[WIDE INTERVIEW]Eyeing a future without English villages

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[WIDE INTERVIEW]Eyeing a future without English villages

Jeffrey Jones, executive director of the Paju English village in Gyeonggi province, has a vision you may find surprising: the eventual closure of all English villages.
In an interview with the JoongAng Daily to mark the official opening of the village, Mr. Jones, the former president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea, outlined his vision for English language education in Korea, saying that at some stage, the functions of English Villages must be transferred to regular schools in order for Korea to become globally competitive.

Q. What exactly do you teach at Paju?
A. English is only the medium of teaching. In a sense, the Gyeonggi English villages are more about molding global Koreans and creating global leaders ― we teach leadership, social responsibility, how to get along with other cultures...

Who are the “students” at this English Village?
It’s for the most part targeted at younger children. There is a six-day program exclusively for 8th graders, a one-day program for kindergarten and pre-schoolers, and weekend programs for families.

Will going to Paju be better than going abroad?
Going to Paju is not better than going to Los Angeles, Sydney or London. However, what makes it unique is that we tried to duplicate an atmosphere of going overseas so psychologically, people feel as if they have left Korea. Secondly, the software is tailored to the needs of Korean students. Language programs offered abroad don’t have knowledge of the problems Koreans have in learning English.

Could you describe the curriculum in more detail?
When children come to our village, they have to choose from one of four majors: science, drama, art and broadcasting. Somebody who decides to do a major in science, for example, will be given classes in robotics, environment and chemistry. They can build robots powered by solar batteries. Those that choose broadcasting can write a TV drama or do news programs.

So I expect the teachers will not be language teachers?
We do have ESL experts, but the people are experts in various fields ― we have PhDs in psychology, masters in drama, art, science and so forth. We don’t want just English teachers. Our tram driver, for instance, has a PhD in linguistics.

How did you manage to attract such good teachers here?
Korea is a big draw now. Wages are high, the lifestyle is good and safe. We have 160 native English-speaking teachers. We provide housing, we feed them, and pay them about $30,000 to $36,000 a year.

The village looks European ―will the teachers have English or American accents?
We have people from around the world. The reason this is better is that English is about global communication, not about having the perfect accent. Koreans are too self-conscious about grammar and pronunciation.
But one week at this “camp” won’t help that, will it?
What happens in one week ―and we have surveys that show this has happened ― is that students’ fear of speaking in English goes away and they have confidence that “I can do it.” That in itself is probably the most important thing we can do.
We also destroy the barrier of fear of foreigners. Students also see [that English] opens up a wide range of possibilities and frees them from the restrictions of Korea.

But when they go back to school, they’ll go back to education based on test-taking.
That’s going to change over time. There’s a new recognition in the way we have to teach English. In the long term, we hope to have [this sentiment] shifted into the schools. If you tell this now to the Education Ministry, they won’t understand. [But] if schools take over that function, we won’t need English villages. To be competitive, we have to learn English. By learning subjects through English, we can be like the Belgians or the Dutch ― equally proficient in English and our native tongue. It’s appropriate that we give all kids that advantage.

Won’t Korean teachers feel that their jobs are threatened by foreigners?
We will train Korean teachers. There are thousands of English teachers who speak very good English and who are quite good at their job. We have to expand opportunities for them. We’re not suggesting that we should replace existing teachers, but as time goes by, let’s replace them with teachers who speak English. We can create a nation that is bilingual, ensuring prosperity.

Were there any problems in getting the English Village up and running?
We had two problems. One was difficulty in the beginning getting visas, since English teachers must come from a native English-speaking country. We also had a problem with politicians, since this is funded by Gyeonggi province. Some of the politicians questioned whether we shouldn’t have people who look like Westerners. However, students can understand that you don’t have to be Caucasian or Western-looking to communicate in English.

You’re a businessman ― how did you become involved in education and do you think you’re qualified for the position?
I’m a lawyer by profession but I recognized very early on that the minimal success I’ve been able to achieve was through education.
Today, we are sending hundreds of thousands of children outside of Korea. Families are being split, which causes social problems. Not all children who go abroad succeed.
Five years ago, I began a plan of my own to build schools in Korea where we can teach in English and Korean to give kids that advantage. As part of that planning process, it just so happened that Governor Sohn Hak-gyu called me and asked for help three years ago.

How has the response been to Paju so far?
Three months of reservations were closed in just five minutes. Our servers permit 100,000 hits at any moment and we crashed in the first 30 minutes.

by Wohn Dong-hee
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