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State enters agreement to recruit South Korean STEM educators

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

Alabama education and South Korean officials have signed a memorandum of understanding for a pilot program to bring much-needed science, technology, engineering and mathematics teachers here.

The partnership includes the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, the Alabama State Department of Education, the Alabama-Korea Education and Economic Partnership and the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea. 

The program allows for a foreign teaching certificate conversion procedure. Selected South Korean teacher education graduates will participate in a two-year master’s program, the first year taught in their home country, the second at an Alabama university. They’ll then be able to work in Alabama schools. 

“We are excited to expand joint efforts between K-12 and higher education in Alabama to address our teacher shortage,” ACHE Executive Director Jim Purcell said in a written statement. “Through this program we will now be in a position to find qualified teachers to recruit in these high-demand areas.”

The first group of selected students will begin the program in South Korea this fall.

Meesoon Han, executive director of A-KEEP, said 15 to 30 teachers could be in the initial group coming to Alabama.

“In South Korea, there is a massive surplus of teachers,” Han told Alabama Daily News. She’s been working on this program for several years and said it will be beneficial for both sides. 

The ultimate goal is to have the new educators settle in Alabama.

In the 2021 education budget, lawmakers allocated $100,000 for the program.

Last year, a group of state education leaders and lawmakers traveled to South Korea to discuss the possibilities of the program.

Data last year showed a continuing decline in first-year teachers coming out of Alabama’s public and private educator prep programs from 2016-2017 to 2017-2018.

“We know we’re going to have to do some things long term,” Mackey said last year about the teacher shortage. “This could be a short-term solution for some parts of the state.”

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