Korea: Funding of English Language Education

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Tue Aug 29 13:35:26 UTC 2006

Forwarded from edling-list

  Funding of English Language Education

By Elton LaClare

In the modern era, interaction between people of different national and
linguistic backgrounds has become a daily necessity. So vital is the role
of communication in todays world that any society that surrenders its
voice in the global discourse does so at the risk of its own extinction.
The future development of Korea (along with virtually every other country
outside a very elite few) depends on its ability to cope with the
increasingly complex logistics of globalization. For better or worse this
entails (among other things) being able to communicate in English.

In recognition of this need, the government, industry and citizens of
Korea have expended formidable resources on English language education in
its many forms and guises. Recently this investment is said to have
reached the unprecedented figure of 10 trillion won per annum, an immense
amount even for the worlds tenth largest economy. However, most Koreans
are dismayed to discover that, despite such efforts, the country continues
to languish behind most other nations in terms of average TOEFL test
scores. While this may be disappointing, there are a number of things to
consider. Most significantly, the test score average is distorted by the
sheer number of Koreans who, in an effort to bolster their job prospects,
attempt the test each year.

Although China ranks much higher in terms of results, as a percentage far
fewer Chinese students decide to take a TOEFL exam in the first place. Of
course, it is admirable that Koreans are so dogged in their pursuit of
higher qualifications, but herein lies one of the main problems of English
language education in Korea. It never has been, nor will it ever be,
necessary for every citizen of a country to speak a foreign tongue. What
society really requires is a core of well-trained, competent professionals
who have achieved true communicative proficiency. However, in Korea an
entirely different situation exists. Instead of a relatively small group
with practical language skills, we see vast numbers with dubious
qualifications and no actual communicative ability.

Much of what is spent on English education each year is derived from the
incomes of private citizens, and no doubt most families do their utmost to
prepare their children for the extremely competitive study and work
environments that exist in the country. Whether or not their money is well
spent is a matter of some debate. It is easier to find fault with the
efforts of the government to make a positive contribution. Consider, for
example, the decision to support hugely wasteful English Village programs
that will never elevate students beyond the level of survival English.

For the cost of a single English Village (such as the one recently
launched in Paju) the government could have established several regional
centers of excellence with modern facilities and a qualified staff of
Korean and native-speaking instructors. The purpose of such schools would
be to address the areas in which traditional education has been seen to
falter, namely written and verbal communication. The spread of English
throughout the world can be explained by the fact that it serves a variety
of crucially important uses. However, the true number of English speakers
required to meet the needs of Koreas rapidly growing economy have been
greatly exaggerated. Both government and industry have been complicit in
creating a false demand for language skills. The result has been that
precious financial and human resources have been diluted to the extent
that a truly effectual English education is extremely hard to come by.

The writer teaches English at Chosun University in the southwestern city
of Kwangju.



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