The English language skyline in South Korea

KoreaKaren_newspaper-web_largest
Seoul 2004 – marker on newsprint by Girlieprig. Click on image to visit Girlieprig Productions (CC some rights reserved).

This is the third post in a blog series based on the the TOETOE International project with the University of Oxford, the UK Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). I have also made this post in the OEP series available as a .pdf on Slideshare

The hopes and aspirations of English language education in South Korea reach sky high. This is manifest in the multitude of skyscrapers occupied by private English language institutes or ‘hagwons’, coupled with the soaring ambition of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology’s latest roadmap for English language education assessment.  Part of the national curriculum goals for English include the launch of the National English Ability Test (NEAT) where speaking proficiency will be one of the areas for evaluation. This will raise the stakes for test takers and their families who will have to find the resources to finance hagwon tuition to make up for a deficit in state school provisions for English language speaking support.

Flashback

When I arrived into Incheon in 1995 to take up my first English language teaching post, I soon realized that ELT was a successful money making industry, perhaps more than it was an educational field. My ELT experience in Korea would become my finishing school, setting me up with the questions that would furnish my future career as an open English language practitioner and researcher. This is the place where I learned to use the Internet, where digitized billboards and neon lights running up multi-stories were the simulacra that covered the urban Korean landscape. When I left Seoul in 2005 I had not yet heard of the open source software movement, which I would encounter early on in my PhD research in 2007, and I wouldn’t come across the term OER until 2009. As I was exiting Korea in 2005, high-speed Internet was available on public buses and the Open CourseWare Consortium (OCWC) would be arriving at Korea University in 2007.

openku
Open KU – Open Educational Resources at Korea University

EAP at Korea University

Twenty-three Korean universities are currently members of the Korean OCWC. 2012 brought me back to Seoul to deliver an Open Educational Resources for English Language Teaching Workshop at Korea University with Professor Hikyoung Lee whom I had met at the joint OCWC and OER Cambridge 2012 Conference and with former teaching colleague, Christine Aitken. Similar issues were raised by the participants in this workshop about the need to be able to build specific EAP collections that had the same functionality of those in the BAWE collections in FLAX which I had demonstrated. Academic Word Lists were discussed as potentially useful resources to add to the FLAX system for analysing texts for EAP. I noted this feedback down for development plans for when I would be working with the FLAX team in New Zealand directly after my time in Korea.

iTunesU at Korea University

koreadaeitunesu
iTunesU Korea University channel

Korea University was getting ready to launch Creative Commons content onto iTunesU so Hikyoung was keen to introduce this news to the English language teachers and students present at the workshop and I introduced training resources from Oxford’s OpenSpires project that had been used with academics at Oxford to explain key concepts about OER and Creative Commons licensing before putting their teaching resources onto Oxford’s iTunesU channel. Within a few days of Korea University’s entry onto iTunesU on March 1st 2013 their content, some of which is licensed as Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND, had already received more than 40,000 hits.

Discussions around the re-use of educational resources seemed only fitting in light of this move onto iTunesU, so I introduced the teachers to Chris’ Reusable Card Game from the ORIOLE project, which is now fielding for survey responses from users based outside of the UK (please follow the ORIOLE project link above to complete the survey).

Investigating sharing and use of open resources

[Re-use card being read aloud by Teacher A]: “Is it necessary to have links to relevant research or even proper referencing? Do resources used need to evidence scholarship?”

Teacher B: Well, you know, we have a problem with plagiarism and part of the problem is that students have a hard time understanding what they can and can’t take out of texts.

Hikyoung: Right

Teacher B: And, what they need to paraphrase and what they don’t need to paraphrase, that’s a very big can of worms.

Alannah: I have heard from OER colleagues at Oxford that when they began recording the podcasts for OpenSpires, especially the ones recording video, that the cameraman had to turn the camera away from the screen because the lecturers hadn’t cited stuff or they hadn’t got clearance for lots of images; they hadn’t got permission to use them. So, I think as teachers we’re actually quite guilty of this, you know, just mocking up a slideshow here or a hand-out there and we’re not actually trained, we’re not trained in it, are we? We don’t know about copyright…I definitely didn’t get trained in it. I’ve learned about it through OER really.

Teacher A: But as you said earlier once it’s within the closed classroom or the online learning environment, no one’s going to take it away to anywhere else.

Alannah: Right, but that’s what the issue was because once you go to put it on iTunesU then it does become an issue so that’s something you will need to think about as well as you go onto iTunesU.

Teacher A: I’m quite reticent about this whole iTunesU thing…

Hikyoung: Why?!

