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[Hello Hangeul] Ministry to oversee Korean language education worldwide

Education Ministry to expand support for Korean language education around globe to more non-native speakers

By Park Jun-hee

Published : June 20, 2023 - 13:55

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Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Lee Ju-ho speak at an interview with The Korea Herald at the Government Complex in Seoul on June 5. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald) Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Lee Ju-ho speak at an interview with The Korea Herald at the Government Complex in Seoul on June 5. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

South Korea needs a “control tower” to oversee and better manage the operation of education institutes as well as a system for Korean language learning, Education Minister Lee Ju-ho told The Korea Herald, vowing to speed up efforts to integrate state capacity currently dispersed across the related ministries.

“There are criticisms that government bodies haven’t been able to cooperate and coordinate well with each other at a time when interest in the Korean language is growing. At this point, it’s crucial to have a national system working on a pan-governmental level,” he said in an interview with the Herald on June 5.

Currently, two educational institutions overseas are run separately by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Education. Korean language schools are institutes established by Korean nationals abroad under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, while the Education Ministry oversees Korean schools located outside Korea. King Sejong Institutes, which consist of 248 state-run Korean language education centers in 85 countries as of June 2023, are under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

The minister, who doubles as the deputy prime minister for social affairs, also stressed that the government is watching the progress of the growing demand in Korean language learning along with the popularity of Korean cultural content, as well the rise in Korea’s diplomatic and economic status.

“Foreigners, especially young foreigners, are intrigued by Korean culture and language thanks to Korean dramas and K-pop. The ministry is currently preparing for a change to attract more foreigners to learn the Korean language,” he said.

“Also, the Korean language is a pivotal component for bolstering educational and cultural exchanges between countries, which is why pan-governmental support is needed.”

Lee believes having a solid system to support foreign learners’ studies and catering to their needs will bring more non-native speakers to the country, as well as increase the number of international students wanting to learn the language outside Korea.

With the Education Ministry taking the helm, Lee said he will consolidate the capabilities of each government body to establish a system to spread the Korean language globally.

Under the scheme, Lee said the Education Ministry will collaborate with local education authorities to make Korean a formal subject and bring international students to Korea. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Overseas Koreans Agency will provide support to overseas Koreans and foreign nationals to learn Korean and the Culture Ministry will take the lead in promoting the language through cultural exchanges.

Lee said the ministry will also team up with the immigration office and the Ministry of Justice to attract more international students by offering them more favorable conditions for studying here, including enhancing the visa system for those interesting in landing a job at a Korean company and for residential purposes.

The minister said the decision comes as more people want to learn Korean to study in Korea, work in Korean companies and learn more about the Korean culture, citing a survey conducted by the King Sejong Institute in 2022.

The country also saw a steady rise in the number of test takers of the Test of Proficiency in Korean, or TOPIK, which measures non-Korean nationals’ ability to understand and use the Korean language. Last year, a record high of 356,661 people took the test, adding more than 66,000 test takers since 2017’s high of 290,638, according to the ministry.

In an effort to draw more foreign students into the country who can later stay and work in Korea, the ministry plans to push for a new international education strategy dubbed “Study Korea 3.0,” which will be unveiled sometime in June, according to the minister.

On June 15, President Yoon Suk Yeol ordered the minister to extend the scope of Korean education to non-native speakers around the globe, highlighting the importance of nurturing them as skilled professionals who can contribute to the country’s workforce. Yoon also instructed that the Education Ministry will be responsible for Korean language education and that the Culture Ministry will promote the language itself.