Korean Presidential Transition team firm on English changes in South Korea

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January 26, 2008

In response to widespread skepticism over the recent announcement that fluent English speakers will teach high school English classes by 2010, the president-elect’s transition team said yesterday that the plan will work out just fine.

“We respect the criticism of our plan to change the public education of English,” said Lee Dong-kwan, the spokesman for the transition team working for the incoming Lee Myung-bak administration. “But our goal is to get rid of ‘goose daddies,’ and unless we settle the problems in public education we can’t do anything about private education.”

Goose daddy is a Korean term for lonely salarymen whose families live overseas so that their children can learn English in order to prepare for university. The phenomenon has become a major social issue as English-language learning has become a passion that the public education system cannot satisfy.

Lee Kyung-sook, the chairwoman of the transition team, said she “did not want to see any increase in ‘goose daddies’ and family separations just for the sake of learning English.

“We have to change the structure of the English education we have now so that Koreans will no longer be afraid to face a foreigner who speaks English,” she said. “We are ready to make an enormous investment.”

Chairwoman Lee said the nation needs to spend some of the money being funneled into private education like tutors and overseas learning to make public education work.

But how will local teachers speak enough English to use the language effectively in just two years?

The transition team says it is considering a licensing program similar to the international Tesol standard, or the Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages. The requirement would be an incentive for teachers to improve their English ability.

“If you look at reality, it is very hard for teachers to speak in English in just two years,” said Kim Seung-tae, a high school English teacher in South Chungcheong who said many older teachers are used to teaching English grammar in Korean. “I think it should be the English teachers who get private tutoring first.”

This situation is just “very abnormal,” Lee Joo-ho, a member of the transition team’s education committee, said of the way English is taught here. “It may be hard and cost a lot but this change is needed.”
President-elect Lee told a group of school principals yesterday that his English policy is not something he considered lightly. “I want to create a system so that our children will be able to go to college without using English tutors or studying abroad at an early age,” said Lee.

By Lee Min-a Staff Reporter [mina@joongang.co.kr]

Original: http://joongangdaily.joins.com/article/view.asp?aid=2885576

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