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Number of native-speaking English teachers drops

The number of native English teachers in South Korea has dropped by nearly 42 percent over the past five years, mainly due to shortages in education budget, the latest data showed Thursday.

According to Education Ministry data released by Rep. Lee Jong-bae of the ruling Saenuri Party, the number of English teachers from native English-speaking countries at public schools fell from 8,520 in 2012 to 4,962 this year. 
Native English teachers and Korean teachers at primary and secondary schools in northern Seoul. (Yonhap)
Native English teachers and Korean teachers at primary and secondary schools in northern Seoul. (Yonhap)
High schools saw the biggest drop of 68.7 percent, followed by middle schools at 55.3 percent and elementary schools at 29.6 percent during the period of 2012 to 2016.

By region, Incheon saw a 71.8 percent plunge over the same period, followed by Gyeonggi Province at 63.1 percent, North Chungcheong Province at 54.6 percent, South Chungcheong Province at 47.3 percent and North Gyeongsang Province at 46.8 percent. In the nation’s capital of Seoul, the number decreased by 43.2 percent.

The reduction in native teachers appears to be a direct result of a national policy to have regional education offices fund a state free child care program.

“We have limited budget, but the priority seems to have shifted from English education to other things, like funding child care programs or investing in school facilities,” an official from Seoul Education Office told The Korea Herald. “It seems that demand for native English teachers has also decreased, especially for high school students, as they tend to focus more on preparing for college admission exams.”

“It also has been our goal to enhance English training for local teachers to gradually replace native speakers in the long term,” she said.

Currently, foreign teachers are selected and dispatched to public schools through a program run by the National Institute for International Education and they are paid by regional education authorities.

“Parents are increasingly bearing more burden to give private education to their children as the number of the native English teachers decreases,” lawmaker Lee said. “There need to be measures to lift the burden for English private education by hiring more native English teachers.”

Under the previous Lee Myung-bak administration, the government encouraged public schools to recruit native English teachers as part of efforts to improve the quality of public English education and ease reliance on private education.

Seoul Education Office, for example, assigned at least one foreign teacher to its public schools by 2012.

According to the Education Ministry’s data, an estimated 5.9 trillion won ($5.3 billion) was spent for South Korean elementary, middle and high school students’ private education across the nation last year.

But English fluency among students ranked just No. 27 out of 70 surveyed countries, down three notches from the previous year, according to global education institute Education First’s index.

By Ock Hyun-ju (