Fowarded from [EDLING:1259] Children Driven to Learn English

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Feb 20 21:25:09 UTC 2006

>>From 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

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 said. ``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

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 education.

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 restrictions. 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

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