South Korea’s Education Ministry said Thursday that it would lower the level of difficulty of English tests in the annual college entrance exam as part of its effort to curb surging private education fees.
The plan was announced at the ministry’s policy briefing to President Park Geun-hye, who called for fundamental changes to the demand for “excessive English education” in Korea.
“I believe that we need to have a fundamental solution to the education reality where excessive English education is required of students,” Park said. “Some students want to learn English proficiently while for some others, basic levels are enough. If all people are forced to learn difficult levels, it will lead to an increase in private tutoring expenses.”
South Korean parents are known for their strong passion for getting their children to learn English from very early ages in a nation where better English proficiency, including higher English language test scores, are considered to be a plus for landing better jobs.
According to the ministry, the English section of this year’s college entrance exam will reduce or eliminate parts that students struggled with last year.
This includes fill-in-the-blank questions, which only 34 percent of applicants answered correctly. The average percentage of correct answers for the entire English section last year was 68 percent.
To make the test even easier, the ministry said it is mulling whether it would reduce the length of text passages in the reading comprehension section.
The government expects the easier English test for college entrance to help lower the financial burden of English education for students.
Korean parents spend 19.4 trillion won ($17.9 billion) annually to provide their children with private education so they can gain the competitive edge in the classroom and eventually have a better chance to enter a prestigious college.
The government also plans to reduce the proportion of English essay points in college entrance exams while banning students from submitting their English proficiency scores such as TOEFL and TOEIC on their university application forms.
The move came as Korean students have come under growing pressure to get high scores of such standard English proficiency tests to improve their odds of gaining university admission. Many students have been forced to rely on costly private education to prepare for such extra exams.
Experts, however, say it is unclear whether the new governmental policy will bring the desired effects.
“Less difficult English tests will ease the burden on students but it will increase the importance of other subjects like Korean and math, which means the education fee for those subjects will increase,” Lee Young-duk, chief of local education publisher Daesung Intensive Clinic, told local media.
By Yoon Min-sik and news reports