Outsourcing in the TEFL industry

It's not just for blond-haired blue-eyed wonders anymore.

With so many proposed changes to English education on the horizon, in Korea and many other countries, I came across this article from the February 18th 2008 edition of the Korea Herald under the headline, "English to be taught in English."

"The incoming government plans to have all [Korean] elementary schools teach English only in English starting in 2011. The English-only classes will be expanded to all middle and high schools by 2012, according to the roadmap of the presidential transition committee."

English to be taught in English? Isn't that what teachers of English should have been doing all along? If English teachers can't speak English, or are not speaking English in the classroom, how can anyone expect the students to? Obviously this is going to take a lot of training--- six months according to the government--- since, admittedly, "about 60 percent of English teachers in the city can currently teach in English", according to the Seoul Municipal Office of Education, SMOE. The percentage of Korean teachers outside Seoul who can teach English in English is smaller.

These are the highlights of the "English Friendly Plan" that the new Lee Myung-bak administration plans to implement over the next five years according to an article in the Korea Times on January 30, 2008 under the headline, Korea Dreams of Becoming Asia's No. 1 in English-Speaking."

*** To introduce Teaching English in English (TEE) system.
*** To outsource 23,000 teachers.
*** To increase English-speaking classes to three hours per week, (from the current 40-45 minutes per week.)
*** Smaller English class size in secondary schools--- from 35 students per class to 23.
*** To offer immersion programs and other language training to English teachers.
*** To select Assistant English Teachers from among housewives and overseas Koreans.
*** To introduce English Proficiency Tests to replace the current English test.
*** To establish English libraries for children.

Try as I may, I can't find anything wrong with this. Some of this may not go far enough. And why wait three or four years to get started? Let's start now. I'm ready. Bring it on! The big question is "How." How is the Lee administration going to pay for all this? That remains to be seen.

But not everyone is happy with these proposed changes. If you listen closely enough, if you put your ear to the window--- any window in the Republic of Korea--- you may be able to make out the faint but incessant roar of the foreign English teachers. And no one bitches and moans like foreign English teachers. Especially the foreign English teachers with blond hair and blue eyes. Especially the foreign English teachers who have been spoiled over the last three plus decades with free airline tickets to and from home and rent-free apartments. Especially those foreign English teachers who have been given a relatively easy ride simply for showing up to work without having to prove their competency or qualifications. Yes, those foreign English teachers.

They will dismiss President Lee's ambitious education reform initiatives as pie-in-the-sky and unrealistic. At least many of them will. Any why not? After all, these foreign English teachers have the most to lose. Beginning with their jobs which many of them got only because they had blond hair and blue eyes, and need to pay off student loans and subsidize their travels through Asia.

Am I being unfair here? Well, let's see. From the Korea Times on January 27, 2008 under the headline, "53% of Foreign Tutors Lack Teaching Degrees."

"More than half of foreign teachers at elementary and secondary schools have no English teaching certificates. Of 3,808 native English speaking teachers, 2002, or 53 percent, didn't have teaching certificates such as TESOL or TEFL as of September 2007, according to the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development."

Let's combine this with the fact that at least 40 percent of Korean public school English teachers in Seoul cannot teach their English classes in English, (the number is certainly higher outside Seoul), then you get a clear idea of how so many public school teachers are failing their students. And not just failing, but failing miserably.

Now this raises an interesting question. With just under 4,000 native English teachers in Korean public schools as of last September, just where are the 19,000 other teachers going to come from if the new government is to achieve its goal of 23,000 English teachers in public elementary and secondary schools nationwide?

"Korea Can Utilize Pakistani Teachers", Says Raza Ahmad in his column to the Korea Times on February 12, 2008. "Pakistan is a reservoir of English language teachers", says Ahmad. "Pakistan English teachers are quite proficient for English teaching in any country and can match any English teacher from around the globe. They are teaching in various countries including the U.S., Canada, and Europe. So why not Korea?"

Yes, so why not Korea? Schools in Thailand, both public and private, employ Filipino English teachers. I have had the privilege of working with a few very good Filipino English teachers at AUA in Bangkok. They're competent and hardworking, and can certainly give native English teachers a run for their money.

The problem with this, as it now stands, is that the laws in Korea would have to be changed to accommodate English teachers from outside the countries where English is the official language. Some of these countries include Canada, the U.S., Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. President Lee should certainly look into changing this law so that competent and qualified English speakers, regardless of their country of birth, can come here to teach English.

But my ear is pressed up against the window again. And I can hear the blond- haired blue-eyed teachers bitching and moaning. It's about money, they complain. It's all about the money. Yes, they're right. It's mostly about the money. Why pay a Western teacher--- especially a Western English teacher that the Office of Education is not happy with--- $2,000--2,500 a month when a Pakistani or Filipino or a South African English teacher can do the job just as well, or better, for less money? Well, ladies and gentlemen, that's called capitalism in a globalized marketplace. And let's not forget that Western English teachers demand their own single accommodations, thus increasing the total cost of employing foreign teachers. Non-Western teachers are used to sharing accommodations and will see nothing wrong with this, thus saving the taxpayers more money when employing them.

In his book, "Cheap? The Real Cost of Living in a Low Price, Low Wage World", (Kogan Page Limited, 2006), David Bosshart says that, "A young well-trained Indian researcher with a university degree cost eight times less than a colleague with the same qualifications in Germany, France, or the U.S.A." (p.50.)

Bosshart goes on to quote Heinrich von Pierer of Siemens who says of software development, "For the same money it takes to hire 2,000 German software developers, I can get 12,000 in China." (p. 50.)

