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April 15, 2005

ELT on Trial in South Korea

Two Candian English teachers appeared in court this week in South Korea in a case that many see as putting the country's ELT industry on trial. The two, Jason Beaton and Scott Thompson, both from Nova Scotia and working as English conversation teachers at a "hagwon" (private college) outside Seoul, were arrested and jailed on March 11 "in connection with an incident outside a bar in Seoul in which a local man was hospitalised with facial injuries," according to Monday's Guardian. One of the two is believed to have been on a tourist visa and so working illegally. According to other news sources, the pair pleaded guilty to the charges on Monday. They claimed that they acted in self-defence, but under Korean law, both sides in a fight are considered aggressors. They will be held in jail for at least two more weeks before being sentenced. They could be put on probation or sentenced to up to two years in prison, according to their lawyer.

The trial is seen to be exacerbating an already increasingly negative public view of the English-teaching industry in Korea, in particular those working illegally or without qualifications. A recent TV documentary slammed the industry and a web site where teachers discussed where and how to pick up local women caused such an uproar that posters were advised to "leave the country for their own safety." A number of teachers have been deported and employers fined following a recent investigation, and another crackdown is planned for June. The number of foreign teachers in Korea has fallen sharply over the last few years, mainly due to stricter immigration policies, from 13,000 in 1997 to just over 5,000 in 2005.
Fracas turns critical Korean eye on Tefl community

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