Questions are mounting over a new state-administered English proficiency test as the government is reversing its plan to use it for college admission.
The government initially sought to substitute the National English Ability Test for the English section of the College Scholastic Ability Test from 2016.
But the Ministry of Education announced Tuesday it decided to abandon the plan due to systemic problems and concerns about rising private education costs.
“We realized that it is technically impossible to have some 600,000 students to take the NEAT on the same day, and realized it may drive more students to private education,” Education Minister Seo Nam-soo said Tuesday.
The ministry insisted it currently has no plan to abolish the test it developed at a cost of 42.5 billion won ($38 million) over the past four years. But critics expect the NEAT is likely to become a “useless test” that no students will take.
Currently, only 36 colleges nationwide have pledged to accept NEAT scores for admitting new students, while the majority of schools are still skeptical about using it.
The NEAT consists of tests on listening, reading, speaking and writing, unlike the current college entrance exam that only assesses reading and listening.
The aim of introducing the NEAT was to enhance practical and communicative English education. But teachers cite concerns about the lack of programs and teaching materials to prepare students; parents worry that it may increase students’ demand for private education.
The government was also hoping to reduce the country’s high dependence on foreign English proficiency tests, such as TOEIC and TOEFL.
But the number of applicants so far is well below the ministry’s expectations, with only 545 students taking the test in May.
“Although the NEAT is not used for college admission, we will continue to use the know-how and the contents we developed. We’ll discuss the possible ways to use the test and will make an announcement before this fall,” Yoo Jung-ki, head of the English department at the Education Ministry, told The Korea Herald.
By Oh Kyu-wook (firstname.lastname@example.org