This outsourcing trend will continue as part of globalization. It will continue because of the parallel trend toward liberal economic polices by both new and established democratic governments who see free and fair trade with other countries as a way to increase economic growth in their own. This outsourcing of jobs, whether we agree with it or not, is prevalent in all sectors of society. Including education. And, increasingly, in the TEFL industry. Why should almost all or, for that matter, most EFL teaching jobs go to those with blond hair and blue eyes? Why should almost all or most EFL teaching jobs be reserved for those who, through sheer geographical good fortune, were born white, middle-class, and in the U.S?

If EPIK in Korea, or the JET program in Japan, or any other government program which places foreign English teachers in public schools, can get 100 qualified Pakistani or Filipino English teachers for the same amount of money that it takes to employ 50 or 60 Western English teachers, then more power to them. Sounds like solid business acumen to me. It's not as if the blond-haired blue-eyed wonders, who have flooded South Korea and other Asian nations over the years, have proven their worth. We all know that far too many of them haven't. Maybe it's time to try something else.

Yes, it is about money. The shipbuilding industry here in Korea regularly employs those from Southeast Asian nations. And so does the entertainment industry. It's far cheaper to import Filipina nightclub singers than it is to meet the higher salary demands of Korean singers. A Filipina singer in a nightclub here in Busan can earn 600,000 won a month, or about 25,000 pesos. It's very little by Western standards, but a least four times what she would earn back in the Philippines for doing the same thing.

A major drawback to this may be that some of the English teachers from non-native English speaking countries will be treated unfaily in terms of perception, job benefits, and bonuses, due to their looks. And some Filipina singers will tell you that they were brought here to do more than sing. Mistreatment like this is common, especially in a society like South Korea which still places a very high premium on physical appearance, and has a long history of discrimination against foreigners.

In a letter to the Korea Times on February 3, 2008, Marsha Titchnell had this to say about Ahmed's column:

"Now I am reading that Pakistan wants to send English speaking teachers. I cannot understand some of the so called English teachers from Europe and if you have ever heard a person from a non-native English country speaking English they are hard to understand.

The U.S. outsources a lot of its work to India, Pakistan, England, etc. Companies are now returning a lot of that work to the U.S. simply because we cannot understand these so called English speaking people."

"These so called English speaking people?" Excuse me while I open a window and take a good whiff of Western hypocrisy and not so veiled racism. It wasn't too long ago that we were hearing from many Canadian and American teachers that Asians don't want to learn English from the British or Australians. The accents. No one will be able to understand them. It's not the accents. It's competition they fear.

Here's something I find interesting. Most of these Western English teachers, who purport to being fans of a free-market economy, openly post on teacher/expat websites that they think they deserve a higher salary than that of a high-school principal. Four or five thousand dollars a month is what some of them brazenly ask for. Plus a big, free apartment. All this for playing bingo and pop-songs. Yet when well-educated and highly qualified Pakistanis or Filipinos are offered the same jobs for less money, these blond-haired blue-eyed wonders are the first ones to cry foul. They suddenly become Karl Marx and throw a fit. Instead of seizing this opportunity to become better teachers--- something most of them never had to do before--- they simply criticize the system or the host country for their greed. Then they flee in droves. Survival of the EFL fittest seems an apt expression here.

What these greedy and ridiculous Western English teachers don't realize is that by demanding such outrageous salaries, they would thus be turning education into an elitist reality, the complete antithesis of what President Lee's new administration is attempting to do. Traditionally, the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language has always been a low-skilled job. Just about anyone can do it. And low-skilled jobs require low salaries, which, in turn, keep costs down. In the field of education, low but realistic teacher's salaries keeps education costs down thus giving more people the opportunity to learn. If teachers truly believe that education is the right of the masses, not just an endeavor for the rich, then they should have no trouble living on $2,000--2,500 a month plus a free apartment, especially in a developing country like South Korea. Unrealistic demands like $4,000--5,000 a month for doing little more than playing games in the classroom is certainly not putting the best interests of the students first.

Those English teachers with Masters Degrees or Doctorates, especially in the field of education, will command higher salaries and will deserve it. That's the way competition works and how free-market economies run. Those with only a B.A. and who want to spend a year or two in Asia playing games with the kiddies, will also get what free-market forces dictate. This is more than fair and a basic lesson in Economics 101.

Regardless of what country an English teacher comes from, he or she must have a passion for teaching and clearly defined goals before stepping into the classroom. Along with good qualifications and competence this is what education officials and recruiters must look when hiring English teachers.

"I want to help Korean students make their dreams come true through my teaching", says Patrick, a 31 year old American recently interviewed by Kelly Ye, a recruiter from SMOE.

Ye, who majored in children's education and has a Masters in TESOL, was interviewed recently by the JoongAng Daily. From an article on February 18, 2008 titled, "Behind the Scenes of English Education", Ye says, "When interviewing, I am meticulous. I make a point of checking academic, job, and crime records. I even check the applicant's health. I also try to contact the applicant's former employers."

Ye admits that "More than 15 percent of the applicants who pass the application package review fail the interview. At times it can be difficult to find qualified applicants."

Indeed. Maybe the times they are a changing. Although Ye is an exception in the recruitment of foreign English teachers, there seems to be some hope in this area. Separating the wheat from the chaff by asking potential teachers the right questions is what good and caring recruiters do. Patrick is right-on as well. Helping students make their dreams come true is what dedicated and caring teachers do.

I'm looking forward to the day when simply having blond hair and blue eyes and English as your mother-tongue is not near good enough to land anyone a TEFL job anywhere in the world. Students everywhere deserve much better than that.


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