[Letter to the editor]‘Democratizing’ education
C. S. Lewis once said: “In my view there is a sense in which education ought to be democratic and another sense in which it ought not. It ought to be democratic in the sense of being available, without distinction of sex, color, class, race, or religion, to all who can ― and will ― diligently accept it. But once the young people are inside the school, there must be no attempt to establish a factitious egalitarianism between the idlers and dunces on the one hand and the clever and industrious on the other. A modern nation needs a very large class of genuinely educated people and it is the primary function of schools and universities to supply them. To lower standards or disguise inequalities is fatal.”
Having taught in Korea over 12 years, I have seen firsthand how schools and government rush to make Mr. Lewis a prophet. Now there is a plan to hire thousands more English teachers. To me, this is a waste of time and money. The real problem lies not with the teachers, neither in quantity nor quality.
The root problems lies with a system as described above. Having just taught a teacher-training session for Korean high school teachers, I know that there are many excellent teachers in Korea. Their frustration lies in being bound by policies that prevent them from being effective in the classroom.
It does not matter how good the teacher is; class sizes exceeding 50 students, grammar- intensive textbooks, expecting all students to conform to some level of English, regardless of actual learning and a plethora of other stated or unstated policies will result in poor acquisition of English.
In unit 1 of the current high school textbook, there were no fewer than 21 grammar constructs. I was told that at this level, the students had learned all of them. I disagree. I submit that the students had studied these structures, but had not learned them. There is no time to teach all that is required, learned or not; students continue to march to the drumbeat of a system that pays no heed to those that follow.
I feel empathy for the Korean teachers. In general, they are hardworking, passionate people doing their best for the students. They have the tools to do a good job but not the environment in which to work.
David Woelke, a college instructor in Busan
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