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Budget cuts likely to reduce foreign teachers at high schools in Seoul

The number of foreign teachers at high schools in Seoul is likely to be reduced with the government’s budget cuts for next year.

The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education said it plans to cut about 40 billion won ($3.5 million) in personnel expenses for 225 foreign teachers at high schools in the 2012 budget, which has been reviewed in the council’s budget committee since Thursday.

If it passes the plenary session of the city council next week, the number of foreign high school teachers will start decreasing from next year in about 300 high schools in Seoul. Only a few will be left at some high schools designated to focus on English study by the government and Seoul Global High School, a special high school focusing on international studies in the end, according to officials.

There are 1,245 foreign teachers in elementary and secondary schools in Seoul. Of them, 895 are supported by the Seoul education office in salaries, housing and airline tickets.

There will be no change in the number of foreign teachers at elementary and middle schools for now.

“We have planned to reduce the number of foreign teachers at public schools over the long term because, considering the budget spent on hiring them, the effect is not considerably high,” said an SMOE official on condition of anonymity.

According to another official who wished not to be named, SMOE will reduce the number of foreign teachers at all public schools gradually as its English education policy shifts from “quantity” education to “quality” education.

“Foreign teachers’ effect on English education is higher in elementary schools than in middle and high schools and we plan to use them at where it needs them the most,” said the official.

The recent report on the effect of foreign teachers on students in Seoul released by SMOE indicates that students and parents think Korean teachers with high English proficiency and good teaching methods are more helpful over the long term for students than foreign teachers, the official said.

“Besides, the English proficiency of Korean teachers is much better than when we start to expand foreign teachers at public schools in 2005,” the official added.

But the sudden budget cut does not mean large layoffs of foreign teachers in Seoul.

“We will not just fire teachers. Teachers can stay during their contract period. We will just not fill the post with another teacher,” said the official.

However, some English education experts worried that the government’s reduction of foreign teachers at public schools would mean that underprivileged students will lose the chance to learn from foreign teachers.

By Lee Woo-young