English education reforms mean good business for tutors

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January 24, 2008

Contrary to its stated aim, the incoming administration’s education reform plan cheered the private education business yesterday, while some students, parents and teachers could not hide their frustration over the changes, particularly the emphasis on practical English-language education.

In an attempt to free Korea’s youngsters from the notoriously competitive battle to enter universities, the transition team of President-elect Lee Myung-bak announced Tuesday its three-stage measure to overhaul education policy. By 2013, universities will be given complete independence in choosing their freshmen. The plan also aims to reinforce public education while lowering parental spending on private tutoring.

Stock prices of private education companies, such as EduBox Inc. and Neungyule Education Inc., skyrocketed yesterday, enjoying about a 14 percent hike from Tuesday, proving that change is a good business opportunity for them.
“It does not matter what changes will be introduced,” an official from a large education company said. “Whenever the system changes, private education companies benefit. The public system can never accommodate the changes fast enough.”

Included in Lee’s plan is the overhaul of English-language education in Korea. Starting in 2013, English will not be the subject of a standardized test for university admission. Instead students will be tested throughout their school years on their language ability. Some subjects will be taught in English to enable students to use the language.

“Over the past years, the number of students in our English-language program grew from 3,000 to 35,000,” Jang In-cheol, head of Chungdahm Institute, said yesterday. “Because the number of subjects in the College Scholastic Ability Test will be reduced, private tutoring will be more concentrated on English-language education.”

Students are frustrated about the change. “All my friends worry,” a 14-year-old middle school girl, whose 2013 college admission will reflect the changes, said yesterday. She will be tested on speaking, listening, reading and writing in English throughout her high school years. “At school, we’ve never been tested on our English speaking and writing. Me and my friends wonder if we should register for private tutoring or something.”

Kim Ok-sun, who has a teenage daughter, is also concerned. “Because they will test English speaking ability, more children will be sent overseas for study,” Kim, 41, said. “I have no confidence in the school system, but it is expensive to send my daughter for more private tutoring.”

Gwak Hyeon-hee, 47, sent her children to schools in Canada in 2006. “After I learned about the new admission policy, I thought I did well by sending my kids to Canada,” she said. “When my son comes back in 2014, the new policy will help him enter university.”

Teachers agree with the idea of reform, but worry about the aftermath. “The emphasis on practical use of English is not bad,” Im Hyeong-geun, an English teacher at Hyundai High School, said yesterday. “But teachers will have a hard time with classes that focus on speaking English.”

According to a 2006 survey by the Korean Educational Development Institute, less than half the nation’s English teachers are capable of teaching more than one hour in English a week.

By Ser Myo-ja Staff Reporter/ Bae No-pil JoongAng Ilbo [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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