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ESL Cebu

Non-native English speakers from India and other countries that use English as an official language will be able to teach at public schools from next year.

The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and the Ministry of Justice said Sunday the government is opening the door for English teaching positions wider to secure more foreign English teachers at primary and secondary schools nationwide.

The government has so far allowed English teacher assistant jobs at public schools only to native-English speakers who had completed more than two years of their college courses; and the nationality of the eligible applicants was limited to seven countries ― the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Ireland.

``There are about 50 countries that have adopted English as an official language. However, we will not open the door to all teachers from the countries,'' Oh Seok-Hwan, an official of the education ministry, told The Korea Times. ``Only foreigners whose countries have trade agreements with Korea can apply for the positions. These include India, Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines,'' he added.

The number of foreigners holding English-teaching E-2 visa has increased to 19,934 this year, up from 17,721 in 2007 and 15,001 in 2006. Among the visa holders, some 4,300 are working at public schools as assistant English teachers. However, many schools in rural areas are still in need of native English speakers. The government sees relaxation of the visa rule as a way to help those schools have foreign teachers for English conversation classes.

Requirements for the non-native teachers, however, will be much stricter than those for native speakers. Non-native speakers have to hold a bachelor's degree or above in English studies and teaching licenses from their countries. According to the education ministry, more than half of current foreign assistant teachers don't even have basic English teaching certificates such as TESOL.

English education experts are positive about the plan. ``This word `native speaker' is an invention there's no reason why we should consider someone lucky enough to hold a passport from a country using English as a first language country to be a better speaker than someone from a land where English is used less prominently. I know many Filipinos and Indians who speak English more comfortably than some people who were born in the U.S.,'' said Rob Dickey, an American English professor.

As for concerns over the ``harsh'' accent of non-native speakers, the professor said, ``Many Americans can't understand Australians and vice versa, so purity of accent is a political consideration. The other fact is more than 50 percent of all visitors to Korea who use English are not native speakers, so it would be good for students to hear many different varieties of English.''

Lee Byung-min, an English education professor at Seoul National University, said that qualified non-native speakers with teaching licenses would be much better for Korean English education than native speakers without teaching licenses. ``We can also choose highly qualified non-native teachers at lower costs as their wages are relatively lower,'' Lee said.

Parents' groups also showed positive reaction to Asian English teachers. ``Korean English education has put too lopsided focus on American English so far and there have been many unqualified teachers at schools. We don't oppose English teachers from India or the Philippines as long as they are proven teachers,'' said Yoon Sook-ja, chairwoman of the National Association of Parents for True Education.

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