The Korea Herald


English education should start at earlier age: lawmaker

Language learning ‘should focus on dialogue instead of cramming, tests’

By Shin Ji-hye

Published : Feb. 18, 2021 - 14:30

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Elementary school students take English classes at Gapyeong English Education Center in Gyeonggi Province in August 2012 (Yonhap) Elementary school students take English classes at Gapyeong English Education Center in Gyeonggi Province in August 2012 (Yonhap)

A South Korean lawmaker serving on the education committee said the nation needs to change the paradigm of English education by providing it at an earlier age and abolishing test-focused, cram-style education.

“Preschoolers are building up a considerable level of English skills through private education. Students who first encounter English in the third grade of elementary school have a different starting line than students who learn earlier through private education.” Rep. Kim Byeong-wook of the National Assembly Education Committee said in a press release Thursday.

“It is necessary to provide English education starting in the first grade of elementary school [instead of] the current third grade,” he added.

The cost of private English education in Korea is increasing every year. The average monthly cost per student has increased from 79,000 won in 2017 to 90,000 won in 2019, up 13.9 percent over the three years, according to the education committee, reflecting the increasing burden on parents.

Despite the heavier burden, the nation’s English proficiency is falling.

According to an adult English proficiency survey in non-English speaking countries around the world conducted by Switzerland-based education company Education First, Korea‘s English proficiency index in 2019 ranked 37th in the world, down from 30th in 2017.

Rep. Kim pointed out English education is centered on school exams and college entrance exams. He said English learning only for evaluation not only hinders students from improving their English proficiency but also communicating with people abroad.

“The key to solve the problem is to reinforce the function of public education and move the evaluation-oriented English education to conversation-oriented,” he said.

“English tests should be abolished and evaluation should be focused on communication. This way, the burden of private education expenses will be reduced and language proficiency will be improved,” he said.

Developed countries are providing English education at a much younger age than Korea, Kim said. Poland, Spain, France, Italy, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Turkey have adopted English education as a compulsory subject beginning at age 7.

Some experts are concerned that early English education can put stress on children because of the structural contradiction of English education in Korea. However, Kim said it can be overcome by breaking away from cramming for evaluation and by developing thinking skills through dialogue, communication, creative activities and reading.

By Shin Ji-hye (