Monday, February 28, 2011

Formation of English Edutainers Group in Korea Causes Controversy

For years Koreans have struggled to master the English language, but despite the growth of private education into a multi-billion dollar industry in Korea, success with the language continues to elude most Koreans, despite the millions of won each individual often spends on private English or 'hagwon' classes every year.

Some educational researchers in Korea have suggested that there are two inherent problems in the Korean private English education market, which together prevent students from learning. The first is the business nature of the hagwon market, which incentivizes company owners to provide an ineffective service guaranteeing the return of students who would otherwise learn and move on to other studies. The second involves the foreign teachers themselves, who – given the need of the business owners to provide a poor service – are carefully selected from the ranks of academic underachievers as the least likely people to provide a genuine learning environment.

In a major twenty-part series last year, The Korea Times opened up a discussion under the tagline "Teaching English in Korea – the last refuge of the rascal", which eventually concluded "Unfortunately many native-English teachers who come here because they can't otherwise figure out what to do with their failing lives, under the illusion that they will be doing something constructive while in Korea, which is precisely what their employers don't want them to do."

But the growth of the Internet and sharing of information within the foreign teaching community has led some to a revelation. As one teacher wrote recently on a message board discussing the subject "ive been hear forever and I couldnt teach to svae my life we arent teachas we are edutainers", referring to the notion that far from actually teaching, most foreigners here are actually being employed to be 'educational entertainers' or 'edutainers'.

Now the newly formed Association of English Edutainers in Korea - AEEK - is hoping to take members away from the older established teaching unions, such as the Association in Korea for English Teachers (AKET) and the socialist group CRETIN - the Collectivized Response for English Teachers in Need – who AEEK founders say are giving English teaching a bad reputation with their constant whining about quality standards.

Unlike a tradition association or union, the Executive Committee of AEEK is not chosen through a normal democratic vote, but rather on the basis of who is making the most money. Members are encouraged to add fake qualifications such as TESOLs to their resumes, since 'nobody ever really checks'.

Other teachers, who waste their time preparing lesson plans aimed at motivating their students, and who in rare cases actually earned real teaching qualifications before coming to Korea, are appalled by AEEK's behavior, but the newly appointed AEEK President, Thomas Skelton, has no time for them - "were hear to make money", he wrote on the group's website "any one who spends there time worrying about the wellfair of the studnts they are edutaining is clearly a sotialist. i got my degree and may be im one of the most qualfied teachas hear." In a press statement AKET condemned the formation of the Edutainers Association "This is a sad day for English langauge education we are trying to make some profesionalism in our rolls".

Attempting to professionalize their edutainment industry, AEEK members will soon wear multi-colored uniforms in the classroom while carrying a mini-edutainer stick with a small head at one end containing a bell. The new president hopes this will clearly differentiate themselves from the socialist teachers, and the stick "really helps when a student asks a difficult question" he says.

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Is it worth getting an online TEFL certificate here?

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Parents Warned "Mixed Race Children" May Be Terrorists

Parents of Korea's increasing number of mixed race children were warned this week that their children may grow up to be terrorists.

"South Korea may face the threat of terrorism if its ethnic minorities end up expressing their frustration over discrimination and scorn through acts of terrorism", according to the research paper which has just been published by academics at Seoul International University.

Officially Korea lacks major religious conflicts or – unless you talk to Japan – a history of invading foreign countries, so according to the report Korea is different from other nations where "immigrants from Muslim backgrounds" and "former colonies" have often committed acts of terrorism. However, the authors say that if the gap between people's expectations and satisfaction levels continues to grow there is a possibility that immigrants or their mixed-race children will commit terrorist crimes rather than venting their anger through drink and domestic violence as is more traditional in Korea.

As a countermeasure, the authors recommended enhancing discrimination in Korea further by spying on immigrants, mixed-race and other non-pure-blooded individuals through techniques such as telephone bugging. Such measures wouldn't be required for pure-blooded Koreans since "we are all one big happy family with no internal unhappiness, discrimination or scorn."

Indeed there is no history of domestic terrorism in Korea - with incidents such as the attack leading to the destruction of Seoul's historic gate 'Namdaemun' in 2008, which was started by a disgruntled Korean who felt discriminated against, rather than an immigrant, officially being labeled 'friendly fire'.

However, in a conflicting report on immigrants also released this week, 48 year-old Professor Kim from Pusan National University said his research showed that one of the most rapidly growing sources of perceived discrimination in the immigrant community is the increasing number of research papers labeling them as potential terrorists.

