[LETTERS TO THE EDITOR]What English teachers know

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[LETTERS TO THE EDITOR]What English teachers know

Full marks to Kirsten Jerch and your editorial team for a long overdue article on Korea's state-run EPIK program which was established at taxpayers’ expense to improve Korean teachers' English language proficiency and teaching abilities in the classroom.
Such an extensive investigation into the EPIK Program and those like it is long overdue.
As every foreign teacher in Korea knows, the problems associated with teaching English in the country and the obstacles faced by mostly young, enthusiastic teachers from Europe and North America amount to a national scandal given the incredible sacrifices ordinary Koreans make to improve their sons’ and daughters’ proficiency in English.
Detailed commentary and extensive research made this article a joy to read.
Finally, a prominent newspaper and a capable journalistic team have given the issues proper coverage in a manner that went beyond the usual generalities.
The problems identified are, of course, not the private domain of the EPIK program but are pervasive in the Korean schools and universities I have worked for.
The real extent of the problems can be seen in the recent downturn in the Korean economy as Korea struggles to move from an economy reliant on manufacturing and export driven primary industries to a “value added” economy where a generation of capable and better-paid Korean technocrats should rightly be in a position to take advantage of their skills to make this great leap forward.
Without adequate English-language proficiency, how can Korea capitalize on this great opportunity?
India has shown how a highly skilled cadre of mostly young technocrats can take advantage of the huge amounts of outsourced work which has come its way in the last 10 years. This guarantees to lift a generation of relatively poor Indians into prosperity and a style of living where each such individual would support the livelihoods of four or five lesser skilled individuals. The implications are simply staggering.
A program that treated and paid people properly, where young teachers were not looked down upon for being young, or foreign, could succeed, with an inductive approach to learning, and an evaluation system which stressed oral competence and a more informal, smaller classroom.
Ultimately, mine is only one perspective, but having taught in Ireland, England, the United States, the Middle East and Korea at most levels, I do know what works and what does not work, and why.
Ultimately, the changes I suggest will occur when Korean managers, owners and professors (mostly men) are less concerned about their kibun, or feelings of pride, and more concerned about the students they teach.
Real results that can be achieved with patience, hard work and mutual respect whether for teacher, manager, parent or student.
Lao Tzu, Men Jah and No Jah would certainly approve of these very Confucian values.

by Martin Hurley
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