Kyunghyang Newspaper recently conducted an English education survey of 95 sixth graders from elementary schools in Seoul, over an 11 day period in July. To compare and analyze, they picked one school each from Gangnam-gu, Gangbuk-gu, Mapo-gu, and other innovation schools. The survey was essentially to gauge student opinion of learning English by completing the sentence “To me, English is ____”. Here are some of the results:
- 36% gave negative comments, like “hell”, “lifetime prison, “something I can’t stand”.
- 35% gave positive comments, such as “the future”, “an essential language”, “a stepping stone”, “something I need”.
Among the 95 students, only 8 (8.4%) of them have never had private English education. 57 students, more than half of the whole survey, answered they have had private English education before they were in the 3rd grade, which is when they start regular English classes in public school. Additional survey results indicated when students started learning English. 26 answered ‘before beginning public school’, 15 answered ‘from the 1st grade’, 16 answered ‘from 2nd grade’, and 29 answered ‘from the 3rd grade or higher’. 70% of a class from Gangnam and 60% of a class from an innovation school answered that they started private English education before they started their 2nd year of elementary school, which indicates that they started private English education earlier than the average age of all students in Seoul.
The most common form of private English education that students have had was through attending hagwons. 23 students have had experience with private tutors, 19 with home-study materials, 13 with English kindergartens, 11 with English camp/language study abroad, and 10 with internet-based classes. 61.5% from the Gangnam class indicated that they had previously attended English kindergartens and 34.4% attended hagwons. There were also some students who have had experience with trying all 6 kinds of private education.
Almost half (43 students) of them answered, “I do not want to study English.” The most common reason they picked (14 students) was ‘Because I used to be interested in English, but now I lost my interest since I am forced to study too much.’ 13 of them answered ‘Because it is not fun.’, 5 answered ‘Because I don’t need it in my life.’, and 4 answered ‘Because I don’t know why I have to learn it.’ Some other answers were ‘Because there are so many things to memorize.’, ‘Because it is difficult.’, and ‘Because it is annoying to study.’
In response to the question, ‘Why do you study English?’, 27 students answered ‘Because my parents tell me to do it.’, 19 answered ‘Because it is fun.’, 17 answered ‘Because I think it will help me when I go to middle school.’, and 10 answered ‘Because I have English class in school.’ As for study durations, 28 students answered that they study English for 1-2 hours a day. 21 answered ’30 minutes-1 hour’, 19 answered ‘2-3 hours’, 16 answered ‘less than 30 minutes’, and 5 answered ‘3-4 hours’. 2 students who answered ‘more than 5 hours’ were from Gangnam.
In response to the question,?‘When do you feel stressed or lonely because of English?’, 12 students answered ‘When I am compared to other friends with good English grades.’ 11 answered ‘When I do not understand what I study in class.’, 10 answered ‘When my parents blame me for not being good at English’, 6 answered ‘When my friends say English words that I do not know and ignore me.’
When they were asked to write down what has hurt their feelings from school and home because of English, they all started talking about it eagerly. “My parents say ‘You really cannot get high grades in English? You have to go to English school.’”, “My English school classmates looked at me and sighed, ‘How can you be that bad?’”, “When I was told to memorize English words repeatedly.”, “When my parents say ‘Because you are not good at English, you need to have a private tutor. Or study it properly.’ Yet I am actually studying English really hard.”, “When my English school discriminates against students with bad English grades.”
Needless to say, the current English education system in Korea is due for perpetual overhaul to properly gear education towards the interests of its learners, rather than in the interests of parents and educators.