But the authors of the original report dismissed Professor Kim's findings. "You have to consider his relative youth and the fact he's from a minor university outside Seoul." they pointed out scornfully.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Sea of Japan to Be Renamed Greater China Sea

A long running dispute between South Korea and the rest of the world over the naming of the Sea of Japan, which Korea properly calls the 'East Sea', may be settled after Chinese oceanographers gained a majority on the executive committee of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) - the recognized global authority in naming bodies of water around the world. Under the leadership of the Chinese, the IHO says it intends to rename the Sea of Japan as the 'Greater China Sea'.

The 'Greater China Sea' plan may be controversial however, since China currently has no territory bordering the body of water, setting an unusual precedent. But the new head of the IHO said this will change in the near future "Under the China-North Korea Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance of 1961, China has the right to intervene militarily in the event of an emergency taking place in North Korea, so when the comrade Government collapses the Democratic People's Republic will become a part of the Greater China Economic Prosperity Sphere." Experts agree that while the IHO move may be a little premature, the plan to expand Greater China east to the Seat of Japan will solve the problem.

South Korea now intends to focus its attention on the incorrectly internationally recognized 'Tsushima Strait' between Japan and Korea, named after the Japanese island of Tsushima, which sits in the middle of the channel. In Korea this is correctly titled as the Korea Strait. However, Korea disputes the ownership of Tsushima - home to over 41,000 Japanese people - which is Korean and should be called Daemado. Korea intends to propose that the IHO rename the channel the Daemado Strait, although the IHO's new executive committee are said to favor the name 'Chinese Shipping Route Number 5'.

An earlier compromise proposal, which would have seen the body of water share the names 'East Sea/Sea of Japan', failed after Korean scientists were unable to find a way of tagging individual water molecules to ensure none were stolen from the Korean side by the Japanese.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"Being Drunk" May No Longer Be Valid Reason for Sex Attacks

Internet groups have reacted angrily to a Ministry of Justice plan to strike off excessive alcoholic consumption as an accepted legal defense for sex attacks in Korea. “People are not responsible for what they do when they drink” wrote one group member, 52-year-old Kim from Seoul, in an online forum, “And nobody sets out to interfere with a child, but after a few drinks, well, you know...”

Korean breweries are also said to be uncomfortable with the proposal. Until recently, some of them had provided helpful charts on bottle labels detailing the level of alcohol consumption versus the type of attack that was likely to be seen as excusable by a judge. For example, the label on a bottle of a leading brand showed consuming one bottle excused suddenly squeezing the breast of a female colleague, whereas once four bottles were consumed it was acceptable to use physical force. Six bottles generally permitted sex attacks on children, though the brewery emphasized that this was “entirely optional”.

Recent pressure from the Ministry though has temporarily forced them to remove the labels, which some customers regarded as a drinking game and others pointed out were an important guideline. “How am I supposed to know what I can get away with now?” asked 48-year-old Kim from Seoul, who asked to remain anonymous. 52-year-old Kim, a manager with a leading bank, has conducted 98 assaults ‘which he can remember’ - mostly of junior female staff – and had been hoping to reach a tally of 100 by the end of the month. “Now I don’t know where I stand legally, but if I stop I’m afraid I’ll miss out on my next promotion.”

Judges, who are believed to often invoke the defense themselves, may have little choice in following the Ministry’s new guideline, but there will still be some room for maneuver. A Ministry spokesman told us that “Clearly, when a judge attended the same university or school as the defendant, it’s entirely expected that they would be more lenient. And of course, people designated as famous or powerful will continue to be exempt from being convicted of any crimes.”

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Middle East Uprisings Alarm Korean Leadership

Barricades erected around Seoul City Hall
The growing unrest in the Middle East, which began in Tunisia and then spread to Egypt, are reportedly causing increasing unease in the Korean leadership, with some fearing that protests may spread soon spread to Seoul.

The recent uprisings across the Arab world have been widely seen as a reaction to legal and political issues, including police brutality, state of emergency laws, lack of fair elections and free speech, corruption, as well as economic issues including food price inflation and low minimum wages – all of which are also endemic problems in South Korea.

Recently, disquiet over the systematic - rather than occasional - torture of criminal suspects at the notorious Yangcheon Police Station in Seoul led to the jailing of five officers, although it was seen as a token gesture to placate public anger. Minimal sentences were passed by the court - which stated that the police had understandably only been motivated by "an excessive zeal for good performance".

Pressure has been mounting since Amnesty International issued a condemning indictment of South Korea last year, stating that "Compared to three years ago, the freedoms not only of assembly and expression, but in civil society as a whole have been greatly curtailed." The criticism followed moves to ban nighttime outdoor assemblies and other anti-government protests, alongside increasing crackdowns on the Internet activities of citizens.

