the textbook (assuming you're allowed to do that?) Make it - show it - let your other teachers use it if they like. Act like you care about being there and doing a great job - no matter what your fellow NET's are doing. Be a professional about the job. Be thankful for the job - and if it's a crappy job, get out. No one's holding a gun to your head saying you have to stay here.
If competition has gone up and the bar has been raised, there's only so much we can do about it. We can, however, become indispensable or helpful to the point that no Indian (or any other nationality) can take our job.
© Chris Backe - 2009