Cheap Filipino Language Schools Draw English-Obsessed Koreans

South Korean high school student Kang Tae-won learning English
South Korean high school student Kang Tae-won learning English
Jason Strother

BAGUIO — In South Korea, learning English is a national obsession. Families pay billions of dollars a year on extra curricular education so their children can enroll in top universities and later land high-paying jobs that require good English skills. But it's not always affordable at home, which is why the Philippines, where English is one of the two official languages, has become one of Korea's top destinations for overseas language education.

Like almost every other South Korean high school student, 17-year-old Kang Tae-won spends every weekday evening at a private academy learning English. He believes his future depends on it.

"In the near future, we will have a borderless world and everyone will need to communicate with each other," he says. "English is the global language, and that's why I need to study it."

When I first met Kang, the Korean winter was just setting in. The next time I saw him, he was studying in a much warmer location. For three months, Kang enrolled at a private academy for the study of English in Baguio, 250 kilometers north of the Philippine capital Manila.

The majority of students here are South Korean. They live in the school's upstairs dormitory and study with local teachers for about eight hours a day on a floor designated as an English-only zone.

Kang says his English has improved since coming here. "It's a good atmosphere to study English. I am studying hard writing, reading, grammar, vocabulary, listening." Thousands of South Koreans come to the Philippines every year to study English, enrolling in hundreds of academies around the country or taking private lessons with locals.

Yoo Moon-young owns the private academy where Kang studies back home. She brought 11 of her students to Baguio this year to study. "In the winter I take my students to Baguio," she says. "The atmosphere and weather is nice."

More practical and affordable

But Yoo explains that Korean parents send their kids to the Philippines for more than just the good weather. "Twenty years ago, I used to take kids to the U.S. and Canada to study, but because of the Korean economy, parents wanted more time- and cost-efficient study trips overseas. That's why I take these students to the Philippines now," she says.

For a three-month, all-inclusive package, families pay about $5,600 per student. That's far less than what it would cost in the United States, Canada or other English-speaking countries.

In South Korea, learning English is not just about improving linguistic ability, says Jasper Kim, a professor in the Division of International Studies at Seoul's Ewha Women's University. "It's viewed as a superficial asset," he says. "In terms of a signal that you are from the right family and the right economic class. If you have those kind of economic resources, that means your family is connected."

Kim says that for Korean families who lack those resources, the relatively cheaper Philippines is a good alternative. "If anything, hopefully when they go to the Philippines they can just relax a little bit, if only for a few minutes a day, and get them out of the stressful environment that is South Korea's educational system."

And while South Korean families are saving money this way, local teachers are earning more. For ESL instructors such as 24-year-old Sheryl Macavio, these private academies in her hometown of Baguio offer good jobs in an economy with a high youth unemployment rate. Salaries for ESL teachers at Macavio's school start at $250 a month, about half as much as public school teachers earn in the Philippines. But given the limited number of school jobs and the demand for more English-language education from Koreans, it's not such a bad option for recent graduates, Macavio says.

South Korean student Kang Tae-won says studying in the Philippines is preparing him for college later this year. "I will go to Singapore in June and study international management," he says. "I want to work in business." But he says he still has a lot more studying to do first.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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