“If your English ability is good enough, you do not have to serve in the military.” On January 27, 2008 the 17th Presidential Transition Committee announced a new policy that stated if your English ability is good, you would not have to serve in the military and instead teach English to students as an assistant teacher. Following this, lots of netizens wrote letters criticizing the transition committee.
So on January 28, the transition committee clarified their statement saying that the article failed to specify their actual intent. They said that the newspaper published incorrect facts.
The Presidential Transition Committee is pouring many new policies. Among them, English is the most pronounced. All February, the Public English Education Strengthening(PEES) policy was criticized because the transition committee had the imprudence to make an issue of the policy. Currently, Korea is suffering from fatigue because of the English education problem.
English education policies have evolved to take on new aspects for each new government. However, the PEES policy of the Lee Myung-bak administration was especially discussed. Before the transition committee spoke of their many policies, they did not have their policies in order. So, people were upset; “Native lecturer employment”, “You who speak good English are exempt from military duties”, “English immersion education” and so on.
On the issue of the PEES policy of the Lee Myung-bak administration, Kevin Kelly, CEO of Heidrick and Struggles, a worldwide head-hunting enterprise, said “To improve Korea’s spoken English in the international age, there is no denying the fact that English is important. This is the time to change Korea’s English education.”
Then what is the biggest problem of Korea’s English education? The Hanyang Journal took a look into the reality and problems of Korea’s English education.
Korean Society’s Blind Faith in English
Korea has used English widely just like a second language. English is given a great deal of weight on being hired by and promoted within a large enterprise. English becomes the essential element in getting employment. Also expensive private English education and studying abroad at an early age are popular among Korean parents who want their children to receive the best English education.
On the Lee Myung-bak administration’s PEES policy, Lee Dong-gwan, the transition committee spokesman said, “Why do all Koreans have to be good at English?” and “What about all those people that are not able to be educated in English? Is it not possible that private education will become all the stronger?” He urged the transition committee to understand the gravity of the situation.
For Chosun-Ilbo, the problem about the PEES policy is not only the increase in private education but also distrust and pressure on students about their spoken English ability. During an interview with Chosun-Ilbo, Lee Sang-gyu, The National Korea director said, “As time goes by, Korean language’s resolution will be deprived.”
The Criticism of Public English Education
On January 31, 2008 president Lee Myung-bak said, “I realized when I was abroad for business trips, there is a great
gap between the rich and the poor according to a person’s command of English,” and emphasized that, “In the non-English speaking world, the nations that speak English well are better off than those that can not. If the public education takes charge of English to allow people to speak English well, I desire to narrow the gap between the
wealthy and the poor.” He referred to the necessity of the PEES policy.
The Lee Myung-bak administration announced the PEES policy in order to strengthen the nation’s international competitiveness and to solve the strong wind of studying abroad at an early age and the education gap. In spite of the good intent of the policy, the administration’s policy laid themselves open to public criticism about the necessity of the English education policy because of immoderate selfishness of the government.
However, English education has been an important policy matter since the last administration. For example, English Towns were built and there were Free After School English Education For Low-Income Families and so on. As opposed to this present administration, the last administration’s policy was not very controversial.
Disputing the Lee Myung-bak administration’s policy, Kim Il-kon, a professor in the Department of English Language and Literature, said, “The transition committee does not fit in with reality; the transition committee’s one-sided approach, an impossible policy enforcement not indicating the root cause, a logical leap about students’ ability, teacher training, provided teaching materials to teach English, and so on.” And he said, “The question was posed when the present government’s one-sided policy.”
English Education’s Necessity in Korea
Now, the point of the transition committee’s public English education idea is strengthening English sufficiently within
public education curriculums to be able to do away with private ones.
However, there are upset voices heard from near and afar about the necessity of reforming the educational system. But if the government tries to carry to students and their parents conviction about English education and to trust people preparing enough time and conditions for teachers and school equipment, they win the sympathy of the people about public English education completion.
Actually, on January 30, 2008 in a survey by The Herald Media and The KM Research Institute on public English education revitalizing plan in which 900 college students participated, 48.9 percent approved and 37.2 percent were opposed.
Han Hye-jung, an English teacher at The Pagoda Academy, said “Presently, Korea’s English education has been problematic. Public school English education could not cope with the new rapidly changing social demand and its education conditions were not ready, for example, to deal with the shortage of practical English teachers.”
She also said, “If a certain English education plan solving problems like ensuring teachers who teach all necessary
English education system comes out, I am for it.”
English Education, is it Alright?
Nowadays, Korea has overcome the way of thinking that you must speak English well to be a member of the elite,
respecting American culture, and all people must speak English well. So at this point, the government’s policy uses a point of view. In that case, following the Lee Myung-bak administration’s intent, is there any relation directly between nation’s English proficiency and international competitiveness?
For instance, the Philippines use English as an official language along with Tagalog ones, but they are not well off economically. On the contrary, Japan is not good at English, but they dominate the financial world in Asia. It is necessary to verify the Lee Myung-bak administration’s assumption that if people in a nation will be good at English, the nation will be a powerful country.
Kim Il-kon said, “I take a positive stance on the public English education policy because up to date, most of public education cannot possibly have any practical value, so people depend on private-education, but now, they say that public education will take charge of English education.” He also said, “However, before their desire, the Lee Myung-bak administration should put a curb on their desires and decide on the next administration’s future course. Also they have a long-term point of view. Do not hurry and realize their English education policy.”
France, having great pride of their own mother tongue, is greatly strengthening their public English education. In that sense, English has become very important in terms of a nation’s international competitiveness. The Lee Myung-bak administration’s aim that English takes up politics is very good. But public English education announced by the transition committee has a lot of problems. The nation puts their hopes on the government to lead English education as a certain and efficient education policy of public English education plan.