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Korea to punish local governments for paying English teachers

Lee Tae-hoon
Written by Lee Tae-hoon
The central government has threatened to take punitive measures against financially struggling local governments if they insist on paying the salaries of native English teachers, multiple sources told The Korea Observer.

Jang Yun-kyung, official at the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs, said the ministry has warned certain local governments to stop providing “education subsidies,” including wages to native English teachers and free meals to students.

She stressed that it is illegal for local governments that cannot afford to pay their public servants’ wages with tax revenues to provide education subsidies under the Article 3 of the Presidential Decree on the Rule of the Local Governments’ Financing of Educational Expenses.

“The local governments’ inability to pay its own staff is no different from parents being unable to feed their own children,” she said, noting that the ministry repeatedly warned local governments and that it is wrong for poor local governments to hire native English teachers who they cannot afford.

“They should spend their budget more wisely.”

Of 22 local governments in South Jeolla Province, 16 have been warned of violating the law and punishment for keeping native teachers that they cannot afford, a local government official in Gogeung in Jeolla Province said.

“Local governments gave an oral assurance to pay back schools if they manage to find ways to pay native English teachers with their own budget, but some schools are reluctant to pay their native teachers because they want at least a written request or guarantee from the local governments,” she said.

“Some schools couldn’t pay teachers on time on the payday of March 25 and I am terribly sorry for those who have yet to be paid as I know some teachers were totally unprepared and we didn’t give them ample notice about possible delays in payment.”

She noted that some schools managed to pay their teachers on time because local governments had given them six months wages for native teachers in advance; certain local governments are financially independent; and some teachers are financed by the local office of education, instead of local governments.

She explained that the ministry issued a warning, saying that it will launch an audit in May and punish local governments found guilty of violating the law on education subsidies by paying native teachers.

Bae Ho-young, a senior official at the Jeollanamdo Office of Education, expressed his disappointment with central governments timing on this crackdown, which coincides with a crackdown on local governments free-lunch programs for students.

“Students living in financially less well-off regions, where interactions with foreigners are rare, are the ones who need native English teachers most,” he said.

“The government is trying to deprive students of the much needed opportunity to learn English from native teachers.”
“The government is trying to deprive students of the much needed opportunity to learn English from native teachers.”

Bae said an increasing number of schools in less affluent regions such as Jeolla Province will eventually have to layoff many native English teachers or let them transfer to schools in wealthier regions.

Ha Yong-soon, an inspector at the Jeollanamdo Office of Education, said five local governments in his regions – Gokseong, Goheung, Boseong, Jangheung and Haenam, have suspended the payments of 30 native English teachers.

“As of Tuesday this week, three native English teachers in Goheung County have yet to be paid of their last month’s salaries whereas for the rest of the teachers, the education office and the school have made payments with their own money and they are waiting for the local governments to pay them back,” he said.

Ha, however, assured that all of the native teachers will eventually get paid of their wages until their contract ends and Chang Man-chai, the education superintendent of South Chungcheong Province, will ensure this will happen as he was the one who have signed the contracts with native English teachers.

“Since the superintendent of South Chungcheong Province is the one liable for hiring the native teachers, even though teachers’ pays are supposed to be paid by local governments, the Jeollanamdo Office of Education will fully finance the wages until the end of 2015,” he said.

“However, it will be difficult for regions that fail to secure a budget to hire native English teachers from 2016 onward.”

There are currently 370 native English teachers at schools in South Jeolla Province and 283 teachers of them were supposedly financed by local governments. Fifty seven of them were hired with the budget of the Jeollanamdo Office of Education and 30 were hired with schools’ own budgets.

An insider said that South Jeolla Province expects to retain more than half of its native teachers as many of them are working in bigger cities, affluent enough to pay their public servants with own tax incomes and continue to finance education subsidies.

He, however, noted that the layoff may take place not only in South Jeolla Province but many other provinces as well.

Another local official speculated that the central government is creating a chaotic situation in an attempt to terminate free lunch programs.

“Why should students and native English teachers have to suffer because of the political fight?” she asked.
“Why should students and native English teachers have to suffer because of the political fight?” she asked.

“Wouldn’t the ministry be able to suggest a better way to deal with the situation, rather than sternly punishing local governments for trying hard to provide proper education to children?”

A native English teacher in Jeolla Province said her school refused to renew her contract last month because of the ongoing budget crisis.

“The local government eliminated my teaching position right before I renewed my contract. Due to the new budget, it did not have money for a foreign teacher in my school anymore,” she said asking for anonymity.

The teacher said she was disappointed about the short notice, but the Jeollanamdo Language Program helped her find a new teaching job to another city.

A well-informed native teacher, whose pay had been delayed for two weeks, said that all contracted teachers are guaranteed their jobs until they finish their current contract but many fear that they will lose their jobs soon.

“The next round of teachers to renew or school position openings for native teachers is in August,” she said.

“We could very well face a problem with not being able to stay in August if there isn’t enough budget. I would be disappointed to transfer to another location, I love my job and my school.”

She said at least one teacher has yet to receive last month’s paycheck, while two others were paid this week.

The teacher also noted that the current budget crisis is also affecting afterschool programs and pays for some of the teachers for the programs were also delayed.

A source told The Korea Observer that there is a possibility that afterschool programs subsidized by local governments will be suspended starting in May due to lack of funding.

About the author

Lee Tae-hoon

Lee Tae-hoon

Lee Tae-hoon is publisher at The Korea Observer. He previously worked for the Korea Times and Arirang TV. You can reach him at lee@koreaobserver.com.


  • Sure, punish the local governments for the national governments brilliant, “Let’s hand out free lunches and daycare to EVERYONE!”

    Oh well, they’re only foreigners. They don’t deserve to be paid for doing their jobs and fulfilling their contracts.

    • Do you think this only affects foreigners?
      Koreans working in the English departments of these schools are also being laid off left and right with even less notification from their bosses than the foreigners are getting. A lot of them have families to take care of! It sucks for all involved, foreigners and Koreans alike.

    • If they don’t have the money, they shouldn’t be hiring native English teachers. Korean students can cut back on English education as not everyone needs to learn English, but lunches and daycare are critical. English teachers are not owed a job. They are there because they are offered a position when budgets allow for them. Just as no one is owed a job, period.

      • The problem with the free lunch program is that the government in enforcing it but not increasing the budget to schools, and in addition by giving free lunch to everyone you are creating a greater strain on schools than in necessary. Free lunch programs exist in other places, the majority of which offer free lunch only to low income households; every child deserves a lunch but those families who have the ability to pay should pay. Additionally it may be necessary to cut down on NETs but the schools will not be able to do so until the current NETs contracts are finished as they have a legally binding obligation to carry through until the end of the terms in the contract.

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    I joined the program available here to learn English … http://preply.com/en/skype/english-native-speakers

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