The Korea Herald


Teachers doubt benefits of early English education

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : Oct. 15, 2014 - 21:25

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Most parents of preschoolers believe that learning English at an early age can be effective, but teachers are more doubtful of the supposed effects of “the earlier, the better” approach, a survey showed Wednesday.

About 71.9 percent of parents whose children are in kindergarten said they approve of preschoolers getting English education while only 40.8 percent of kindergarten teachers thought it was a good idea, according to a survey conducted jointly by Rep. Yoo Eun-hae of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy and civic group A World Without Worries About Private Education.

The teachers’ skeptical view was shared by their counterparts at elementary schools, as just 25 percent of the teachers there agreed that English should be taught before children started attending school.

Slightly more than half of the kindergarten teachers who opposed it said early English education is “not appropriate for the development and education of preschoolers,” while 16.5 percent said it hinders the child’s acquisition of his or her mother language.

Despite their reluctance, 72.7 percent of the institutions for preschoolers had English lessons. But 85.2 percent of those facilities said that they carry out those lessons to “meet the parents’ demands,” while only 9.3 percent said they had proactively decided to adopt those lessons.

Some kindergartens run an all-English curriculum at a hefty price. According to Rep. Park Hong-keun of the NPAD, there are 306 English kindergartens in Korea that charge around 22.8 million won ($21,400) in annual tuition, more than triple the annual average tuition for state-run universities.

“English programs are one of the criteria for parents when choosing an institute for their children, meaning the programs are directly related to recruitment,” Rep. Yoo’s report said. “The facilities appear to prioritize English education against their educational philosophies or development of an individual child due to parents’ demands.”

However, the survey indicated that English education was not the main thing parents were looking for. Character education was the No. 1 thing sought by parents ― 32.4 percent ― while only 1.7 percent answered that they wanted foreign language lessons for their children.

The researchers said that the growing demand in Korea for English ― most universities and companies demand certified English test scores from applicants ― has made parents nervous, forcing them into a dilemma over education and anxiety about their child’s future. The biggest reason for parents saying yes to early English education, at 37.1 percent, was that “English is important for everyone in the international society.”

But the report also indicated that parents whose children had already experienced early English education were not as thrilled about it. The tendency to approve early education dropped among parents of older students: 48.8 percent, 44.9 percent and 43.1 percent respectively among parents of elementary, middle and high school students.

Some experts downright reject the belief that early childhood is the prime time to take up reading or writing. Ewha Womans University professor Lee Ki-sook, who conducted a six-year-long study on a group of 181 children, said there were no meaningful differences in literacy between children who were educated early on and those who were not.

By Yoon Min-sik (