Nowadays, not only Korean students, but also foreign students, have started to commemorate Hangeul Proclamation Day. Even though the Korean language is getting more attention, the long extension of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is leading to a decrease in foreign students and causing university’s Korean language centers to halt classes or implement online classes. This crisis is affecting both foreign students and Korean language instructors. Therefore, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) will look into what the Korean language center’s goals are, various problems with Korean language centers, and solutions for the problems.
A Nest for Foreign Students Studying Korean Language
What is a Korean Language Center?
A Korean language center is a university or college’s language center for students who do not speak Korean as their mother tongue. They were established to improve students’ Korean language skills and help them understand Korean history and culture. As the demand for learning and the status of the Korean language have risen, Korean language centers have been dispersed to capital and regional colleges. According to Study in Korea, 101 Korean language centers have been established in colleges so far. Plus, according to the announcement of the Ministry of Education (MOE) in 2020, most Korean language centers run for four semesters a year. Each semester is 10 weeks, and students complete 200 hours in total.
|Korean Language Center Students Experiencing Korean Culture (hankyung.com)|
Korean Language Center in Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU)
The Korean Language Center of Sungkyun Language Institute (SLI) was established to encourage foreign students to develop their Korean communication abilities in international society. Approximately 5,000 students have studied the Korean language at the center since 2018. However, due to COVID-19, only 450 students enrolled in the center in 2021. Unlike language centers in other universities, SLI runs six semesters per year, and there are two months per semester, but the total class hours remain the same. The regular course of SLI is divided into offline and online classes, and students can choose either option. Currently, the center follows the Korean government’s administrative orders. According to the center’s staff, the center’s online and offline classes are held biweekly, and these are called “hybrid classes”. The maximum student number of each class type is 15, and students use a book named Sungkyun Korean, which is published by Sungkyunkwan University Press.
|International Students who are studying at SLI (koreansli.skku.edu)|
Korean Language Centers in Crisis
Issues for Students
One of the continuous problems of Korean language centers raised by students is illegal admission. Cases such as giving privileges to students who have specific nationalities due to centers’ preferences, or enrolling into a center easily through acquaintances or relatives’ connections are continuously occurring. According to an article from News Daily in October 2019, more than 70% of foreign students of certain nationalities were selected for Korean language centers at major universities in Seoul, leading to a backlash of students who failed the admission. In the case of SLI, little chance to meet students from a variety of countries is a problem. According to staff and students who worked and studied at the Korean Language Center of SLI, most students are from the Chinese region. Another problem is that there are few opportunities to build relationships with Korean students. Lots of foreign students studying at the SLI answered that there is little to no chance to meet and communicate with Korean students. What’s more, due to the prolonged COVID-19 situation, new problems are arising. The decrease of foreign students caused the Korean language centers to stop operations or close entirely. SLI is not an exception to these issues. According to an interview from Korea TV in May 2021, foreign students in SLI answered that due to online classes, classes were more unfamiliar than before and so was the quality. It was also more difficult to concentrate on classes than before.
Issues for Instructors
Although the status of the Korean language keeps rising, support for Korean language teachers and staff is not improving. Furthermore, major colleges in the capital area are still showing instability in employing Korean language instructors. Most of the instructors are suffering from stress since they have to wait for the renewal of contracts unilaterally due to the short-term contracts that run on a term-by-term basis. In particular, the biggest issue is the discrimination of wages. According to Korean Teacher, a book written by four Korean language instructors, the shocking fact was that annual leave and holiday pay have never been paid to them for over 25 years. The wages of Korean language instructors are also too low compared to other language instructors. Dailynews indicates that the monthly payment of language therapists and academy language instructors exceeded 1 million won. However, Korean language instructors’ monthly payments stayed around 600,000 and 700,000 won. Moreover, since a Korean language instructor is a temporary job, most instructors can lose their jobs suddenly. According to an interview by a Korean language instructor who works in a college in Seoul, the number of lectures has decreased significantly due to COVID-19. Plus, the average lecture hours per week, which was 30 hours, has fallen to about 10 hours now.
|Claiming Korean Language Instructors’ Payment Unfairness (khan.co.kr)|
For the Maintenance of Korean Language Centers
Efforts of Colleges
Securing quality of education is the highest priority during online classes. Each college’s Korean language instructors and staff should arrange regular meetings to ensure the quality of the class. Coming up with a mobile application that can help students learn Korean easily by interacting with various platforms can be one way to improve the quality of class education. Also, colleges should design plans to make autonomous instructors’ seats. By making an organization such as a Korean Language Education Committee, colleges will be able to maintain Korean language instructor’s status and insurance. In the case of SKKU, SLI presents various countermeasures to minimize the damages from COVID-19. Through continuous meetings between SKKU and SLI, SLI is providing after-class personal instruction to overcome the poor quality of class operation. In addition, they also offer free special lectures for the Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK) to improve the quality of students’ learning. Like this, other colleges should make plans to support their Korean language centers. Moreover, SKKU should guarantee that students from various countries can interact with each other and provide more opportunities for them to communicate with Korean students at SKKU.
Efforts of Government
Government should support the Korean language centers and guarantee proper incentives and insurances for Korean language instructors. Now, Korean language instructors are subject to the Act On The Protection of Fixed-term and PartTime Employees. However, the government should protect Korean language instructors under the Higher Education act. This act guarantees the appointment period of at least one year and a wage which is equal to other staff and instructors. Furthermore, maternity leave and sick leave for at least six months are guaranteed by the law, and Korean language instructors can flexibly work and rest. Also, the government should make efforts to guarantee proper minimum monthly payments for Korean language instructors. As mentioned earlier, as a language expert, the monthly payment of Korean language instructors is much less than other institutions. Therefore, the government should set proper wages for Korean language instructors as soon as possible to maintain their minimum livelihood.
|Korean Language Center of the Sungkyun Language Institute (koreansli.skku.edu)|
Due to COVID-19, the Korean language center is facing a big crisis. Existing problems such as poor government support and the treatment of Korean language instructors are intensifying the damage of the Korean language centers. From now on, both government and colleges should guarantee the foreign students’ quality of education and Korean language instructors’ proper status and treatment
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