▲ A group of teachers met recently to discuss Jeju’s proposed English Education City. Left to right are: Jennis Kim, Lovy Kim, Koh Eun ah, Shanna Bosley, Cory Peterson and Siobhan O’Grady. Photo by Alex James
"Is Jeju ready for it?" asked Jennis Kim, a Hagwon teacher in Jeju-si who expresses the concerns felt by many regarding Jeju’s extensive new project – the English Education City.
Amidst the buzz surrounding the “Edu-City,” a group of English speaking foreigners and Jeju residents gathered recently to present their diverse viewpoints in a roundtable discussion of the Good, the Bad, and the… Uncertain. When asked what a “global education” should even entail, “Immersion!” was the unanimous response.
Forum participants from four countries Siobhan O’Grady is from Ireland and previously taught English in the Middle East, later at a hagwon in Daegu, and most recently here in Jeju. She felt having all classes in English was essential.
“When I worked in Qatar, kids learned everything in English and only English. That’s why they were successful,” she said.
“You also need to include culture so you have a context for language,” said Cory Petersen, an EPIK teacher from Iowa, U.S.A., who explained that his Spanish studies never “stuck” during his American education, but that he later became proficient when he studied abroad in Costa Rica.
Jenis Kim, whose family is from Jeju but who lived abroad in Sidney, Australia for much of her education, joked that her hagwon students often accuse her of speaking Konglish because of her Australian accent.
“It’s getting better but still, in Korea it’s about the American accent only. We need to teach different accents, if we really want this to be global,” she said.
“It’s almost like we’re speaking a separate language!” O’Grady said, whose own Irish accent often brings the same frustrations.
Variety seen as key to learning English Multiple approaches, engaging activities, and a non-grammar-centric curriculum were agreed upon as the necessary components. Championing that notion is Eun Ah Ko, a Jeju National University student who is studying Tourism Development and Management. Her English is excellent, but is unable to accredit this to her school days.
“I learned by myself… In Korean school, teachers just taught grammar and structure, not conversation skills. We graduate from high school and university, but cannot actually converse,” she said. She credits her success in learning English to variety. “I learn from many things,” she said.
The group agreed that experiencing various aspects of a different culture is one of the virtues of an education abroad, and that any local model should strive to include components of that.
They also agreed that having an Education City in Jeju would relieve the burden many families endure in sending a child abroad.
“The idea is very motivating: families being closer, keeping money in Korea, encouraging foreign students. Conceptually, it’s fine, a great way to accomplish all of these things,” Kim said.
Some pondered the sheer size of the project. “But populating the city with English speakers is a pretty big undertaking; they have these huge expectations, a whole infrastructure they’re trying to create,” Peterson said.
In contrast to the foreign teachers who mulled over the conceptual pros and cons of the Edu-City and its realization, there is Hyo Soon Kim, a public school teacher who has lived on Jeju all her life, and who offered a very different perspective.
“Many teachers do not accept the Education City. They are worried about keeping Jeju customs. Jeju is very far from the mainland and it is very small,” she said. “It will be difficult to accommodate so many people. At first it will be students, but then many more, and many different social systems.”
While the forum participants didn’t come to a consensus on how to address the issues that the Edu-City raises for Jeju residents and foreigners, they felt one thing was certain. Change was coming to Jeju. "The status quo is going to be changed. It's evolution. And that's happening everywhere," Peterson said.
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