Native English speakers are facing a tough competition in the Korean job market as the government continues to slash the number of foreign teachers in public schools.
The number of native teachers in Korean public schools dropped to 6,785 as of April this year, down from 9,320 in 2011, according to figures that The Korea Observer exclusively obtained from the Ministry of Education.
A senior official said the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education has stopped hiring native teachers for secondary schools in the capital since 2013.
“We now only hire native English teachers for elementary schools,” she said, noting that the Seoul Metropolitan Government is pushing to replace native English teachers with Korean instructors fluent in English.
“The Seoul City plans to enhance the English proficiency of Korean English teachers to a level that it no longer needs to hire native English teachers.”
She, however, noted that specialized schools, such as foreign language high schools, continue to hire native English teachers.
A senior official at the Incheon Metropolitan Office of Education also confirmed that the country’s third largest city has stopped renewing contracts for native-English teachers working in secondary schools.
“We have to slash the number of native English teachers due to budget constraints,” she said.
“On average, we spend about 37 million won ($36,300) a year to keep a native English teacher, whereas it costs only 32 million won to hire a Korean instructor specialized in English conversation skills.”
A recruiter claimed that native English teachers are facing a tougher competition both in the public and private sectors.
“There is more competition even for hagwon (private academy) jobs,” he said, noting that foreigners now have to compete with Korean teachers who are not only fluent in English but also willing to work harder for less money.
The recruiter noted that Korean teachers don’t need housing and plane tickets, but they work more.
“They sometimes work Saturdays and do a lot of overtime,” he said.
He noted that many native-English teachers prefer to teach in public schools in Korea, but there are not enough jobs for all.
Figures show the number of E-2 visa holders, including native-English teachers in public schools, is also dwindling.
According to data from the Korea Immigration Service, the number of E-2 visa holders, who are qualified to teach conversation in Korea, fell to 20,030 in 2013, compared to 21,603 in 2012 and 22,541 in 2011.