Teacher A:…because I might end up behind bars [group laughter]

Hikyoung: We have people at our office who will check with you to go over what is Creative Commons and what is OK to use and reuse and what is not, so no problem.

Teacher B: They’ll bring you food every day behind the bars [laughter continues]

Hikyoung: Yeah, yeah, that’s what we’ll do, ha! [laughter continues]

Teacher B: You won’t lose your freedom, you’ll just lose your reputation. [laughter continues]

Alannah: Yeah, you can do podcasts from behind bars – that could be a real viral hit on the Web, eh? [laughter continues]

 

‘Funding’ and motivation with OER

Hikyoung: …pick a colour or anything.

[Re-use card being read aloud by Teacher B]: OK, “if funding is available to get involved in using, making or sharing resources then perhaps that is reason enough to get involved?”

Hikyoung: Yeah, money moves people. [group laughter]

Teacher B: Yes and no though, right? Overall, yes, but I do think that, you know, you do need to have passion or desire…

Teacher A: But this is all very non-profit oriented and the concept of sharing resources is that you get a lot of satisfaction from doing it and you also know that there’s a lot of people like you out there doing it, producing something that you could also use. It seems like a sort of give and take scenario really.

Private English language expenditure

At lunch with Hikyoung and Christine we discussed where OER was most needed in the Korean ELT context and how the Korean OCWC was focused primarily on higher education. The biggest challenge lay ahead for under-privileged families who would need to support their children’s English proficiency with the new higher level English speaking requirements as set out by the Ministry of Education, Technology and Science with the new National English Ability Test. This is likely to create a burden for those families who cannot afford to pay brokers, namely private language institutes or hagwons, with preparing their children for this new test where the testing of spoken English is one of the key focus areas.

Recent OECD reports for the percentage of GDP spent on education in the Republic of Korea have been consistently higher than other OECD member countries, the bulk of which (an average of 40% annually) is made up of money paid by parents on private tuition to hagwons and tutors for their children. English is the number one academic subject in the private tuition sector, raking in 41% of the total amount spent in this area.

Korea currently has nearly 100,000 hagwons, which must receive a permit from the local education government to operate. The concentration of around 6000 hagwons in the Gangnam district of Seoul is thought to be an important factor in the high housing prices in that area, which has become a major social issue. The hagwons have more teachers than the public school system and attract the best ones with higher salaries. Admission to prestigious hagwons is challenging and depends on entrance exams. (OECD Economic Surveys: Korea 2012, p.131)

Private income expenditure on education has been an on-going concern of the South Korean government and perhaps a lesson for other countries on the effects of unparalleled privatization in the education sector. It is clear that investment in sustainable public English language education is needed to reduce private income expenditure on education in an effort to close the gap on growing levels of income inequality and poverty. Beyond the provisions of the English Broadcasting Station (EBS) channel which offers free but not open English language learning resources for young learners, there is a greater need for flexible English language teaching and learning resources that meet the needs of a diverse society.

The South Korean government recognizes the lack of faith in the public education system and is trying to introduce interventions that will remedy the situation via the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST). However, if the public education sector were to adopt open educational policies for the development of resources and practices then this would create an open promotional channel back to publically funded English language initiatives. Local expert English teachers could also benefit from sharing their expertise through the development and dissemination of well-received OER to raise their individual as well as their institutional profiles. The MEST releases annual plans for educational policy change across curriculum, resources and attitudes to education. In response to problems surrounding private tuition, such plans include: government-funded after school programmes; a reduction in study time loads to provide tailored learning; new university admissions processes for ensuring equal access opportunities and; reporting mechanisms for those hagwons that are over-charging with tuition fees (MEST, 2009, 2010 & 2011). To enact these plans, a concerted investment in open educational resources and practices could provide the necessary promotional and pedagogical tools to draw attention to successful applications of these well-founded plans from the MEST.

Creative Commons Korea

Creative Commons Korea – sharing and eating open cake video via Vimeo

References

Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. (2009). Major policies and plans for 2009. Seoul. MEST Korea. Retrieved from http://english.mest.go.kr/web/40724/en/board/enlist.do?bbsId=276

Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. (2010). Major policies and plans for 2010. Seoul. MEST Korea. Retrieved from http://english.mest.go.kr/web/40724/en/board/enlist.do?bbsId=276

Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. (2011). Major policies and plans for 2011. Seoul. MEST Korea. Retrieved from http://english.mest.go.kr/web/40724/en/board/enlist.do?bbsId=276

OECD Economic and Development Review Committee (2012). OECD Economic Surveys: Korea 2012. OECD Publishing

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s