Korea is pushing for a state-developed, standardized English test that will replace English proficiency tests in the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) and TOEFL and TOEIC by 2012.
"The new exam surpasses other similar exams in its credibility because of the fact that it is supported and approved by the state," said Minister of Education, Science and Technology Ahn Byong-man during an exclusive interview with The Korea Times last Tuesday.
"Once it is made available, I am sure that it is just a matter of time before all schools start to use it," Ahn said.
I first commented on this news in December, 2008, saying that if your country spends more than any other on standardized English tests but ranks among the worst in the world, clearly the thing to do is make a new test. Here's what the Times wrote last year:
The government will introduce a state-certified English proficiency test from 2012 to improve practical English skills of students and eventually replace TOEFL and other foreign exam material.
The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology announced this and other measures to help reduce the amount of money people spend on private cram schools and language institutes.
The new test, tentatively named the State English Aptitude Test, will be modeled on Japan's Eiken English test, which has earned international recognition.
``We believe as long as we can develop a quality test, many overseas schools will accept it,'' Education Minister Ahn Byong-man said Thursday.
Actually, creating a new test for domestic use is a great idea. One of the puzzling things about "English Fever" here is that it's almost entirely domestic: testing English to enter domestic high schools, domestic colleges, domestic jobs.
Both the test and the thousands of Korean English lecturers---here and here---they're trying to hire are hoped to improve the "practical English" skills of students. That's a noble aim, considering how difficult the current English tests are---look through last year's college entrance exam here---, considering how far removed the test material is from the actual language, and considering how few teachers would even be able to make sense of them. However, I've always wondered why practical English was never used as an aim when importing thousands of native English speakers into public schools and hagwon. Indeed, while I don't think these "lecturers" are being hired to replace us right this second, it's curious that "practical English" is a goal for when the teachers best able to teach it will be gone. Right now there are too few Korean English teachers who can even produce a grammatical sentence or create the sounds of the language, let alone teach a class devoted to "practical English."
But I digress. The article goes on to say, like the one last December did, about the domestic Korean test eventually being recognized overseas, and it cites Japan's EIKEN as an example.
The 69-year-old former president of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies expects the new test to have economic benefits of replacing the "imported" TOEIC and TOEFL exams, as well as improving the level of English education.But like I demonstrated last year, the EIKEN is recognized by only 290 universities in North America, 284 of which are in the United States. Look over the list yourself and see how few you've actually heard of. Here are the schools in my home state of Pennsylvania that recognize it:
"EIKEN is not just recognized in Japan but also in the United States and Australia, where English is the native language," Ahn said, adding that, if the new test proves to be effective, it will have an advantage over other exams, including the Seoul National University (SNU)-developed TEPS tests.
Currently, tens of billions of won are spent on TOEFL and TOEIC tests on an annual basis, with TEPS making a small but significant inroad into the English test market.
Chestnut Hill College
Northampton Community College
Pennsylvania Institute of Technology
Slippery Rock University
University of Scranton
York College of Pennsylvania
They're fine universities, but the state's biggest---Carnegie Mellon University, University of Pennsylvania, Penn State, University of Pittsburgh, Grove City University, Allegheny College, Temple University, and even my alma mater---don't accept it. International students can actually get a quality education at these universities, provided they apply themselves, and are more interested in an education than a line on their resume. Students interested in attending one of those universities may take the EIKEN, or a future Korean equivalent, and not burden themselves with an unnecessarily difficult exam. However, Korean students looking to go to a school for its name-brand will be disappointed, which makes it clear that students who study English with an eye toward going abroad eventually will still need to take the TOEFL, TOEIC, or other such exams.