During the 2010 elections, opposition parties, religious and civic groups were banned from discussing 'hot political issues' during elections as this was judged as potentially destabilizing and therefore 'not in the public interest'. The National Election Commission then went on to rule that most government policies were potentially 'hot issues', preventing their discussion during the election. With little left to argue against, opposition parties were reduced to mainly criticizing the President's hairstyle, in a move that they later conceded largely failed to resonate with voters.

An artist who encouraged his Twitter followers to vote during the election was also censured by the Commission along with citizens who posted political messages on their homepages and other websites.

It is widely accepted that the purpose of Korean politics, with its ever-changing parties, shifting factions and brawls in the parliament, is not to exercise power but rather to detract attention away from those who actually hold it in the chaebol cabal. However, citizens here, emboldened by stories of free speech and protests overseas, have increasingly tried to fight for the same rights in Korea.

In an attempt to prevent the Middle East revolutions spreading to Seoul, the ruling GNP - the Grand National Party - began three days of discussions this week on whether to revise the constitution to bring changes to the presidential system. The GNP say the move will restrict some of the President's powers, but citizens are angry because the plan also removes the single-term limit on the President, which will allow Lee Myung-bak to stay in power when his term of office ends. It also seeks to redraw political districts in a way it has been suggested will favor the government.

However, attempts to start a mass protest movement have so far been successfully repressed by government Internet censors, and the pro-Government media has avoided covering recent anti-Government protests, with only the little read left-wing Hankyoreh newspaper speaking out against the censorship, and The Dokdo Times, which due to its unique geographical position falls outside the scope of Seoul's tough media restrictions.

Desperate to prevent anti-government forces gathering in Seoul Plaza, the Seoul Metropolitan Government has banned smokers from the public space located directly in front of Seoul City Hall, ensuring a legal basis for the detention of many opposition figures who attempt to rally supporters there. But as a precaution, the army erected painted barricades around the building yesterday, which the government claimed had been planned for several months as part of Seoul's 'Pink Barricade Festival', announced earlier in the week.

But it is the return of external opposition figures which the government is said to really fear. Privately, some ministers were said to be alarmed by the recent return of the former IAEA Director General and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei to Egypt to lead opposition protests, fearing the move may inspire the current U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon – a former foreign minister in Korea's last liberal government - to return to his homeland to lead the opposition to the government's repression.

It is thought the Government is split on what to do if protests continue to build or if Ban Ki-moon returns to Korea. Privately Ministers conceded that it would be difficult to put tanks onto the streets due to the high price of gas and Seoul's notoriously heavy traffic jams.

Ban Ki-moon could not be reached for comment.

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

North Korean Defectors Talk of Harsh Repression and Hardship

As North Korea undergoes a controversial political transition, recently escaped defectors from the Communist country have reported conditions of harsh repression, rampant corruption amongst local officials, and massive unemployment in their new lives in South Korea.

According to surveys, defectors typically expect to be ultimately treated as equals when they reach the South, partly because South Korean laws stipulate it, and partly because Seoul has consistently sought to portray the notionally democratic South as better than the Communist regime in the North from which they escaped. However, typically defectors find the reality different to that portrayed in numerous K-drama propaganda DVDs which are widely watched in their former homeland.

"We are sixth-class citizens here" said one defector – referring to the increasing view in his community that North Koreans are ranked almost at the bottom of the social scale in Korea behind South Koreans, white foreigners, South Koreans who have been overseas too long, Korean Americans and migrant workers. The view is controversial since officially North Korean defectors are normally designated as fifth-class citizens in South Korea.

Controversy erupted last month after it was revealed that one defector had been sent to mental institution by a government resettlement center after he spoken back to his South Korean guards. His uncle - who lives in Seoul - was able to get him released, but it is feared that many other defectors may have been sent to psychiatric institutions never to be heard from again.

Defectors who successfully graduate from 'education programs' at the South Korea's heavily guarded Hanawon resettlement center often find obtaining work difficult, due to social discrimination and rules which prevent them from working in a number of 'sensitive' jobs. In recent years Seoul, in an effort to discourage North Koreans from settling in the South, has also has massively reduced the level of financial aid given to defectors, making their economic transition even more difficult. In a survey last year 30% of defectors surveyed said they wanted to escape to another country, with some saying they even wanted to return to North Korea.

In December, President Lee Myung-bak told North Korean defectors, foreigner laborers and multicultural families staying in South Korea to never give up hoping for a better life. He made the remarks at an expensive end-of-year dinner with a group of South Koreans who help as volunteers with society's disadvantaged. It was hoped they would pass the message on since hardly any North Koreans were invited as the event was felt to be too good for them.

