[Daewon Foreign Language High School]2 weeks of English cramming, free of charge
“It did because Israel killed more than 60 civilians,” a boy replied.
“Where? Anyone got the name of the city?” Mr. Rodgers asked again.
“Ga...,” “Qa...,” the students mumbled, until a girl finally asked, “Qana?”
“Great, let’s watch today’s news clip,” the teacher replied, and played the online CNN news clip.
Mr. Rodgers teaches “Current Affairs” in the two-week summer English camp for middle school students, run by Daewon Foreign Language High School. The program was launched last year; this year’s camp ends today.
The program was designed to foster children with linguistic abilities from an early age so they can learn English fluently, and to reduce class polarization in education by selecting smart students from relatively poor families. The program is completely free; Lee Won-hee, the chief director of Daewon Educational Foundation, has donated 1 billion won ($1.1 million) for the program. “It costs about 30 million won to run the two-week program, including the costs for tests, teacher paychecks and textbooks,” said Kang Sin-il, the school’s administration director. The teachers are from the foreign faculty of Daewon Foreign Language High School.
“This year, about 550 students from Seoul and Gyeonggi province applied for the program,” Mr. Kang said. The program is offered to only 60 students, 20 for each grade.
Students must take exams to prove not only their English ability but also their intellectual talents, such as creativity, contemplativeness and intelligence. “We don’t select students who only speak English well, we’re targeting gifted students who have a variety of talents,” said Mr. Kang.
The program starts at 8:30 a.m. and ends at 12:55 p.m., Monday to Saturday, and consists of five classes: English Writing, Speech & Debate, English Literature, Current Affairs and Introduction to History.
“I’m trying to offer students a unique experience that they can’t have other places, such as [private institutes],” said Justin Reznick, who teaches English writing. He is teaching at the camp for the second consecutive year.
Mr. Reznick said that in class, he emphasizes “writing to be read.”
“These days, everybody is a journalist, thanks to the development of technology, such as digital cameras and blogs,” Mr. Rodgers said. For that reason, he prefers teaching with news clips and newspapers. Every day in class, he shows students five major stories from that day’s newspapers.
“I usually use the images on the front page of each English newspaper, and we look over the headlines and the first few paragraphs of an article,” he said. In that way, students can learn both English and current issues, he said.
“I didn’t watch the news on TV or read newspapers before, so I’ve been ignorant of what’s going on in the world,” said Kim Seo-hyun, 15. “But because we’re studying five news stories everyday, I got interested in the world around me and have something to say when people talk about an issue I learned at school.” She added that the “Current Affairs” class is her favorite.
Mani Tadayon teaches the “Introduction to History” course. Because the program is short, he tries to focus on showing different perspectives. “When I was going to school, I remember history class was usually boring,” he said, “so I’m trying to make the class interesting.”
To do so, he uses comic books on Herodotus, the “father of history,” and Sima Qian, the “father of Chinese historiography,” for class material. In the class, students don’t need to memorize a slew of facts, which Rhyu Pyeong-woo, 13, says is the best thing about it. Pyeong-woo said that the visual materials such as games on historic issues and videos that depict the New Stone Age and cultures in China and South America also make him curious about history.
The question is whether students can learn much in only two weeks.
Mr. Reznick admitted that the 10 hours for each class is not very much. But it’s better than nothing, he said, and if the program opens doors for the students, it could be more than enough. “Two weeks to these gifted kids is like a month to average kids,” said Michael Yu, who teaches “Speech & Debate.”
Many students also said that they learned something from the program, although they wished it had been longer.
“I think this program is better than other [academies], because they usually teach English grammar and how to read, but here we learn current affairs and history in English. It improved my English and nourished my thinking,” said Shin Jun-su, one of about 10 returning students.
“The two-week period is too short,” said Rhyu Ja-in, 15. “In the English Literature class, we’re reading ‘The Great Gatsby,’ but I don’t think we can complete the book during the time. Also, it’s a pity that we couldn’t learn any poems because of the short time.” She added that the English writing class is her favorite and that she wants to be a novelist.
Thirteen out of 15 applicants who attended last year’s camp and applied for the high school this year were admitted. When asked if the students who take the summer camp are favored for acceptance to the high school, Mr. Kang replied with a firm no. “We had originally planned to do so, but the government wouldn’t allow us to,” he explained.
by Park Sung-ha