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French language teacher shortage leaves schools stuck

By next year, only one French language teacher will remain throughout the entire Seoul’s public schools

Students sit in class at a local foreign language high school. (Yonhap)
Students sit in class at a local foreign language high school. (Yonhap)
For over a decade, preferences for foreign language classes have favored some languages over others, and by 2022, only one French teacher will be left in Seoul's public schools.

To guarantee that students have a choice of subjects and maintain a diverse range of language education offerings, growing concerns have risen over the need to appoint new eligible teachers.

According to the Korea Association of French Professors and Teachers (ACPF), on Wednesday, there are currently nine French teachers at public high schools around Seoul, six of which are regular teachers, with two contract-based teachers and one part-time instructor.

Of the six regular teachers currently affiliated, four will retire by August this year, and one other will retire next February.

The association has demanded that at least seven new French language teachers are hired during the upcoming 2022 middle school teacher recruitment examination, which will be held later this year.

However, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education explained that the decision of whether to recruit new teachers should be made in line with demand for the French language. The office added that in reality, the current number of teachers exceeds the demand of students.

In response, the ACPF claimed that French classes were closed due to the lack of supply of French teachers in the first place, creating a vicious cycle since then.

“Chinese and Japanese language classes have been strongly preferred for over 10 years, so the rest of the Western languages that we know, have become a minority language subject,” said Noh Yeon-sang, the president of ACPF in an interview with The Korea Herald. “Therefore, the number of French teachers has gradually decreased to an extent where Western languages have been excluded from the elective surveys conducted to gather the preferences of students.”

Noh insisted that it has become a pitiful that the Office of Education could not properly measure the true demand for students in terms of what they want to learn and their choices in subjects.

“It’s contradictory that French language exams are included in Suneung (the national college entrance exam), but the majority of public schools lack French language teachers, and some even do not open classes at all.”

Noh criticized making decisions to reduce the number of teachers simply in proportion to number of students, saying that this can lead to a blind-sighted outcome. He demanded that discussions need to take place to plan the long-term educational direction of foreign languages.

Meanwhile, according to a recent survey of 29,046 students from 400 high schools nationwide, conducted by the Korea Educational Development Institute, the number of students who chose French as a foreign language preference ranked third, behind Japanese and Chinese.

The ACPF plans to bring forth the issue of appointing new French language teachers as part of the agenda for a meeting of the National Council of Superintendents of Education, expected to be held in March.

By Kim Hae-yeon (hykim@heraldcorp.com)
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