John in Daejeon wrote:
I hope you have some backup plans just in case something happens that affects your position.
I bring this up because, over the holiday, my old boss informed me that 20% of the hagwons in the his association here in Daejeon are close to shutting their doors due to low enrollment, and that this was the first year in his 10 years of being a member that no new directors joined the group. So there happens to be quite a bit of nervousness even among those members whose academies are still doing well as to the “up in the air” future of education in South Korea. Some directors have even started using part-time native speakers who are married to Koreans to save money on E-2 visa processing, airfare, housing, and whatever other benefits that they can get away with not paying them to help save money.
At least at the university level, foreign (Chinese) students can be enrolled in greater numbers to justify keeping teachers. However, if there are fewer and fewer students enrolling in elementary schools due to the low birth rate here, what justification is there in keeping the current levels of public school teachers and hagwon teachers? [...]
This post started out as a reply to a comment, but grew too long and thought I’d share it as a post instead:
This is all speculation about the state of Daejeon ESL from the anecdotes of a long time teacher, so take my comments with a grain of salt.
Yeah, there is a noticeable drop in available students to go around between schools in Daejeon. It has been for the past few years with the larger chains absorbing all available students into huge academies and leaving the smaller schools fighting for scraps. That was why I was very relieved to get out of the academy game when I did. I felt like I rode the wave from small independent school to huge chain, and once those chain schools started popping up everywhere in Dunsandong it was the beginning of the end for this teacher’s relatively easy academy ride.
Now that parents budgets are being stretched even tighter due to inflation and the economy domestically, and countries economies abroad being in a widespread downturn, there is a sharp retraction in the number of Korean students enrolled in English education. I hadn’t considered the birthrate being below replacement levels, but this trend isn’t going to be reversible in future generations. There simply won’t be enough students to ever fill the standing capacity of current schools because there aren’t that many children being born. There was going to be a retraction eventually simply because there aren’t enough students, but the economy has hastened it.
To be fair, there are a lot of schools that shouldn’t be in business that were simply there to eat into the excess profits available. Whenever there is a bit of profit to be had, there will be someone sitting on the fringe trying to make a go at it even if the margins are razor thin. Even a well run school doesn’t make the money it used to. Those schools that don’t have the funding are going to be the people that get thinned out first when things go sour.
The fact that no one is willing to even jump into the game seems to mean that people realize that there is no longer ridiculous profit to be had with a fly by night operation. When the times get tough these less viable businesses will go the way of the excessive numbers of phone stores, or coffee shops that seem to pop up and wink out of existence with no relation to what is around them. The schools that are still around are either the best run, the best funded, or the most corrupt. If they can succeed in a tougher environment, they’ll have to provide better services to hang on to the few students that remain, and if that means fewer teachers working harder, or more qualified teachers working in each position to justify their existence.
Overall that’s not the worst thing to happen from the consumer’s point of view. As a teacher, it is a worrying sign that this whole Korean adventure might be coming to an end for a lot of people. The E-2 visa is the hiring choice of last resort, unless you have established contacts and references in Korea. Far too many unqualified teachers are in Korea, and with the economy retracting directors need to be more selective. They can also be more stingy because people are still lining up to apply since there is at least some demand and few requirements besides being a native speaker.
If I was an E2 visa holder, I’d be terrified at that 20% retraction! There has to be an excess of teachers hanging around looking for work anywhere they can, and that means employers have all the power. Of course benefits are gone. The days were an E-2 visa got you free housing and an airplane ticket home guaranteed are not coming back because directors know that not that many jobs are available if an applicant is shipped back to their country of origin. The only benefits you get now are a housing stipend that will hardly cover utilities if you are lucky, and a third of your paycheck going to rent if you don’t own your apartment. That’s rough for someone that’s been in the academy business in Korea for a while to swallow to accept.
There is still enough job security with an F visa status that I’m confident I can hold on a few years. People on an E-2 have no power to negotiate anymore because there are plenty of married visa applicants more than willing to cut that market out at the knees to hold onto employment for themselves. Get married or go home when times are tough for the hardcore English teachers in Korea. It’s risk and reward. People with the F visa status (married) are more exposed to risk if the entire English teaching experience dries up, but can hold on longer and remain more in demand up until the point where consumers give up on English and decides to dump cash into something else entirely.
I’ve been seeing the results of the decline on English on the higher end of the curve at the University for at least a year, with adult enrollment slowing down at the University level. Session after session of contracted enrollment has taken it’s toll on class sizes, and typically when parents aren’t enrolling, neither are their children. Maybe it is “Either/Or”, but certainly not both. The people that do still enroll are the upwardly mobile looking to hit increasingly difficult English fluency job requirements, people studying for entrance exam requirements, or those looking to travel that want to increase their chances at studying abroad still enroll, but casual learners of English that treat it like a hobby are rare these days.
Looking around the office, it is a worrying sign. There are far too many professors in my department and not enough classes to be be spread out among them. Who gets cut? How badly do we get treated before everyone decides to get out and look for other work? Being adaptable and flexible can get you pretty far, but everyone seems to be going after a smaller slice of the cake.