Improving Korean English Education

By greenteapanda

January 31, 2008

Category: Education

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One of the biggest political issues in Korea right now is the issue of English education. The incoming administration originally had a goal of making the language of instruction English in many core classes (such as maths), not just English itself. Less than two years away, that would seem to be highly problematic. Many teachers are good at teaching their subjects, but wouldn’t be able to do so in English.

The date has been moved to 2013, but I still think that is far too early.  It doesn’t solve the core problems the government wants to address with this initiative. The government claims to want to reduce the need for cram schools and to improve the English level of Korea. This article, Groups Call for Scrapping of `English-Worshipping’ (already removed from the website, unfortunately), is a good overview of why the second aim is somewhat questionable. Particularly this quote:
"It is said that only some 5 percent of positions at companies require fluent English skills. If everybody is forced to master the language, it is a waste of time and resources."

Even if there is a large improvement in English education, there will be people like me that are interested in a language other than the dominant second language in their home country. I wouldn’t doubt for a second some students would want to learn Chinese, as China already is a very important market for Korea. This whole plan does nothing for people who would rather learn something other than English as a second language.

In any case, reducing the need and desire to go to cram schools relies on two things that are not allowed or are not possible given limited school funds.
1. class sizes are too big for optimum absorption of material and
2. as teachers, we are not allowed to put students into classes based on ability level.
Other countries have special classes for gifted students, but the public education system here is founded on the premise that everybody should be treated equally (no matter if some students are smarter/more motivated than others). Because this type of system fails people that are motivated and intelligent, those students will turn to cram schools to fulfill some of their educational desires.

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