When a high-level summit of the worldâs most powerful countries is on, the talk invariably revolves around money. That is true of the G-20 summit which kicked off here today, but it is difficult to deny Abby Thomas his moment in the sun for making English education history in South Korea.
The rise of Indiaâs services industry has been about low wages and English language skills. Thomas embodies both, in becoming the first Indian to teach English in this country. Of course, he costs his employer, the Wanju High School in North Jerolla province, considerably less than standard wages for English teachers from other countries.
Thomasâ feat, though, cannot be separated from the summit. In fact, it is very much a result of hectic trade parlays which resulted in Indiaâs Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (Cepa) with South Korea last year.
Earlier, only those from native English-speaking countries could teach English in South Korea. The nationality of the English teachers in this country was thus limited to the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Ireland. Cepa had a clause to allow Indians.
"It took great diplomatic effort to achieve this. It can really open the market for our teachers," Indiaâs Ambassador to South Korea S R Tayal told Business Standard. "We have to leverage our human resources. South Korean companies employ many Indians in important positions in India. We must have more Indian workers in South Korea."
However, in the occupation of teaching English, it is early days for the Indians. The North Jerolla Province Office of Education has so far recruited two Indian teachers â the other, Robins Mathew, is working at an English experience centre â amid scepticism over the Indiansâ accent. South Korea hires, on annual contracts, some 6,000 English teachers.
The heartening bit is that students told The Korea Times that Thomasâ accent was not an issue. Parents and colleagues, who attended demonstration classes, were also happy with him. Some welcomed the inclusion of Indians in teaching because they thought the native English speakers were not serious about their classes and looked down on Korean teachers.