‘English’ city lies at heart of Jeju’s development plans

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‘English’ city lies at heart of Jeju’s development plans

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An artist’s impression of the English Education City at Seogwipo, Jeju Island. Provided by Jeju Free International City Development Center.

First there were English villages where Korean students could go to practice their language skills.

Now there are plans to build an entire city where the lingua franca, including the medium of instruction, will be English.

It’s a highly ambitious plan and one fraught with challenges, especially given the uncertainty of the global economy.

But, if it works, the English Education City on Jeju Island could transform the island into an education hub.

The Jeju Free International City Development Center is developing the city, which will be built near Seogwipo on Jeju’s southern coast at a cost of 1.4 trillion won ($1.17 billion), to attract elementary to high school students from overseas and give Korean parents who are looking to send their children abroad for further education another option.

According to JDC, the goal is “to develop English Education City into a global city renowned for English education.”

The school’s plan is part of a much wider initiative to attract direct foreign investment into Jeju.

In addition to the English Education City, JDC is planning to create a Jeju Science Park, resort-style residential complexes, a history theme park at Seogwipo and a health-care town.

JDC will start by building a private elementary school, a private middle school and a public high school by 2011. Nine more schools will be opened by 2015.

These are early days and JDC is currently in the process of visiting and holding talks with a range of private institutions in the United States, Canada and England as well as domestic schools.

JDC hopes to collaborate with known international schools in building the city in Jeju.

“I can’t say the specific names of all the schools interested at this point but several schools including [in the U.S.] Phillips Academy, Andover; Phillips Exeter Academy, Milton Academy and others are showing interest. Officials at the schools like the idea and we’re currently in the process of holding talks,” said JDC’s Kim Seung-kwan.

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A street sign indicating the site of the English Education City. [JoongAng Ilbo]

“We’re asking the schools to allow us to use their names for the new institutions, though many are reluctant at this point. For example, New Songdo International City reached an agreement with Milton Academy but failed to reach an agreement on the name,” said Kim.

Although no definite plans have been agreed upon with any schools at this point, Kim said they need to reach an agreement by sometime early next year in order to proceed with marketing and the admissions process for the targeted 2011 opening date.

“The curriculum and quality of the teachers are the most important factors,” said Lee Mi-jung of the English education department at Seoul National University of Education. “In terms of English education in Korea, there are other viable options available. However, each option has its shortcomings. Cost, accessibility and quality of education are just some of the problems.”

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To create an English-speaking environment, JDC has some interesting plans. “We hope to attract seniors from English-speaking countries to live on Jeju Island either for the short term or long term. They can do a variety of jobs around the English Town,” said Kim of JDC.

As for the cost, Kim said it is difficult to state a definite figure at this point since no contractual agreements have been reached with any of the prospective schools. Admissions and costs will be determined at a later date.

“If a school provides higher level service, the cost of tuition can increase,” said Kim.

According to JDC, the tuition fees should be somewhere about what is charged at some of the well-known private institutions in Korea.

Although there are many international schools in Korea, Kim explained JDC will offer something different. “While international schools accept international students or Koreans who have lived abroad, JDC schools will accept both domestic and international students. Furthermore, while current international schools do not offer domestically recognized high school diplomas, JDC schools will offer both Korean high school diplomas and internationally recognized certificates,” said Kim.

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In addition, the project will include an adult education program borrowed from the Chautauqua Institution in New York, various cultural complexes and post-secondary education systems borrowed from those in Singapore, Qatar and Dubai. The idea is to offer distinct programs from various universities on one campus.

Although still in the initial phase, the ideas proposed for the English Education City are viewed positively by an English education researcher at the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.

“The English Education City and what has been proposed up to this point as well as the foreign and domestic elements sound good.”

A researcher at the Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation added, “We completed research on the JDC English Education City. The most important factors for success are the environment and the ‘software.’ The management and how the city is run are just as important as other factors.”

However, for the new English city to interest Korean families, it has to compete with a national mindset that prefers overseas education.

According to a survey released by the Korea National Statistical Office on Oct. 17, approximately over half the parents polled want to send their children abroad but 80 percent of parents aged over 30 percent felt burdened by education expenses, the biggest portion of which go to English-language course fees.

“The latest trend has been an increased number of elementary school students going on short-term study abroad programs to improve their English,” said Hwang Shin-hae, a manager at Global Fermat, an overseas education center that helps place students in schools abroad.

Getting parents to believe in the quality of the English Education City will be the main challenge over the next three years.


English villages face tough times



As optimistic as some of the forecasts have been on the success of the English Education City, ongoing attempts to provide affordable domestic English-speaking environments in Korea haven’t been all that successful.

Paju English Village is one example. Opened in 2006, the English village offers day passes at 6,000 won ($4.56) and a member’s pass for 200,000 won.

It also offers 20 percent discounted fees for those with lesser means as well as free admission from 5 to 6 p.m.

“Nowadays, people with money can afford to send their children anywhere they want,” said Park Su-jin of Paju English Village. “Many spend loads of money to educate their children in English. We try to offer an affordable English-speaking environment for those who can’t.”

There are daily and weekly programs for different age groups ranging from kindergarten to adults. However, a large portion of visitors are from the kindergarten to middle school age groups.

“It’s difficult [for them] to speak English outside the classroom and we try to provide an environment that encourages practice of the English language,” Park said.

Although Paju English Village provides affordable English education packages, Park said there has been a 10 to 15 percent decrease in the number of visitors over the past year. She also mentioned that the English Village now only employs foreigners as instructors.

The drop in the number of visitors might be connected to the increase in the admission fee from 1,000 won to 2,000 won in the early stages of operation to the current cost.

Another reason, though, is competition, as there has been a proliferation of English villages and other English education ventures in recent years as demand for English increases.



By Jason Kim Staff Reporter [jason@joongang.co.kr]

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