January 24, 2008
|Korea’s already-thriving private English education market is showing further signs of a boom. The market-wide buzz came after the power transition team for the upcoming administration recently announced a plan to replace the current English test in the national college entrance exam with a new form of English proficiency test.
The news has private English schools licking their lips as they anticipate increased enrollment of students desperate to enhance their practical English skills.
The new English proficiency test, in a way, is heading in the right direction given that the fundamental purpose of foreign language education lies in authentic communication using the target language.
But the question here is whether schools can prepare students for the new English proficiency test. The answer will probably be “No.” School teachers are already skeptical. They say they are not ready to teach students for this test, which is why the cram school industry is celebrating. Students who cannot get the level of English education they need for the new test at school will soon be knocking at the cram schools’ doors.
The power transition committee may say the decision was made overnight with no concern about reality. One of the major promises of President-elect Lee Myung-bak is “proper English skills education in the public education system.” That should be interpreted as students should be able to speak English by the time they finish high school.
One of ways to achieve this goal is to conduct some high school courses in English. But we need to seriously consider the feasibility of such an ambitious plan.
Among 32,000 English teachers at local elementary, junior high and senior high schools, 49.8 percent said they can conduct an entire class in English for at least one hour a week. In reality, most of that one hour will be spent reading or making basic conversation. Those who can’t keep up will be left behind.
The success of English education can be achieved only by creating a desirable education model. Training teachers is the most urgent issue here.
We applaud the efforts of several provincial education office for adopting an English proficiency level certification system for schoolteachers or building regional English training centers for schooling teachers.
The government should create policies that are feasible at local schools and that schoolteachers and students can prepare for. The administration should not be hasty or they might further undermine our education system.