The creation of the TEE program was spurred by former President Lee Myung-bak, who believed national English competence was vital to the globalization and economic prosperity of his country.
In the mid-2000s, Koreans had among the lowest TOEFL scores in the world, despite one of the highest rates of private spending on English education ― about triple that of Japan, according to Samsung Economic Research Institute.
Leaders faced calls to improve the English communication competence of teachers who received grammar-only training. Soon after Lee’s election, his transition team pledged to have all subjects taught in English by 2010.
But teachers, parents and education experts strongly opposed the proposal. They argued that it would marginalize low-level teachers and students. Lee was heavily criticized for being “like the Japanese imperialists,” according to news reports.
His team instead proposed a program to train 3,000 Korean teachers of English a year.
The Ministry of Education in 2009 announced a target of having all Korean teachers capable of teaching English in English by 2012, according to a journal article by professor Lee Hyo-shin of Konkuk University. Through TEE, the ministry hoped to create a database so it could improve teacher education programs, and easily screen teachers to help the best performers become “leaders of teachers.”
That year, Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education launched the first TEE program, where teachers with at least three years’ experience undergo six months of training. They are then tested on their proficiency in speaking, listening, writing, reading and presenting.
As of February, SMOE said 1,324 of its teachers had gone through the system and understood how to teach English in English to global standards.
The basic incentives for teachers are to self-improve and gain free resources to study English further. They also earn points for career advancement; “TEE-masters,” who have at least seven years’ teaching experience, qualify for supervisor roles in the future.
Most regions have adopted a program similar to SMOE’s, but training programs vary by province and even from institute to institute.
The curriculum varies, but this semester’s schedule at Seoul Education Training Institute for secondary school teachers includes “Teaching Cultural Awareness,” “American Culture,” “Classroom Culture with a Foreigner” and “English Education Using an English Newspaper.”