What’s different about the education system in South Korea?
The education system in Korea is unique to say the least. It’s hard to find other countries that have a more competitive academic ladder to climb than here. Testing starts in elementary school which determines the quality of the middle school the child will attend. The student’s academic success in that middle school then plays a big role determining the high school the student is eligible for.
This process continues through to university. To get a good job in a top Korean firm or corporation, there are three major universities the student must graduate from: Seoul National University, Korea University or Yonsei University. Together these schools form “SKY” – the prestigious trio of most sought-after universities in Korea. The job prospects and social status of a Korean person is largely determined by their academic credentials. So getting into any of these schools is tough and the battle starts early.
For a long time here in Korea, English grammar ability and writing were all that was really required for entrance. Which is why you will find students at the middle to high school level whose understanding of grammar is very advanced, yet they struggle to say one meaningful, articulate sentence in an unscripted conversation. However, the realization soon struck that knowing English grammar, while at the time sufficient to get someone accepted into a good school, is not enough to make someone effective in real life situations where actual speaking is going to be required, i.e. in a business meeting with foreigners.
Nowadays, the ability to know conversational English is considered a basic requirement for admissions into any highly ranked university. Top universities in Korea require at least one conversational English course taken in the first semester and English conversation abilities are usually assessed before a student is admitted.
So what is the current state of Korea’s English speaking ability? In a study conducted by Samsung Economic Research Group, Koreans spend 14.3 trillion won per year on private English lessons and another 700 billion on English proficiency tests. Koreans per capita, spend an enormous amount on English education, far surpassing Japan whose population is two and a half times bigger, but who altogether spend only the equivalent of about 5 trillion won. One would think that this truly enormous amount of money spent on education would result in a relatively high English fluency rate.
Yet out of the 12 Asian countries that were involved in a research study conducted by the Hong Kong Political end Economic Risk Consultancy, South Korea scored the lowest in overall English ability.
This is where you come in.
The English language hagwon is basically the answer of the ambitious parents who understand the need for their son or daughter to be able to speak a basic amount of English. Wanting the best for their child and knowing how important an English education is for their future, these parents have a few options: They can move to an English speaking country for an extended period of time so that their son or daughter can improve their English; they can hire a private tutor; or, they can enroll their child in an English language academy, where the students can get one on one face time with an actual native English speaker.
For most, it is the third option that is the most feasible, as moving abroad can be a huge ordeal and private tutors aren’t always readily available.
So this situation has created a great opportunity for the English teacher in Korea. Demand for English teachers goes on unabated. As the economy and job market shrinks in America and around the world, the demand for English teachers here continues to rise. And at the present time, provides no signal of letting up.