Sunday, July 25, 2010

Education News Roundup

On Friday, I had a Q&A session with a group of two dozen visitng educators from Australia and New Zealand; I had a half-dozen of my summer camp students (among the best English speakers in the school) along to help out. I described my classes and the limited conversation practice time students get with me (after all, I see them once a week--if that--for fifty minutes). One of the guests asked what other ways students have for learning conversational English.

I pointed out the system of hagwons or academies for after school study which virtually all Korean students attend, mainly in English and math. Plus, many Koreans spend time living overseas for the immersion experience, if their families have the resources.

That teacher turned to the row of boys, quietly standing in the back and hoping they wouldn't have to say anything, and asked them who had spent time overseas, and for how long. Five of the six raised their hands. All of the five had spent at least one year, and one had been in New York, Virginia and Toronto for almost three years!

1) Today's KT has some statistics on Korean students in the US, in a story headlined Koreans 14% of foreign students in US. The nut:
According to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a total of 101,428 Koreans were staying in America on a student visa as of July 1, forming 13.8 percent of the 733,430 non-U.S. students in the country. [...] 69 percent of the foreign students are studying for university degrees and the rest are taking language courses, attending vocational colleges and elementary and secondary schools.

2) Today's Korea Herald has the reverse story, about US students who are visiting Korea to learn the Korean language. Sponsored by the US State Department and called National Security Language Initiative for Youth, the program is run through Sogang University (Daeheung, Line 6). The program is for 15-18 year olds, who stay with volunteer host families and spend four hours per day in Korean language class every day.

3) In response to "an increasing number of brutal crimes against children", the Korean government is designating all junior schools and their surrounding perimeters as "special child safety zones". What that means is explained at the bottom of the Korea Herald article:
The special school zone system involves a security watch over children in order to prevent kidnapping, sex crimes and other violence in school areas.
Last month, a previously convicted sex convict named Kim Soo-cheol kidnapped an 8-year-old girl from the school playground and raped her, raising alarm about loose security in school areas.
The zone system also includes measures to keep children safe from traffic accidents. Offenders are to be imposed with heavier punishment, should they harm a child within the zone.
The ministry will also put in place additional speed warnings, speed bumps and traffic CCTVs, said officials.

4) Left-Leaning Figures Named to Seoul Education Committee, blares the Dong-A Ilbo headline announcing new SMOE superintendent Gwak Noh-hyun's latest personnel moves. (Full disclosure: Gwak is my boss, as I am employed by SMOE.) His office oversees over 55,000 teachers and school employees in Seoul and in other district offices. Not surprisingly, the conservative KFTA (Korea Federation of Teacher's Associations), on the outs for the first time in its history, expressed disappointment in the new progressive majorities:
Superintendent Kwak broke his promise to be a superintendent for all. [...] This will lead to the perception that political inclination takes precedence over fairness in personnel management.

Note to Korean educational community: if you don't like politics in your educational policy, don't make the educational leadership an elected position. Just saying. The paper ends its coverage of the story with an admirable, rare and rather weak attempt at evenhandedness:
Critics say this is part of Kwak’s plan to have his own way in the upcoming large-scale personnel shake-up, adding no discord will arise if personnel committee members are on his side.
Another official said, “Personnel management will inevitably be controlled by the superintendent and the personnel committee is a body needed for procedures,” adding, “This is a repeat of the practice of the personnel committee acting as a rubber stamp.”

5) 28 of the 30 teachers in an elementary school in Uijeongbu have filed a petition against their principal with the Human Rights Commission, claiming he habitually insulted and harrassed them.
According to the teachers, the headmaster who was appointed at the school in March used to make “unacceptable” remarks to female teachers such as “Are you a virgin?” “Are you pregnant?” and “I heard you can look prettier if you lose your virginity.”
He also asked a female teacher whose wisdom teeth (love teeth in Korean) needed treatment, “Do your teeth hurt because your lover sucks your (teeth) too much?” and “You are in trouble because you are not married (even though you are old enough).”
What an ass!

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