Saturday, March 10, 2012

Thought Experiment: Far East Native Teachers in the West?

As an interesting thought experiment, in my last blog, I introduced the idea of having a Far East Native teacher programme in our own Western countries.  I have no illusions that it will actually happen and there would be some changes to make to the programme, for sure, but I think it could run in roughly the same way.  I think this would be of great value to our students in the west and might just give our rather stagnant education system a little shot in the arm.  It would be a refreshing, interesting, open-minded, and important change, but there would be some unique problems for Far East teachers, that westerners do not have when they go to Asia to teach.

Problems for Far East Teachers in the West (I will use England and Korea as an examples)

1. Discipline of Students

Because of their history of Confucianism, teachers from the Far East expect an automatically high level of respect from their students.  Even though this is only a general rule, and obviously not all students follow this example and are disrespectful, the atmosphere in a Korean school is far more respectful towards teachers than in England.  There would also be a problem for Far East teachers in England with disciplining students when they did step out of line.  Corporal punishment in schools, in one form or another, still exists in most Far Eastern countries and is still the main form of punishment.  Teachers coming to England will have to radically change their strategy and may have to be helped in lessons by experienced teachers.  Lastly, students (in Korea at least), have a greater interest in, and a higher general amount of knowledge of Western culture, than Western students have in Eastern culture.  This might make it harder for them to motivate students in their lessons.

2.  Capturing Students Imagination

Following on from the last point I made above, they may find it harder to interest students in the topic of Eastern language and culture.  Also, the Korean method of teaching is rather didactic, less interactive, and frankly less interesting than many students in England will be used to.  This could actually be the most important point of all, as I could forsee real problems with respect from the students, particularly if they see the classes as boring.  Because students in Korea are generally more interested in Western culture than students in England are of Far Eastern culture, the concept of the whole lesson might be less interesting for them.

3.  Homesickness

Many Westerners currently living in Korea will report at least some form of homesickness, and for some missing family and friends will be too much for them and they will have to cut their contracts short.  I think this would be a greater problem for Korean people, who have a much greater sense of family and are used to a group culture, where they can rely on people.  Westerners, generally, are more comfortable with the idea of being alone and doing many things on their own.  Far East teachers coming to England may require greater support in this area than Westerners currently receive in Korea.

4.  Food

Many Native English teachers in South Korea struggle with the food, but I believe Korean people would struggle much more in England.  Korean food is not easily available, and much of the food is unhealthy compared to Korean food.  Korean food has quite specific and special flavours, that might be difficult to find in England.  This may cause a lot of stress and possibly increase the chance of homesickness and an early finish of contracts.

5.  Bureaucracy

This may be a problem, as red tape and paperwork are much more prevalent in English schools.  If Far East teachers are to be able to cope with the above demands in England, some of the bureaucratic elements to teaching positions have got to be dealt with by other people in the school.  There might also be legal issues with teachers that are unqualified (at least in England), teaching and taking responsibility for students in UK schools.  This is an issue that Korean schools just do not worry about, with a less bureaucratic nature that that I wish we could have in England.

Because of the above challenges for Far East native teachers, a considerably better system, with much more care for the individual would have to be put in place, than is currently practiced in Korea.  The notion of care of the individual is fairly absent in Korean culture, due to the Confucian 'group' culture mentality.  I touched on this in my first blog, where I ranted about my wife's job as a nurse.

I am not sure I have any hope of this idea coming true in our western countries, as it might seem quite radical.  But ask yourself, why it is so radical?  It's not like we in the west have mastered Far Eastern languages or have in-depth knowledge of their cultures.  So why can Korea, Japan, and China do this and we can't (or most probably, won't)?  Do we think learning about their cultures is not important, or that we can't learn anything from them?  Do we also think that learning their languages is not important?  I would argue that if we are thinking any or all of these things we are surcumbing to arrogance and stupidity in equal measure, and not looking at current trends pointing to an inevitably strong Asian economy in the future.
I can envisage a few key differences between the Native English teacher programme in Korea and a possible Far East teacher programme in England.  A few key areas actually highlight how poor the current system is in Korea, but as I said before it is better than nothing.  I hadn't realised quite how bad Korea can be, and then I thought about it from this reverse point of view.  How would we do it?

How Things Would Be Different in England

1.  A Greater Support for Teachers

If a similar programme were to be successful in England, a greater support would be necessary for the teachers from the Far East.  In Korea it is all fairly organised until the teacher gets to the school, and then it's anybody's guess as to what is going to happen.  I went back to school after vacation today, and without warning I have different co-teachers, classes I was not expecting, computers that need passwords to start but no one knows what they are, and TVs that can't be switched on because the wires are broken.  This sort of thing cannot happen in England, and I do not believe it ever would.  I am not largely ignored in my school, many people speak to me and are nice to me, but the job I am doing is most definitely ignored.  If I ask for anything (however simple) to help me improve my classes, my requests are largely dismissed or forgotten.  Students are mainly understanding and respectful here in Korea, but if a teacher was left in the lurch like this in England, they would be dog-meat.  It is also just an incredibly careless attitude to take with someone, who has (usually alone) come from thousands of miles away, and a totally different culture to teach in your country.  I think I understand Korea's culture quite well, I have been here now for almost 2 and a half years, but for new people this lack of consideration must be quite disheartening and lead to understandable indifference to the job.  I wonder how well a Korean in an English school would cope with the situations reversed?  I doubt that they could cope at all.  Koreans definitely take for granted the ability of Western people to adapt to their situation given that they are also, in almost every case, completely alone in their school.

2.  Lower Pay

I believe Far East teachers could be attracted to England for lower pay than Native English teachers demand.  This is not to say that we should expect them to work at near slave labour wages, but that we need not see it as hugely necessary to offer them attractive salaries.  The experience of living and teaching in our countries will be attractive to many in the Far East.

3.  Accommodation

As I mentioned above, I believe loneliness would be a much greater issue for Far Eastern teachers, and there would be other problems in England with providing cheap housing in good areas.  Public transport is also an issue in England.  I think the only way of solving these problems is for the Far East teachers to live with someone from the school, with another teacher and their family, for example.  This way Far East teachers can be with a family and also be helped out easily when they have problems.

4.  Curriculum

There would need to be a set curriculum for Far East teachers to follow, but it also would need to be flexible enough to allow for significant teacher input into ideas for teaching and inspiration.  This may just even be a simple guide into ideas for lessons for Far East teachers, which they can expand upon, but to just give a structure for all Far East teachers when they come to England.

Haven't really gone into this one in much depth and it seems strange that I have never heard of this idea before.  Should I be claiming this as an original idea?  I would welcome any comments on this one, to get an idea of what other fellow westerners think, and even if teaching in England would be attractive to those from the Far East.

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