[EDLING:121] Korea: TOEFL Crisis

Francis M Hult fmhult at DOLPHIN.UPENN.EDU
Thu May 17 15:37:12 UTC 2007

Via lgpolicy...

> May 17, 2007
> South Koreans Jostle to Take an English Test
> SEOUL, South Korea, May 16 Thailand has its attractions for foreign
> visitors: its famed temples, seaside resorts, tom yum soup. But what drew
> Oh Sun-yee to Bangkok recently for a three-day stay was something
> considerably less recreational. Like an increasing number of South
> Koreans, Ms. Oh went to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or
> Toefl. It would have been easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a
> needle than to sit for the Toefl in Korea, said Ms. Oh, 31, who spent two
> days cramming for the test in her Bangkok hotel room, took it on the third
> day and then caught the six-hour red-eye flight back to Seoul.
> Forget the North Korean nuclear crisis. What has many South Koreans in an
> uproar these days is the Toefl crisis. The Educational Testing Service,
> which administers the test, reduced the number of slots for test-takers.
> So with demand for the test far outstripping the available slots, and with
> scalpers demanding exorbitant prices, desperate South Koreans have been
> hunting for possible test sites from Japan to Southeast Asia, and even
> Australia. Travel agencies have begun offering Toefl tours that include
> test preparation courses, a guaranteed test slot and sometimes even a bit
> of tourism on the side. One test preparation school estimates that about
> 500 Koreans a month all told travel to other countries to take the test.
> South Koreans make up one of the largest groups of foreign students in the
> United States about 93,000 students in 2006, according to the United
> States immigration authorities. American colleges and graduate schools
> typically require foreign students to submit Toefl scores with their
> applications. So it is hardly surprising that the demand for opportunities
> to take the test is high. But in recent years, Toefl scores have also
> become a necessity for many South Koreans with no intention of leaving the
> country. Many people, from teenagers applying to selective secondary
> schools to adults applying for jobs even jobs with no obvious need for
> fluency in English must submit Toefl scores. Dozens of universities
> require a Toefl score for graduation.  Government offices and
> quasi-governmental agencies city councils, jails, the Korea Racing
> Association ask applicants for their scores.
> I think English ability is a basic criterion now, said Kim Jae-yoon, the
> human resources director of Chongga Kimchi, a major producer of the
> traditional Korean dish. The company recently hired an accountant and a
> manager after factoring in their Toefl results. The number of people
> taking the test in South Korea jumped to about 130,000 in 2006, from
> 50,311 in 2001, according to the Educational Testing Service, based in
> Princeton, N.J. The crisis erupted last year, when the company changed
> testing methods. In September, partly in an effort to tighten security and
> discourage cheating, the testing service switched to a new Internet-based
> test that would be given simultaneously throughout the region, about four
> times a month, and then discarded. Previously, the test was given as many
> as 50 times a month, as local demand warranted, from a bank of questions.
> But the abrupt reduction in the number of times the test would be offered
> meant that, from September to December 2006, they were prepared to process
> only about 20,000 tests in South Korea. The testing service had initially
> expected that it would be able to allocate 64,000 test slots for South
> Korea in all of 2007. This was so far below demand that, in April, a
> senior vice president of the testing services international division, Paul
> Ramsey, told reporters in Seoul that an additional 70,000 slots would be
> created for South Korea in 2007. But it is unclear whether even that will
> be enough, with some private cram schools anticipating a demand of 200,000
> this year. As an indication of the fierce competition for the available
> slots, the testing services Web site recorded 32 million hits in one day
> from South Korea when it opened online registration for the July test;
> available seats were gobbled up within moments, according to the testing
> service.
> It is this disparity between supply and demand that sends so many South
> Koreans abroad. Ms. Oh, who wants to study marketing at an American
> graduate school, arranged her Toefl trip to Bangkok on her own. But travel
> agencies offer two- to three-day Toefl tours to other Asian locations,
> including Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Philippines. The packages typically
> include registration, crash courses and Korean breakfasts for those
> unwilling to risk indigestion on the important day.
> You don't know when you'll ever be able to sign up for the test in Korea,
> and if you go overseas, you can also enjoy some travel! says an
> advertisement for an agency called English-Up. Agencies say that these
> tours, which typically cost about $850 to $1,000, airfare included, are
> almost fully booked for the next few months. For those who do not want to
> leave the country, trying to register for Toefl can be like playing the
> lottery. Two days after the July test was announced, the testing service
> said registration was open in all locations except South Korea. But later,
> without notice, it reopened registration for the July tests four times in
> South Korea as more seats became available. It also offered a
> one-time-only paper-based test for 8,000 people.
> Some South Koreans registered by clicking away frantically at their
> computers for days on end. Others hired people to register for them. Kim
> Hye-sook, 29, said she paid a student $100 to secure a seat. Since I am
> working, I cant click on the computer all day, said Ms. Kim, who wants to
> study public health in the United States and will take the paper-based
> test in Seoul on June 3. The shortage of seats has attracted scalpers who
> register for the test and then resell the slots for far more than the $170
> registration fee. Stories of would-be test-takers cheated out of their
> money are common.
> In April, Mr. Ramsey announced several other measures to help alleviate
> the problems, including the opening of a testing service office and the
> creation of a Korean-language page on its Web site. The testing service
> also said it would provide at least 72 hours notice before the test
> registration, so South Koreans would not have to sit in front of their
> monitors day after day. The Toefl crisis has prompted calls for South
> Korea to establish its own national English proficiency test. We need a
> test run by this country, said Sohn Jung-a, 39, the mother of a
> ninth-grade girl who registered for the June 3 test in hopes of entering a
> selective secondary school. I don't know why my daughter has to take the
> Toefl, Ms. Sohn said. She's probably not mature enough to understand the
> questions made for older students going to the United States. Still, if
> her daughter does not score well in June, Ms. Sohn said, she plans to send
> her to the Philippines for a second try.
> http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/17/world/asia/17korea.html

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