The classrooms will allow children to study English speaking and listening or read English books during or after their regular classes. Five elementary schools operated pilot English-only classrooms last year, and the Lee Myung-bak administration aims to expand such English-only classrooms to all schools by 2011. Due to the lack of budget, the ministry expects to initially build about 440 classrooms this year.
Every school I've been in has had a separate English room, and this year it's designated an "English Only Zone." LOL, of course the only time it approximates that is when I'm alone and talking to myself. I lead my classes in English, but neither the students nor the Korean teachers have the English levels necessary for an English-in-English class. And, as I've tried to argue before, there are obstacles in place that hamper English education, including how foreign languages and foreigners are presented and perceived, the ambiguious role of the native speaker in the classroom, and unclear motivations for studying the language in the first place. Given all these barriers---I'm inclined to call them cultural factors, but that brings out the haters---I always shake my head to see more money thrown around, more gimmicks. How about just sitting there, shutting up, and studying? Not everything needs to be fancy and fun.
More from that KT article:
``We'll develop a manual for the design of the classrooms through discussions with teachers who have operated similar classes before, so that the rooms can be used for various programs, including small-group discussions or plays in which all students participate,'' a ministry official said.
``We'll collect good examples of English classroom operation and encourage other schools to adopt the models, so that more students can learn English through more enjoyable programs,'' he said.
I'll bet you three thousand won that the manual for the English-Only classrooms will be written in Korean. Let's make it an even five thousand and bet that native English speakers will not be consulted with the use of these rooms and the implementation of these classes. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I get it, a lot of us---me included---don't have Education degrees and, most importantly, don't have Education degrees from Korean universities, thus making us our opinions uninformed and unwelcome. Not that we're to be blamed, considering they're now hiring white people who haven't even finished college yet, and that a even a person with a Ph.D. would still be little more than decoration in the classroom.
Funny anecdote, a colleague came back from spending a month at the teachers' training camp in Damyang. You know, the one where twentysomething white people show Korean teachers with twenty years' experience how to teach English? Yeah, anyway, she really enjoyed it and learned a lot, but told me that she won't use any of the activities at our school because her students don't like speaking English. Nice, a month of free training that amounts to little more than upward mobility and promotion points.
These same paid training opportunities are not available to foreign teachers, and I've said frequently that there should be a system in place where we, too, can gain points for doing demonstration classes, extracurricular activities, summer camps, and training sessions. Teachers who evaluate well would be entitled to more money, better job security, and most importantly the respect of their Korean peers as established, qualified teachers. It would also give us a greater stake in the process and in the communities, and might dispell the belief that we're mercenaries set on one-year deals and ready to go when something better comes along. Moreover it would show a true commitment to effectively using native speakers in the classroom, rather than just throwing them into a classroom alone or using them as ambulatory tape players. Few, I suspect, are planning to teach in a Korean public school for their whole lives, but people who plan to stay for at least a few years might benefit from such an evaluation system. Unfortunately there is little incentive to acquire more qualifications, as our roles are greatly trumped by the importance of grammar and test-taking, and the burden of education is pushed from the public schools onto hagwon, from hagwon onto private tutors, and from private tutors ultimately onto overseas study. Yeah, people should want to do their jobs as best as they can, but what message does it send when the people who can actually use the language are relegated to the backrground, in favor of domestic teachers who, let's be honest, too often aren't interested at all in attempting English in the classroom?
But that was all just an exercise in thinking out loud, as since I've just filled out, again, a form listing my address, my schools, and my job experience for the local school board, implementing and keeping track of a larger policy like that won't be happening anytime soon.