Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Don't sing the Alphabet Song - you'll confuse the kids!


My first entry, and I use it to question the union's position on ministry plans to introduce English at the first year of primary education.

As the committee points out, it's true that the ministry of education didn't consult parents or teachers before announcing its plans. After decades (centuries?) of dictatorship, bureaucrats here aren't much in the habit of asking people for their opinions on policy measures.

. . . Knots, thorns, choose your simile, language policy in ROK is a complex issue. The government banned private tutoring because parents were spending "up to 90% of their disposable income" buying input from expert English speakers. Don't blame parents: when the city of Seoul begins conducting job interviews in English, there's no need to jab a wet finger in the air to know what's coming. The gatekeepers have a new lock to be picked.

But the committee's claim that earlier access to English in primary schools will cause "more inequality in education" is difficult to accept. This implies that the ministry of education is responsible for the country's obsession with English, which is nonsense. Or so it appears to this observer. It seems to me that the ministry is simply responding to the demands of universities and employers.

Indeed, it can be argued that this move will reduce inequality. After all, most parents simply cannot afford to send their children abroad for two years; and those first-graders who are to be shipped to Seattle or Sidney really won't need that hour of English they'll get in class every week.

What the committee doesn't say, and what every elementary school teacher knows, is that there simply aren't enough people in schools with the language skills necessary to instruct all these kids. The ministry hopes that teachers will somehow, from somewhere, acquire these skills over the next few years, without it having to invest the kind of money that such extensive training would require.

(And while the release does suggest a wariness of certain hegemonic forces, and the urge to take protective measures against these, I won't explore this now.)

A public education should prepare kids for meaningful, active, and creative participation in the spaces they will find themselves in when they graduate. If the country's schools were adequate, parents wouldn't feel the need to spend so many millions of won on private instruction. Teachers must organize, and demand that the government invest in public education, before the market swallows it.

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