[Outlook]An Indian passage to EnglishThe New York Times recently ran a story about Kenneth Tham, a high school student in California. The American boy is being tutored by an instructor living in India via the Internet. They see each other through a Webcam and speak through a headset; if Kenneth asks a question, the instructor writes down an explanation on a message board.
Kenneth is satisfied with his tutor because his grades have improved more than when he attended a private institute.
There is also another reason he should be happy: It costs less.
Kenneth receives one-on-one instruction for 45 minutes a day, and the fee is only $100 per month. At the private institute he attended, he shared a class with 10 other students, and it cost $500.
When the presidential transition team announced a plan to have all subjects in high schools across Korea taught in English starting in 2010, I was reminded of Kenneth’s story. I thought we could get help from Indian instructors as well.
The transition team’s plan is very ambitious ― to the point of sounding unreasonable. Many measures are being discussed, including exempting young men, whose English is good enough to teach high school students, from military service. But still, it seems impossible to mobilize enough English-speaking teachers for high schools across the country in just two years.
But if we change our perspective a little, we get a different idea. We can’t delay the plan just because it is difficult to achieve. We can’t keep saying that it is impossible because we don’t have enough people to teach all subjects in English.
If Chung Ju-yung, the founder of Hyundai, were alive, he would shout, “Have you tried?”
As the Times article says, Kenneth’s case is no longer particularly unusual. TutorVista, the remote tutoring service Web site that Kenneth uses, has gathered more than 10,000 members in the United States alone in just two years.
Students can be tutored in math, science and English. There are also preparation classes for the Toefl and SAT tests.
Even American students are learning English from Indian tutors. That means India has many talented tutors, even in English.
TutorVista has 1,200 Indian instructors and all of them have master’s degrees or higher in their subjects and have passed qualification tests.
We can solve our English education problems by importing these talented human resources.
Their biggest advantage is the low fees that they charge. In India, the average initial monthly salary for college graduates is between $500 and $1,500. Those who work for foreign or IT companies at which English is an absolute requirement earn $1,500 per month. This means we can hire elite Indian employees for that amount of money without a problem. It has also been proven that Indians excel in math and science. Therefore, they can teach math and science in English.
The vast Indian population also means we don’t need to worry about workforce supply. Among India’s population of 1.1 billion people, around 10 percent can communicate in English. Ten percent of those, more than 10 million people, speak English with a refined British accent.
Nagesh Rao Parthasarathi, the Indian ambassador to Korea, has confidently suggested we invite Indian English tutors in order for South Korea to advance further on the global stage, according to an article in the Jan. 2 issue of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Even though Indians speak English with an accent, he said, what matters most is the capability to understand and ask questions in English, and different accents are not a major problem.
He must be thinking of Korea’s 15 trillion won ($16 billion) English education market, but his idea can’t harm Koreans. We can solve two problems at the same time ― accessing a vast supply of talented English-speaking human resources at a low cost.
Of course, Indian tutors will not solve the entire issue at once, just like special measures exempting people with English skills from military service will not suddenly make the problem disappear. Indian tutors are just one solution among many.
Also, before inviting Indian teachers, we should give incentives to Korean teachers who make efforts to better their English by going abroad or attending private English classes on their own money.
We must also take our time. A plan to achieve a goal within a certain time limit always gives rise to side effects. We need to advance step by step. Just as it takes time to build a house, we must be careful in building our education system, which is the framework of our country.
We can say “It doesn’t work” later. We haven’t tried yet, have we?
*The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Hoon-beom