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Tuesday,October 27,2020
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Present and Future State Of English Education

8-year-old kids nowadays are quite proficient in English. Sometimes they bring me English books which are quite difficult and say, "Teacher, please translate this book for me". There is often such a wide range of English levels in one class - some kids don't even know the alphabet while others can read simple English picture books- and this is why it can be so difficult for teachers to plan a perfect lesson for all students.

Actually, official English instruction starts in 3rd grade (when students are 10yearsold) according to the elementary education curriculum. However kids have such a wide range of abilities -A to Matilda- while the textbook shows 'A, Apple, B, Banana'. Parents don't want their children to fall behind, so they hold their kids' hand and knock on the English language institute's door. Furthermore, 5 or 6 year-old kids go to English kindergarten to get a better English score in the elementary school.

People have insisted to reinforce a 'leveled education system' to narrow the academic gap. Actually, many elementary schools run this system in 5th and 6th grades. There are less  difficulties with class atmosphere under this system because 5th and 6th grade students' can concentrate more than 3rd or 4th grade students’. However, younger students can be more nervous in these classes because they are with unfamiliar students. The most important fact is that the official English classes usually start at 3rd grade.
School classes should be given on the assumption that all kids know nothing about a subject-but if some students in a class have learned English at language institutes, then students who haven't taken English classes before could be harmed.

To overcome this situation, foreign teachers from English-speaking countries are increasing in elementary schools these days. Kids' English speaking ability are quite similar whether they attend English institute or not. Therefore, speaking to foreign teachers is a good way to minimize the pressure of having to take English classes for those who don't have basic English skills.

However, having foreign teachers in the classroom is not the only answer. Nowadays elementary school teachers' English proficiency is good enough to give a class in English. Applicants have to give a class in English on the teacher recruitment test, and even if they have a good score on written tests, they can't become a teacher if they aren't good at English. It is unnecessary to recruit so many foreign teachers instead of utilizing these high quality human resources. Native speakers can play a supporting role in class by correcting students' pronunciation.

The fact that foreign teachers’ classes can be less stressful means listening and speaking lessons are more enjoyable than grammar and reading lessons to young students. Since English is not their mother tongue, students think of English as a hard subject, and are not interested in it. Therefore, there are much more chants or games in English classes than other classes (such as math, science or history), and teachers put lots efforts to make English appealing to their students.

Actually, the essential goal of primary education is not an improvement of learning ability- it is for building students' character, physical development, and cultivation of basic attitudes towards studying. Therefore, the goal is achieved if students know the way to study or the basic concepts of each subject even though they didn't get high scores in class. Although they get high scores on tests, their results will get worse when they're not interested in studying. The same thing happens with English classes. Parents think that the books their kids read show their English ability, but this is not always true. I, the writer, read Harry Potter in English at the age of 12, but my English ability has not improved much since  then. Even though young kids can read Harry Potter, they might read it forever if they're not interested in. Do you think this is proper English education?

I actually asked 8-year-old kids, "How do you study English?" when I did my teaching practice in elementary school last year. They answered that they go to the English institute even though they don't have classes at school. More surprisingly, there are English classes in that school for 1st, 2nd grade students to prepare for 3rd grade. Even in school, classes based on ability exist. Imagine what the kids' said when I asked them, “Is English fun for you guys?"

Maybe it's just a dream to speak foreign language as a mother tongue without studying abroad. However there must be further study to give more proper English education for young students in this era of globalization.

Lee Su-bin  soobin.lee@gmail.com

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