The Korea Herald


New English test plan faces backlash

By 이선영

Published : May 27, 2011 - 19:00

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Critics say revised college exam will worsen education craze

The government’s plan to include English speaking and writing ability tests in the national college entrance exam has stoked worries that it will add fuel to the nation’s already red-hot craze for English education.

The Education Ministry on Thursday unveiled a draft plan to introduce a new English aptitude test that will replace the English portion of the standardized college entrance exam, known as the College Scholastic Ability Test, starting in 2015 at the earliest. Currently the CSAT only tests reading and listening skills in the language.

The ministry’s plan is to start administering the National English Aptitude Test from 2012 and have it used as reference material in the rolling admission to universities from the following year.

A trial version of the envisioned NEAT took place at a school in Seoul on Friday.

Some parents and teachers, however, worry it will only drive more students to private institutes, or language courses overseas. It would be very hard for students to achieve the level of speaking and writing skills in the current public school system, they say. 
Students sit a trial version of the National English Aptitude Test, currently under development, at a school in southern Seoul on Friday. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald) Students sit a trial version of the National English Aptitude Test, currently under development, at a school in southern Seoul on Friday. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)

“Students from wealthy families will benefit most, because their parents can afford paying for private tutoring with native English-speaking teachers or can send them overseas for language studies,” said a mother of a 16-year old boy.

Kim Seung-hyun, a director of civic group “World without Worries about Private Education,” echoed the view.

“Without investing in school infrastructure and increase the number of teachers, it will only drive more students to seek private English lessons for speaking and writing,” he said.

There were people who expressed hopes about the government’s efforts to change the way English is taught at schools.

“I personally think that it is a move in the right direction,” said an English teacher at a middle school, requesting anonymity. “English should be taught in a way that helps students express themselves in the language, not as something that they just understand,” she said.

The Education Ministry said the NEAT will have a level of difficulty so that students can score well with what they learn at school. For example, pronunciations will not count heavily, provided it is comprehensible, it said. School teachers will be offered intensive training in teaching speaking and writing, the ministry said.

English is taught from the third grade in Korea, but many believe the nation’s rigid public school system fails to properly teach the language.

According to the IMD World Competitiveness report, Korea ranked 46th out of 59 in English proficiency and 51st in the pupil-teacher ratio in primary education and 53rd in the same ratio in secondary education.

Korean parents spend a large portion of their income on education of their children. In 2010, households spent an estimated 20.9 trillion won to educate their children at private institutes, down 3.5 percent from a year earlier.

By Lee Sun-young (