THOUGHTS of THE TIMES
Teaching English as mandatory subject
Even if the Ministry of Education is able to get public support for making the study of English a requirement for all students, the issue is unlikely to be fully settled. At least that’s been the experience in the United States, where teaching English as a second language to the children of the 42 million newcomers to its shores remains highly controversial.
Roughly one-fifth of Americans speak a language other than English at home.
The situation in South Korea is not that much different, with an estimated 100,000 students growing up in multiracial families. In Daegu, nearly 3,000 students — or one percent of the total — come from a home where the mother or father is foreign born.
The U.S. approach to teaching English to the five million students who are English-language learners — about 9 percent of public school enrollment — can serve as a model for South Korea. Dual-language programs have supplanted total immersion programs. Students are taught in their native tongue and in English. The goal is to move them to classes that require higher levels of English. There are approximately 2,000 such programs in the U.S. today, compared with some 260 in 2000. They vary in the amount of time spent during the school day in each language.
At Porter Ranch Community School in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest, a Korean-English dual-language program has drawn support from the Republic of Korea Consulate General, which provides materials and helps fund a taekwondo program and Korean drumming class.
Yet the greater challenge is to narrow the gap between survival English and proficient English. It takes the average learner about 100 hours to move up a level from low beginner to high beginner.
A multi-year study of students enrolled in dual-language programs in North Carolina between 2007 and 2010 found that low-income black children in these programs posted higher reading and math scores than their peers of the same race and socioeconomic background who were taught in one language.
If South Korea decides to follow in the footprints of those in the U.S., it will need to step up efforts to recruit and retain trained teachers. Offering sign-up bonuses and additional pay will help. But so will small classes, where teachers have an opportunity to get to know all their students on an individual basis.
The concrete steps South Korea takes to achieve its goal of teaching English will play an important role in preparing its young people for the demands of the global economy.