[EDLING:1259] Children Driven to Learn English

Francis M. Hult fmhult at DOLPHIN.UPENN.EDU
Mon Feb 20 15:48:13 UTC 2006

The Korea Times

Children Driven to Learn English


By Chung Ah-young
Staff Reporter
Koreans ranging from children to adults have been preoccupied with English 
while attending schools or searching for a good job after graduation.

Amid such a frenzy, an increasing number of Korean children are trying hard to 
earn a good score on English proficiency tests. 

English proficiency tests are gaining popularity among elementary school 
children as schools use the test scores as the standards to provide level-
differentiated classes for children¡¯s English education.
Elementary schools will provide English classes to first graders this fall on 
a trial basis.

It is part of the efforts by the Ministry of Education and Human Resources 
Development to put the brakes on accelerating costs for private tutoring for 
early English education. 

However, Korean children are spending more time and money in studying English 
to get good scores on the tests.

The English proficiency tests targeting children include Primary English Level 
Test (PELT), TOEIC Bridge, Junior English Test (JET), and the Junior General 
Test of English Language Proficiency (JR G-TELP).

According to statistics, the number of elementary school children who took one 
of the four major English proficiency tests has been sharply rising from 
380,000 in 2004 to 460,000 last year.

This year, more than 600,000 elementary kids are expected to take the tests.

Amid the English test boom among children, the nation¡¯s English education 
providers are vying to create new kinds of English proficiency tests.

The Test of the Skills in the English Language (TOSEL) and the Spoken English 
Proficiency Test (SEPT Jr) have been recently developed by the nation¡¯s 
English education providers.

Private English cram schools are operating the classes, which are designed to 
prepare students for the tests.

Kim Young-hoon, 34, an instructor working at a language institute in southern 
Seoul, said that a soaring popularity for the English proficiency tests is 
attributed to some top-notch private high schools, which encourage students to 
take the tests because they adopt their scores to arrange students¡¯ classes 
by their levels.

He said, however, such a boom for the English tests is highly likely to 
backfire by discouraging the interests of vulnerable children due to stress.

``Most of my students are preparing for the tests in order to enter 
prestigious high schools specializing in foreign language and science. The 
specialized high schools require a certain level on the English proficiency 
scores in their admission procedures,¡¯¡¯ he told the Korea Times.

He said that no Korean student can be free from the English education frenzy.

But as more and more specialized high schools and even universities continue 
to boost the English tests as parts of their admission requirements, it is 
inevitable for Korean parents to become more obsessed with their children¡¯s 
test scores.

``It is very undesirable for very little children who are just beginning to 
study English because most students who fail to catch up with others easily 
feel frustrated when they are arranged in a level-differentiated class,¡¯¡¯ he 

``For example, a fifth grader of an elementary school took the English class 
for sixth graders at my language institute. Except for few outperforming 
students in English, I worry that just ordinary students might lose their 
confidence and interest in English from the start in this test scores-oriented 
educational situation,¡¯¡¯ he added.

Even worse, the newly developed English proficiency tests aimed at children do 
not have approvals from educational authorities. 

Lee Wan-ki, professor of the English educational department at Seoul National 
University said that the educational authorities¡¯ policy designed to reduce 
private tutoring costs will not produce successful results as it puts more 
burdens both on children and parents.

In line with such a zeal for English, many parents are sending their children 
to English-speaking kindergartens or moving them from ordinary preschools to 
English-only kindergartens.

A five-year-old girl, who used to go to just an ordinary kindergarten, has 
been recently transferred to an English kindergarten.

Her mother has decided to make her learn English as early as possible before 
entering an elementary school.

She said that her daughter should be prepared for English as the schools are 
to teach English for even first graders.

Amid such a fad, more and more Korean children are going abroad to study 
alone, mainly for English.

The number of Korean students studying abroad has shot up more than 10-fold 
over the past six years due to an increasing demand for early English 

According to the recent report, the number of students going overseas swelled 
to 16,446 in 2004 from 1,562 in 1998. 

A soaring number of elementary school students have gone abroad during the six-
year period amid the boom in early English education with less legal 

The number of elementary students studying overseas has snowballed from 212 in 
1998 to 6,276 in 2004, marking a 30-fold rise. 

The sharp rise is a reflection of a soaring demand for early English learning.

The number of middle school students increased from 473 to 5,568 over the same 
period, while that of high school students jumped from 877 to 4,602. 

chungay at koreatimes.co.kr 

02-19-2006 18:29


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