What do you mean I’m not allowed to teach kindergarten?

March 30, 2011

This one kind of hit me by surprise. As many readers know, I expected to take on two new classes from next week. I currently teach from 13:00-17:40 for my hagwon, then tutor my boss’ son and his friends for an additional half hour Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. All in all, this lets me rake in about 2.3 million Won/month. I can easily survive on one million in Korea.

When my boss asked me if I was willing to work more, I hesitated… I value my downtime, but I was also sure this would be my last stint in Asia for a while, so I wanted to get the most out of it, culturally and financially. By teaching nuclear power plant workers from 06:30-08:30 five days a week, I’ll be getting 1.2 million more every month. Not to mention these students are less likely to say things like “Hello Turner teacher!” and “Teacher, my pencil!”

I was also prepared to teach at a private kindergarten in Bugu for two hours on Tuesdays for 30K/hour. Until today, I had thought there weren’t any problems with this going through immigration. Apparently not. My boss informed me that teaching English at a kindergarten is technically illegal in Korea. Naturally, after reading so many stories of EFL teachers in kindergartens all over Seoul and the rest of the country, I assumed he must have misunderstood the official. Foreigners teach all ages: from 2 to ajumma… what’s going on here?

I’m still doing online research on the subject in the hopes of getting these hours back on my docket, but so far what I’ve found has been less than encouraging:

English kindergartens have been thriving on Korean parents’ belief that education in the “foreign” language should start from an early age.

These kindergartens carry out all their daily programs in English, luring parents with the promise of being surrounded by a full English-only speaking environment without having to leave the country.

But operating English kindergartens is actually illegal.

“English kindergartens found on the Internet and in famous hagwon (private cram school) streets are not actually certified kindergartens. They are listed as English hagwon,” said Shin So-young, director from the early childhood education department of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.

The ministry last month banned the use of the term and charges a penalty when they discover places that still promote themselves as English kindergartens.

There are a total of 866 kindergartens in Seoul — 138 public and 728 private — as of last year and not one of them is listed as an English kindergarten. Some “kindergartens” have changed their names on their websites, but students, parents and institutes still subconsciously use the term.

Certified kindergartens must follow an education program designed by the ministry, but as this guideline does not include English, such institutes cannot call themselves “kindergartens.”

“It’s an easy way to lure parents and make them believe that these are actual certified kindergartens,” Shin added.

Now, I should point out, this kindergarten in my area may very well be one of the illegal institutions. After all, I saw their English classes taught by Korean teachers as I was touring the school, and if all kindergartens are required to follow a specific program, which does not include English, well…

If this were just a straightforward law, I could learn to deal with it. But the justification is one I’ve heard before:

The current kindergarten program guidelines from the ministry do not include teaching English. This was because experts believed that it was more important to learn Korean as one’s mother tongue and some believed that learning two languages at the same time at a school or institute would confuse very young children.

I’m off on a rant again, but those “experts”? Experts that believe children are confused at learning two languages? They’re idiots.

As I mentioned, I’ve heard this argument before. In Japan, many parents fear their children developing English skills at the same time they’re still struggling to learn basic Japanese, on the grounds that one will detract from the other. Any EU citizen reading this must be laughing his ass off by now. As if there’s not enough room in our brain to learn two languages at the same time? Here’s the cold hard truth:

1. It’s better for kids to learn to be bilingual or trilingual, the earlier the better. The longer you wait, the harder it is.

2. Being bilingual makes you smarter, rewires your brain in a way that makes it easier for you to learn additional languages later on.

I hate these arguments that propose English is like some cancerous language, detrimental to any other to which it attaches.

It looks like I’ll be searching for other work…

3 Responses to What do you mean I’m not allowed to teach kindergarten?

  1. Brendan on March 30, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    Ive been teaching in the kindergarten at my public school for the last year, and havent had any problems with red tape.

    Also, there is no curriculum for kindgergartens other than whatever the in-house powers-that-be decide on. There is no national curriculum, since kindergarten isnt compulsory. it is pretty much treated like pre school, and children as young as 3 and a half (western age) are sent to kindergarten for up to 3 years before graduating to first grade.

    im usually impressed with how fast kids of that age pick up new english that they are taught. they sure can learn faster than the kids in 6th grade who have well and truly given up on ever learning english.

  2. Chris in South Korea on April 1, 2011 at 2:19 am

    The schools, much like for-profit businesses elsewhere, run the risk of an underfunded agency finding out what they’re really doing and getting slapped on the wrist with a fine that’s paltry compared to what they’ll make.

    The parents aren’t necessarily checking to see if a school is ‘certified’, as that certification typically means a person filled out the right forms (or worse, paid someone off to obtain said certification). The parents see ‘give your kid an advantage’ and run toward the light like moths to a flame.

    That said, your boss may be doing you a favor – they’re some of the hardest students to wrangle and get to doing anything…

  3. Angela on April 2, 2011 at 4:13 am

    A second language confuses children? Are they kidding? Everybody knows the younger the better when it comes to learning languages. I had the huge luck to grow up in a bilingual household, and I can see it helps me when I’m learning new languages. I’m fluent in 3, comfortable in other 2 and now learning Chinese, which, I admit, is proving incredibly challenging, but I’m 32, and for sure it would have been much easier if I had started studying it earlier.

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