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  Asia Not Screening English Teachers Well
 Writer :    Date : 2006-09-06  Hit : 129
Asia Not Screening English Teachers Well

The English-teaching circuit in Asia is filled with transient foreigners, from backpackers needing to make quick cash to recent college graduates looking for experience.

Turnover is high and screening is minimal, opening windows for people with phony credentials or even those suspended from teaching at home _ like John Mark Karr, the man who says he was with JonBenet Ramsey the night she was killed in her family's basement 10 years ago in Colorado.


Murder suspect John Mark Karr is surrounded by Thai and U.S. officials as he is taken from the detention center to a police news conference at Immigration office in Bangkok, Thailand Thursday, Aug. 17, 2006. Karr, 41, an American schoolteacher on Friday, Aug. 18, awaited expulsion to the U.S. where questions mounted over whether his confession to the slaying of 6-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey was spun from the mind of a kook or a killer. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong) Karr taught for a few months in South Korea in 2002, in Honduras last year and at schools in Bangkok this year before his arrest. According to an online resume, he also worked as a private teacher and caregiver in Germany, the Netherlands and Costa Rica during the past five years.

Yet in April 2001, he had been arrested in California for possession of child pornography. He vanished after serving six months in jail, and his teaching license was suspended a year later.

Schools say there is no easy means of checking up on foreigners applying for jobs.

"A telephone interview, a resume and a picture of the candidate is all we have," said Kim Soo-ho, an official at Englishwork, a teacher recruiting agency in Seoul, South Korea. "It is physically difficult to check the background of people when they are from overseas."

Convicted sex offenders from various countries have popped up as English teachers in Asia.

Earlier this month, an Australian who taught English in Jakarta, Indonesia, was charged with molesting street children. He told police he videotaped at least 50 teenage boys.

Another Australian teacher who faced sex allegations at home committed suicide last week in Indonesia, where he also was accused by human right activists of abusing children.

"It's a very traditional pedophile strategy," said Bernadette McMenamin, head of the Australian-based advocacy group Child Wise. "If you want to sexually abuse children, what better job would there be?"

She said foreign teachers with criminal histories can easily stay beneath the radar because background information is not readily shared between countries, making the screening process difficult for even the most prestigious institutions. Karr taught first grade for two weeks in June at one of Bangkok's finest schools before he was fired for being too strict.

"People who are offenders of all sorts are being able to move anonymously across borders," said Carmen Madrinan, executive director of Bangkok-based ECPAT International, a network of organizations working to fight commercial sexual exploitation of children.

She said the demand for English skills in Asia, especially in countries like Thailand where tourism drives the economy, puts pressure on schools to fill job vacancies quickly. But she said administrators are stuck because there is no easy way to verify credentials or check for criminal records.

Fake teaching documents also are cheap and easy to obtain in Asia, and there jobs for the taking. Last year in Japan, there were 4,500 foreign language schools with nearly 14,000 teachers. South Korea had 12,000 native English-speakers teaching at private schools as of May.

Web sites post openings at schools across Asia, making it easy for teachers to work short stints in one country before lining up a job and jumping to another, providing perfect cover for sex offenders on the run in a region infamous for sex tourism.

Education officials in Thailand have told local media they will work with schools and police to tighten screening procedures. But Madrinan said even in the United States, where many safeguards are in place, sexual predators sometimes slip through the cracks.

"It's a complicated issue," she said. "But when you are talking about a cross-jurisdiction, and you have repeated offenders or you have offenders who are of a serious nature of crime, then you have to ask: 'Should they be allowed to leave in the first place?'"

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Associated Press reporters Meraiah Foley in Sydney, Mi-sook Jeong and Bo-mi Lim in Seoul, Hans Greimel in Tokyo, Niniek Karmini in Jakarta and Aaron Clark in Bangkok contributed to this report.