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Gap Widens Between Those With Access to English Tutoring and Those Without

Gap Widens Between Those With Access to English Tutoring and Those Without

Posted October. 03, 2005 03:15,   


Some are voicing concerns that the so-called “English Divide” is aggravating class divisions in Korean society. The “English Divide” refers to social status and wealth being passed on through the English education investment in some children, and the alienation from that investment in others.

“I am heartbroken when I look at my students. Only a couple of students in each class are learning English with tutorial materials,” said Lee Gwang-no, a Simhak Elementary School teacher in Paju City, Gyeonggi Province.

On the other hand, a sign which reads: “Home visits, one-on-one dialogue with an English native speaker, similar to studying abroad” hangs at every entrance of the “H” apartment complex in Jamwon-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul. They are “tutor-style” English teaching advertisements which are rapidly prevailing around the Gangnam area in Seoul. A native speaker makes a home visit to teach English to one student. The teaching fee for this ranges from 30,000-50,000 won to a maximum of 200,000 won per hour.

Even in English education, the phenomenon of the rich growing richer and the poor growing poorer is becoming more acute.

According to recent National Assembly inspection materials presented by the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development, 7,481 students from elementary, junior high and high school went abroad to learn English for more than 30 days during summer vacation this year. Among them, students living in Seoul made up 2,640, or 35.3 percent of total. In particular, the number of students living in Gangnam-gu and Seocho-gu, Seoul combined are 796, which is twice as many as the 372 living in Gwangju and north and south of Jeolla provinces combined.

Kong Byeong-ho, the author of a best seller titled: "South Korea, 10 Years Later," pointed out that while English is directly linked to national competitiveness, it contributes to a social status being passed on and an inequality structure being strengthened internally. English education in Korea is almost totally left alone as a personal responsibility.

The amount of money Koreans spent on English education last year is astronomical. According to recent estimates from the Bank of Korea, expenditures on studying abroad, mainly in English-speaking countries such as the U.S. and Canada, amount to about 7.38 trillion won (including the living expenses of accompanying family members), and the money spent on taking the TOEIC and TOEFL tests amounts to about 68.4 billion won. The industry estimates that the private education market, such as English institutes for children, amounts to four to five trillion won.

The expenses of studying abroad during the month of August this year hit a monthly record high $410 million (about 426.4 billion won). Choi Chun-ok, a school commissioner of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, said that while English native teachers are first being sent to areas which lag behind in terms of education environment in order to narrow the “English Divide,” there are lots of difficulties in assisting more schools with native speaker education resources because a vast amount of budget money is needed.