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English Education Reform Needs Gradual Change

Posted January. 30, 2008 09:45,   


The presidential transition committee’s announcement that it has no plan to introduce an English Immersion education system has not stopped the debate over English education reform. Many argue that to strengthen public English education, reform should be carried out gradually through systematic preparation including securing enough teachers.

Urgently required for quality English education are to secure a sufficient pool of teachers who can conduct classes in English, to develop English textbooks focusing on speaking and listening, and to create reliable English test systems at schools and on the national level.

Out of 14,701 high school English teachers polled last year, 60.3 percent responded that they can teach classes in English for more than an hour a week and 28.4 percent said they have already taught their classes in English, according to the Education Ministry yesterday.

Yet it is impossible to conduct English Immersion education using these teachers only. When even university professors holding overseas degrees have difficulty giving lectures in English, it is difficult to be convinced that teachers are better positioned.

Among 33,162 English teachers at elementary, middle and high schools, only 952, or 6.4 percent, received further English training over the past five years.

Thus, some argue that it is necessary to recruit a new generation of teachers with higher English skills after incumbent teachers retire, and also utilize those who can conduct classes in English even though they don’t have a teacher qualification.

The transition committee is considering a proposal which gives wider chances to those with English teaching qualifications such as TESOL and Korean nationals abroad to become English teachers.

Kwon Oryang, professor of English Education at Seoul National University, said, “Priority is to estimate the number of teachers who can teach in English.” “Rather than emphasizing teachers’ pronunciation and grammatical ability, it is important to understand English as a means of communication,” he added.

English education reform requires redesigning English education from elementary to high schools and revising English textbooks.

Currently each chapter of an English textbook comprises speaking, listening, reading and writing, but only two pages are devoted to speaking, and students just listen to a tape and repeat after it as part of their English speaking training.

Developing speaking-oriented English textbooks should precede strengthening English education focusing on speaking and listening.

Yang Seong-jin, chief English teacher at Jamsil High School in Seoul, said, “For three years, we`ve been receiving an instruction from the school district that encourages teaching in English, but few schools follow it. It is urgent to develop speaking and listening-oriented textbooks and guidebooks.”

If students are required to have too higher English speaking skills, this is likely to lead to more private English education including sending children overseas, or to English kindergartens.

Thus, a desirable level of school and national English tests should evaluate students’ ability to communicate in English.

Elementary English education, which starts from third graders, will expand to younger students. This should come in line with developing standard levels of speaking and listening ability for different age groups, and English classes and tests designed for students at different levels.

Shim Ok-ryeong, vice-principal of Younghoon Elementary school which has been conducting English immersion education for 10 years, said, “We don’t have any particular speaking test. We observe students in class discussions and daily conversations as to whether their speaking skills have reached the target level of their grades. If you focus too much on tests, private education is bound to increase.”

Yang Jeong-ho, professor of Education at SungKyunKwan University, said, “If school English test evaluates students’ daily conversational capabilities through English diary keeping and class discussions, and evaluate them with a pass and fail system of a target level set according to their grades, private education is unlikely to increase.”