BC Puts All Offshore Schools in South Korea on Probation

Staff at three schools — including BC-certified teachers — ordered to leave country by government.

By Katie Hyslop 9 Jun 2017 |

Katie Hyslop is The Tyee’s education and youth reporter. Find her previous stories here.

British Columbia’s Ministry of Education has put all five of its South Korea offshore schools on probation after South Korean immigration officials ordered teachers at three of the schools to leave the country.

“The South Korean immigration department has decided to issue departure orders to teachers holding E2 visas from three B.C. offshore schools,” reads a statement on the ministry’s website posted Wednesday.

“Our understanding is that 11 schools, including schools from the United States and United Kingdom, may also be affected.”

The statement warns potential offshore school teachers not to apply for South Korea positions and notes the Ministry of Education is currently reviewing its offshore school program in the country.

The province’s teacher job website, Make a Future, features a similar warning and has taken down its South Korean job postings.

The ministry’s statement does not specify which schools have received departure orders or how many teachers and students have been impacted. The ministry is not responding to media requests during the election period.

But The Tyee has learned from formers teachers at the Canadian British Columbia International School in Seoul that their school, as well as Westminster Canadian Academy in Gwacheon City and BIS Canada in Seongnam, are the three South Korean schools with departure orders.

Fourteen teachers from Canadian British Columbia International School were the first to receive departure orders in April, after South Korean immigration officials alleged the teachers had obtained their E2 visas for fraudulent purposes.

E2 visas are designated for language schools in South Korea, while E7 visas are required for foreigners teaching in international schools.

Trevor Goodwin, BIS Canada principal and education ministry liaison, confirmed that every teacher holding an E2 visa has received departure orders, though he would not say how many teachers are affected.

BIS does have some B.C.-certified teachers with other visa types not impacted by departure orders, he said. B.C. curriculum classes have finished for this school year so students were not affected, said Goodwin. 

The Tyee was not able to reach Westminster Canadian Academy principal Kelly Card.

The teachers from Canadian British Columbia International School allege the school’s owner arranged for their visas, and that all foreign teachers at B.C.-certified offshore schools in the country have E2 visas.

All but two teachers from the Canadian British Columbia International School, who have dual Korean-Canadian citizenship, left the country by the May 11 deadline. It’s not yet clear when teachers at Westminster Canadian Academy and BIS Canada will have to leave South Korea or for how long.

Former Canadian British Columbia International School teacher Alex Hebb says that he and his colleagues began reaching out to teachers at other B.C.-certified schools after they received their departure orders, offering advice in case they also received orders to leave South Korea.

“I feel like it would be helpful to understand why or how this happened,” Hebb said.

“That’s why we created those documents for the other teachers, so they could understand what’s going on and what they can do at this point to help them, help them leave Korea, help them cope.”

B.C. has licensed its kindergarten to Grade 12 curriculum to 46 private offshore schools, the majority in China. Schools pay the province $15,000 annually to use the curriculum, as well as $350 for each student. This earns B.C. about $4.9 million every year.

Approximately 12,000 students attend B.C. offshore schools, where they must be taught by B.C.-certified teachers, many Canadian. Graduates receive a B.C. Dogwood high school diploma, allowing them to enroll in North American post-secondary programs.

The BC Teachers’ Federation does not represent offshore teachers. But the union has long been critical of the program, which began under the New Democratic Party government in 1998. It expanded after 2001, when the BC Liberal government encouraged school districts to open offshore schools to generate revenue.

“We were hearing stories about teachers as workers being maltreated by management at the schools,” said Glen Hansman, BCTF president.

Hansman says the union is offering an undisclosed amount of money to the former teachers at Canadian British Columbia International School to explore their legal options, using its International Solidarity Fund. Typically reserved for teachers in developing countries, this is the first time the fund is being accessed to assist B.C. offshore teachers.  [Tyee]

Read more: Education, BC Politics

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