A slide this scary, it should be shown on hallowe’en!

At the recent Busan-Kyeongnam KOTESOL meeting, branch president Brad Serl gave a presentation on the new NEAT test.  Umm, I may have written ‘test’ twice.  I think the test is the “New English Aptitude Test” and it is intended to replace the current English test used in the University Entrance Exam.

There were two stated reasons for changing the test; one reasonable and achievable and the other…not so much.

The test -still three years away from actually being used – requires more English production from the takers and looks to be a better test to prepare for. If you do well on this test, you will likely also do well speaking English.  This is good and achievable part.

The second reason for changing the test is to reduce private education expenditures – money to cramming schools or hagwons for English.  In discussing this, we -(the people at the meeting consisted of  20+ people, including three Korean teachers of ESL, four to seven university instructors and ten or more middle and high school native English Speaker Teachers) did not think this goal would be achieved.  Cynically, the group consensus was that private spending for ESL would likely increase.

How much is spent on private education now?  The numbers on the presentation slide below are for private education for children in general so math, Korean language and other languages are included in the totals.

If you are a parent, you will want to be sitting down.  If you have a heart condition, go and get your medicine and put it where you can reach it quickly if need be.

If parents paid one million won a month (around $900 US or Canadian) for private education, their child would have an 11% likelihood of  qualifying for a Tier one university (Seoul National, KAIST, Yeonsei, maybe one or two others).  For even odds of attending a Tier one university, parents need to spend two million won a month…

Sorry, I needed to lie down and engage in some calming visualizations there for a moment.  Okay, the palpitations have eased.

As I see it, I can either educate my son to the level that he could attend a tier one university or I could save enough money to actually pay for him to attend one.  I am not sure that I could do both.


The main suggestions we came up with for teaching students so they can do well on the test were 1) Organize extensive reading programs and 2) teach writing (more).  A common complaint at the meeting was that students did not appear to understand how to write more than a sentence at a time in Korean or in English.  Teachers will need to work on organizing ideas then on paragraph and essay formation.

As Serl noted, these are good suggestions for teaching ESL regardless of what kind of test there is.  To paraphrase, “Teachers complain about ‘teaching to the test’.  This isn’t always a bad idea.  If the test is a good one, then teaching students how to do well on it improves both the test scores and absolute English proficiency.”


6 Responses to “A slide this scary, it should be shown on hallowe’en!”

  1. Kevin Kim (@bighominid) Says:

    You sure you don’t want to educate your kids in Canada, or at least in an international school? (Not sure what you’re doing now, so my apologies if I haven’t properly understood your situation.)

  2. surprisesaplenty Says:

    I do want to educate my son in Canada and for more than monetary reasons. I am unsure what I would do to support my family should we emigrate, though.

    The international school option would not be much (any) cheaper here.

    I did mention my son in the post, but I was thinking more about parents in general in Korea. I do have more options than many Koreans in this regard, I guess.

  3. tk Says:

    i like this. this acknowledgement of the flaws in the system. i like especially that me old colleague brad was the one to present. i say, (simpleton-like) if testing is the end all be all and unavoidable, (we face similar issues here in malaysia), and they want to reduce home expenses on hagwons, the MIGHTY MoE had better TRAIN their teachers better. and above all weed out the twonks who just want a pension. i got so sick of the ones i met in middle school who just didn’t care, and didn’t have a CLUE what they were doing. ” oh lets just follow the rules, its so much easier” they’d say. it got so grating on my brain i just said “SOD IT, i quit.” now i’m training teachers. gee how the world works. good luck with that up there.

  4. surprisesaplenty Says:

    According to the Marmot’s (admittedly quick) read about a Dong-a article discussing foreign teachers departing from public schoolss, the NEAT may drive more children to hagwons: http://www.rjkoehler.com/2012/03/20/departure-of-native-english-speakers-sparks-concerns-dong-a-ilbo/

    “at a time when the NEAT may replace the foreign language section of the university entrance exam, more parents will send their kids to hagwon if there are no native speakers in the schools.”

  5. surprisesaplenty Says:

    The Korea Times has more on the NEAT. http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/opinon/2012/03/202_107311.html

    Here are the final three paragraphs (the whole article provides a good overview of the test):

    “Students have ample reason to be concerned over the new testing system as they need extra preparation for writing and speaking. NEAT is more challenging and subjective than TOEIC and TOEFL.

    Students need to make it a habit of writing and speaking daily if they want to score highly. Policymakers need to check how many middle and high school English teachers are able to write and speak fluently.

    Full preparation is necessary to preclude technical glitches in test taking and grading. The tests should include more local content so that students can learn to speak and write about Korean life, society and history rather than about things foreign. Confining tests to textbooks will not fan private tutoring.”

    I am not sure why “Confining tests to textbooks will not fan private tutoring.” Indeed, I am not sure of what this means.

  6. tk Says:

    i read that little korea times blurb and the first thing that popped in my mind was, good. i hope their brains hurt. sure, they appear to study a lot, and i deplore education being made to feel like its a job, its not, its to be enjoyed.

    given the circumstances of the education game and the english language teaching farce of today’s korea, i for one hope it hurts their brains. and the brains of the people who inevitably have to grade it.

    for all the things of wonder and amazement that korea has produced (ie electronics, internet infrastructure etc) they don’t know how to think. and if there is a program that will cause them to think, or panic and make decisions. i’m all for it.

    i remember the days at pknu when countless students would ask for help with toiec, to which i just said, just stop studying it. if you stop, and spread the word, then others will stop and the hoohaa’s will have to rethink their hiring strategy. i despise the pressure of the csat, and any test that is being implemented via computer, has a very limited capacity to teach 4 language skills. well i’ve rambled on long enough on a saturday morning.

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