Problems for Learners in the ROKHaving taught English in the ROK for the past twelve months, I have come to understand firsthand a number of issues facing students
learning English in South korea
. The most prevalent issue I recognized in my time teaching in the ROK was the structure of Hagweons, the private English academies attended by many school-age students
pursuing more than the fundamental knowledge of the English language provided through their regular schools. As may be the case with English academies worldwide, korean
Hagweons are run as a business first, school second, catering to students
hailing from wealthy families who can afford such luxuries as private academies and have a vested interest in their child?s educational achievements. While parental support is widely considered to be a very beneficial element of learning, in the case of korean
Hagweons, it can occasionally be problematic as well.
The particular Hagweon at which I worked proved quite challenging in a number of ways, the first being the cramped teaching environment I encountered which often limited the types of activities I could do in class. Like any business, Hagweons are concerned primarily with profits, and as such, are known for filling classes to or above capacity. Other common Hagweon practices involve allowing new students
to join a class with only weeks left in a given term, and failing to dismiss paying students
who regularly cause disruption and create an uncomfortable teaching environment. These Hagweon business practices, quite common around the country, make it challenging for an inexperienced teacher to establish a welcoming classroom setting in which everyone is engaged and feels able to participate equally. The combination of business and school in the case of the korean
Hagweon seems to be a contradiction in which real learning all too often takes a back seat to the ever-important matters of money.
In addition to supplying me with an excess of students
and a shortness of space, my particular Hagweon also gave me a rigorous selection of material to cover throughout the term. As a business, the course materials of many Hagweons are selected by corporate committees, perhaps distanced from the realities of the classroom. The problem for many Hagweons comes in to play when completion of all the published course material becomes the parents? main gauge of their child?s progress in the course, thus eliminating much of the discretion and flexibility a teacher would generally use in selecting age-appropriate and varied material for the students
to complete. An excess of required material cramps the class schedules of many Hagweons and makes it challenging for teachers to include group activities that truly engage the students
and allow them the chance to build on their existing knowledge of the English language.
Finally, in many Hagweons, Native English Teachers are treated less seriously than their korean
-speaking counterparts, utilized primarily in many cases for appearances-sake to attract prospective students
to the school. Even in the case of experienced teachers and extensive level testing each term suggesting against it, it is not uncommon for a Hagweon student
to be promoted to a higher level simply because a parent calls threatening to withdraw him or her otherwise. This brazen parental appeasement against teacher recommendation creates unfairly mismatched levels, which in turn can leave students
feeling discouraged as they fall further and further behind their peers. The ability for parents to override Native Teachers? authority is detrimental and seriously impedes true learning in the Hagweon environment.
Although my assessment of korean
Hagweons is quite general, from both my own personal experience and the experiences of many people I have met while working in the ROK, I think it is clear that the Hagweon institution as it stands is in dire need of reform. The emphasis on profits inherently deemphasizes learning, which proves detrimental to the students
most interested in gaining from the Native English Teachers available to them. In order to combat such common problems as overcrowded classrooms, staunch course schedules, and lack of respect for Native English Teachers in Hagweons, it would be beneficial to implement some kind of mandatory teacher?s training, so the Native English Teachers working in korea
could gain prior knowledge of the system and techniques to adapt to the varying and often challenging classroom environments they may face working in the korean
Hagweon system. Additionally, it would be of value to deemphasize the Hagweon institution as a whole by encouraging the korean
government to significantly update the English programs available at public schools so fewer students
would feel the need to supplement their English education with private academies. In the meantime, however, it is vital that Native English Teachers working in Hagweons at present learn proper classroom techniques and continue to teach this often-difficult group of students
with motivation and enthusiasm to the best of their abilities.