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Friday, February 4, 2011

'Seollal' Wrongly Called 'Chinese New Year' in America

Korean Americans - who are not regarded as real Koreans by real Koreans, but are still as patriotic - have demanded that the U.S. media stop referring to Seollal – the Korean New Year celebration - as 'Chinese' New Year. "We are not Chinese, and the Seollal holiday shouldn't be mislabeled as Chinese, but should instead be called Lunar New Year – in other words Seollal" said the President of the New Jersey Korean Association.

To help raise awareness, Korean parents of Bergen County schools in New Jersey held an all-day protest at a local elementary school yesterday to properly educate non-Korean blooded people, who are known as 'strangers', about Korean culture. "We're not trying to pressure Americans to label the Seollal holiday as Seollal" said one protest leader, "we're just trying to set the record straight that one of Korea's biggest holidays of the year is Korean, not Chinese".

Another protest is planned for New York next week, during which Korean university students plan to properly inform strangers of the Korean origin and meaning of the holiday, which was invented by Korea 5,000 years ago and later stolen and renamed by the Chinese, who lacked a holiday of their own. "Chinese cultural sleeper cells in America known as 'Chinatowns' have been very successful at perpetuating the lie that Seollal is actually called Chinese New Year, even though Seollal is our territory" said 58-year-old Professor Kim from Korea International University’s Department of Anti-Chinese Studies.

Seollal was historically celebrated by a number of different countries in Asia, but in 1873 Japan – the only Asian country aside from China generally known about in America at the time - adopted the Gregorian calendar, making it easier for the Chinese to falsely claim the holiday was theirs despite its Korean origins. In recent years Seollal protests have been launched in several American cities, but the three big American media chaebols – which ultimately control all printed and broadcast media within the military regime, have so far refused to properly call Seollal by its real name.

Many strangers in America say that Beijing's 'Greater China Co-Prosperity Sphere Plan' is weakening Korea's claim on the naming rights for the holiday. Under the plan, North Korea has already been co-opted into becoming a Chinese client state, and Seoul's increasing reluctance to criticize China shows it is gradually losing its independence from China as well – makes the renaming of 'Chinese New Year' to Seollal pointless in America, since before long Beijing will demand Seollal be called 'Chinese New Year' in South Korea as well anyway. The left-wing Hankyoreh newspaper claims that President Lee Myung-bak is likely to give in to the China's demand to rename Seollal when it is made.

Despite this, further Seollal protests are planned in America over the next several days.

Related Links
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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Deutsche Bank May Face Record Fine For Selling Korean Stocks

Deutsche Bank's Korean trading arm is expected to face a record fine from Seoul's Financial Services Commission after it sold a large amount of stock on November 11th last year, pushing the KosPI – which stands for "Korea’s Pride Index" - down 53.12 points. Under Korean Market Securities Law, foreign financial firms are permitted to buy Korean stocks, but not sell them, even if the stocks are traded outside Korea, as on November 11th when the transactions were executed in Hong Kong and London by the German bank.

After the national soccer team, cheering the KosPI upwards is the second most popular activity in the sports sections of Korea’s newspapers. Under headlines such as "Pride as Korean Stock Market Rises 2 Points", "KosPI Rises to 5,000 Year High" and "KosPI Up, Inferior Japanese Nikkei Down Again", people feel a keen sense of national shame on the rare days when the index rises negatively. Indeed, the outrageous assault on Korea’s national pride by Deutsche Bank comes after almost three years of sustained negative rises in the index which have caused some to suggest that there is a German conspiracy to destabilize the Korean economy. However, German financial commentators have dismissed the notion as fanciful given that the German government and banking system has been fully occupied in the last year with trying to destroy the Euro.

But a spokesman for the FSC said that the evidence of Deutsche Bank's selling of Korean stocks – contrary to securities laws – was quite clear. The FSC emphasized that it was not trying to infringe on the workings of capitalism because foreign trading firms were free to buy Korean stocks whenever they wanted to. But what appears to have happened in the Deutsche case is that the bank profited from causing the index to decline, an activity which some foreigners call 'financial trading' but one which some politicians in Seoul have termed "economic terrorism". European financial authorities have refused to censure Deutsche Bank following the incident however, saying that all financial trading is a form of economic terrorism, which has long since been made legal in capitalist Western countries due to corporate special interests.

Two months prior to Germany's unprovoked attack on Korea, a large unnamed French bank is believed to have bought a substantial amount of Korean stock at the close of business, suddenly pushing the KosPI up 55 points in a move celebrated in the media and by the Seoul Metropolitan Government - which in response launched the start of a 'French Culture Week' two days later. At the time the Financial Services Commission claimed the move was a vote of confidence in the Korean stock market, expressing the expectation that other large global financial institutions would follow suit. Deutsche Bank's reckless decision to sell obviously undervalued Korean stocks seems to have now dashed these hopes.

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