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Jeju teachers eager to learn
Specifics awaited on JGEC plans
Wednesday, May 26, 2010, 16:53:56 Ken McLeod & Tracie Barrett editor@jejuweekly.com
▲ With the construction of the Jeju Global Education City underway, teachers on Jeju say they lack detailed information about the programs. Photo by Jeju Free International City Development Center

As negotiations continue with prestigious schools overseas to become part of the Jeju Global Education City, teachers on the island have mainly taken a “wait and see” attitude, with many saying they know too little about the project to have strong opinions for or against.

Kim Won Bok is a veteran middle school teacher who had reports back from three other teachers on union meetings they had attended where the project was discussed. “Most teachers are against the JGEC initiative,” she said. One of their main concerns was with the political will to see this project through.

“Teachers are concerned that the provincial government conditions could change,” with the election of a new governor underway, and “that in the long term, [the project] might lose central government financial support.” Two-term governor, Kim Tae Hwan, is not seeking reelection and his administration has overseen the provincial contribution to the project. The late president Roh Moo Hyun, brought the project to reality, but “the current president was not expected to continue to support this project, as Jeju is not a significant market compared to the urban developments such as Incheon,” Kim said. As a result Jeju teachers “have a wait and see opinion” whether the funding will continue to see the project through to fruition.

Teachers are also worried about how well an international curriculum would prepare students for passing important tests, something that is the ultimate goal of most Korean educators. “For elementary to middle school students, perhaps a one to two year, or short-term program is possible,” Kim said, “but under high school conditions, the JGEC programs may not match the rigid Korean system to get students to the SKY schools.” SKY refers to Korea’s elite Seoul, Korea and Yonsei universities, the preferred choice for Korean students and their parents.

An additional concern to teachers is the tuition fees involved, which Kim said “will exclude Jeju students.” “Teachers are aware that the overall costs of attending [JGEC] may be competitive compared to an overseas alternative. However, teachers have noted how this still puts the JGEC education out of reach of most Jeju students’ families.”

“In earnest the teachers in our discussions really want good things for the project,” she said. “The JGEC could help diversify job creation in Jeju and also attract people to the island.”

In contrast to Kim Won Buk’s assertion that most teachers on Jeju are against the project, many we spoke to were supportive, though also wanted more information. Kim Kyong Sun has taught on Jeju for more than four years, first at private institutes (hagwon) and now runs her own private tutoring service. She said that she, like many Koreans, gets her news mainly from Internet portal sites and there has been no information about JGEC. She knew the project would include elementary, middle and high school levels and was also aware that an English school (North London Collegiate School) had committed to opening a branch there. Her siblings have seven sons between them and would probably consider JGEC as an option rather than sending their children to summer school in Canada, where she herself studied. “But the tuition fess [at JGEC] will still be very expensive, I think,” she said.

She also questioned how effectively the JGEC could achieve its goal of having English as its primary language, for businesses in the city as well as the schools. “It will be difficult to hire English-speaking staff,” she said. “Who wants to work in a store if they can speak English?”

She knows of parents who currently send their children overseas to study and who are interested in JGEC as an alternative. “But they don’t have enough information and they’re concerned about high tuition fees,” she said.

▲ Photo by Jeju Free International City Development Center

Prof. Yang Chang Yong works in the English Education Department at Jeju National University. He said he understood that the lack of knowledge about specific programs to be offered at JGEC was because each school would formulate its own curriculum, but he wondered how coherent the project would be as a working city. He was concerned that the schools might not achieve the student numbers they hoped for and pointed out that there are already many well-known international schools operating in China, which has been identified as a large target market for the project.

He did not think the education city would draw students away from other education options offered on Jeju Island. “My personal opinion is that the construction of the Jeju Global Education City will not have much effect on the intake of students at other schools,” he said.

“I hope, as a member of the island [community], that Jeju Global Education City turns out to be successful.”

Kim Mi Ran has taught in the public school system for 23 years and currently works at Korea Beauty High School. With a 12-year-old son now in 6th grade, she is interested in JGEC as both an educator and a mother. She also would like more information on what the project will offer. “I would like to know what kind of students can join the schools and whether they are public or private schools and how much the tuition is,” she said.

“Another thing I want to know is what kind of program the schools will carry on. As long as the programs are really good, I think a lot of parents will be interested.” She views the project as a positive one for Jeju as she said it will make the province more international and felt that a greater focus on extra-curricular activities, as the interested schools have talked about, could set a good example for Korean schools.

ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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