Thanks to a new ruling the Korean Ministry of Education (MOE) has effectively rendered useless every new MA level qualification related to teaching English at the tertiary level in universities throughout the country.
As an experienced teacher and also an MA TESOL with Applied Linguistics student who has recently discovered that the last few years and several thousand dollars have been wasted due to this decision, I felt it necessary to highlight the absurdity of the new requirements passed by the MOE. I was hired by a university department to teach only to be told that the new rules will prevent me from teaching at the university level - potentially forever.
In order to provoke a meaningful conversation and also to hopefully encourage those working in the MOE to reconsider the new ruling, I am hoping to start a debate that prompts the MOE to adopt something which resembles a reasonable decision. One that also puts relevant qualifications first and sees various experience viewed in equal light - while at the same time empowering departments at universities to make their own judgement calls on who is a suitable candidate - all for the benefit of the students that the MOE is supposedly there to best serve, as well as graduates who have spent their time and money working towards a career.
While it is true that the requirements look good on the surface, if we delve a little bit deeper we can see that this is a decision that is only good on the surface and arbitrarily discards the experience and skills of thousands of the kind of candidates that Korean universities are actually looking for.
The new requirements for hiring foreign teaching staff are a BA (any subject) and 4 years' UNIVERSITY teaching experience, or an MA (again, in any subject) and 2 years' UNIVERSITY teaching experience.
This is a problem for several reasons. Let's start with the obvious. 1) 'University teaching experience' as a clause for the only experience which counts. What about people who have worked as professional educators in High Schools, Middle Schools or Elementary Schools? What about college teachers, not university teachers (community college in the US or sixth form colleges in the UK)? Why not cram school (hagwon) teachers who have been driving the real delivery of results for the Korean education system in English for the past few years? What about Business English tutors? What about IELTS, TOEFL and TOEIC teachers who have prepared students for examinations that gain entry to foreign universities? For some unknown reason "university experience" is held up as the only medium of teaching deemed suitable to count as teaching experience when we talk about teaching conversational English to Korean 19-23 year olds at a tertiary level. This clearly is a non sense position, since up until only last year, before this new ruling, almost all foreign university lecturers cut their teeth (gained experience) in one of the above formats before moving on to a university position. So what has changed? Nothing has changed, aside from the rules. The courses are not more difficult, and the lecturers are not more qualified, they are simply one year older than they were the year before.
The second problem of course is that this ruling does not give any preference, under law, to majors in relevant fields - such as English Language and Literature, ELT. Education, TESOL or Linguistics - but at the same time it specifically excludes graduates in those fields from gaining any university experience at all. Instead, the system favors older teachers with unrelated degrees, or simply people who were lucky enough to be already employed at a university before the new regulations were passed. The message is clear to those teachers: if you don't have an MA, get one. If you have only a BA, stay put for 4 years so that you can gain the 'university experience' needed to meet the minimum requirements. These lecturers are grandfathered in under the new system and are therefore immune to the requirements for new hires. The message is simple, stay put and work on an MA at the same time. And that's what many people have done and hats off to them. However, why should people who have known that these changes were coming who have just sat happily in a job they are ostensibly unqualified for be rewarded when others have gone through the process of gaining higher degrees in relevant subjects only to be excluded?
A third problem is that programs offered at Korean universities like MA courses in TESOL, English Teaching, Education etc. are becoming worthless; especially to new graduates without any hallowed university experience. This leaves them with a hard sell in trying to encourage more potential students to take up such a course which clearly can't deliver a desirable job or career at the end. Those with the desirable qualifications will simply have to go elsewhere.
What is a new graduate in one of the above fields supposed to do to gain experience? Well, they're told to move to China. Or Vietnam, or anywhere else but Korea to gain this hallowed university experience. Is this the message that Korea and the MOE wants to send to the qualified candidates who hold Postgraduate qualifications in Education, TESOL, Language and Literature? Is Korea effectively saying: "You're qualified but we don't want you, go elsewhere,"?
There is a facebook group dedicated to Foreign Professors and University Teachers in Korea and when polled a staggering 41% stated they got their current university job through a friend who already worked at the university. Now that doesn't strike me as an ethical hiring practice. Other advice consistently given is to: "Be white, female and North American" - with those qualities at the top of the list of preferences for apparently suitable candidates with a non-relevant BA or MA degree holders (Master's in sports, anyone?), while at the same time utterly disregarding relevant qualifications and other experience gained while outside of the university - something which doesn't happen in any other field. .
The long as short of it is in a few years there will be a lack of qualified (in terms of relevant degrees) and experienced teachers (in terms of denying any other experience other than that earned at the tertiary level in Korea). This is an inescapable fact that the MOE should wise up to now before their own universities in various departments spell it out to them that the situation is untenable. The MOE should ask themselves what does this new law do other than keep the unqualified teachers in a job and exclude the qualified ones? It looks good on paper, but it doesn't work in practice.