Resolve the English tuition marketEnglish takes up the lion’s share of the outrageous amount of money South Koreans spend on extra-curricular education at primary and secondary schools in the nation. The cradle-to-college private tuition fees start with all-English preschools and kindergartens that sometimes cost more than 1 million won ($943) a month. Students learn English in addition to taking compulsory lessons at school, either from private tutors or in groups at cram schools, depending on what the family can afford and the requirements of the universities the students aspire to enter. Even after they get into a university, they must take lessons to prepare for English tests and meet the various qualifications most workplaces in the public or corporate sector demand. Parents often have little savings left and seek out loans to support their children’s private tuition fees.
The importance of English proficiency in a globalized age goes without saying. Public school curriculums have been modified to teach students practical communication skills in English. But because of the highly competitive nature of secondary education and college entrance exams, English tests have become increasingly difficult, making it impossible for students to rely on school lessons to get good grades or placement in good universities. The overly competitive college entrance system in Korea is largely blamed for the obsession and demand for English education.
After President Park Geun-hye pointed out excesses in English tuition, the Ministry of Education hurriedly came up with the idea of making the English section easier on the standardized college entrance exam. But just because the tests became easier doesn’t mean the competition went away. Some propose an absolute grading and evaluation system for English tests instead of the current curved grading system. But this would only place more pressure on the math section and increase demand on math tuition.
The education authorities must map out a comprehensive solution to solve the problem. Makeshift measures may please the president, but they end up aggravating the situation. Former President Lee Myung-bak wasted billions of taxpayers’ money to develop the home-grown state English Ability Test, called NEAT, to replace Toeic and Toefl scores, which did not work. The burden on English can be resolved through collaboration and cooperation among education authorities, universities and high schools. Workable and practical solutions must be sought to normalize the distortion in the English tuition market.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 17, Page 30