Japan-Korea Symposium: Exchange of English Education
On August 3rd, 2002, the 39th Shin-Eiken National Conference in Yamaguchi prefecture was successfully brought to a close in the honest, warm atmosphere which fills the poetry of famous Yamaguchi-born poet, Misuzu Kaneko. The Japan-Korea symposium was held in that afternoon at the same hotel in the lingering warm feeling. We had five Korean guest teachers from the Busan branch of KETG(Korean English Teachers Group) and there were more than 30 participants from the Japanese side, more than what organizers expected, so we had to open the partition and widen the room for the symposium.
First, one of the leaders of BETG(Busan English Teachers Group), Mr. Lee Ki-soo, introduced KETG with handouts printed on beautiful traditional Korean paper distributed to each participant.
Aims of Establishing KETG
1 Restoring English Teachers' Autonomy through a non-government and professional organization
2 Promoting excellence in language learning and teaching
3 Establishing proper English education policy in Korea
Brief history of KETG
1988 KETG established by only a few dozen English teachers in Seoul.
1989 Korea Teachers Union organized. Yet under the undemocratic, reactionary government, more than 1,500 teachers forced out of jobs, including the leading members of KETG.
1999 Korea Teachers Union legalized and KETG activities and influence start to expand.
Activities of KETG
It is surprising to know that Korea Teachers Union was only legalized three years ago. Yet KETG's existence is widely known now and it's influence is extensive. Today, KETG member teachers are making textbooks published by the Educational Ministry of Korea (counterpart of Japan's MEXT) and some are invited as lecturers for teacher-training sessions sponsored by the Educational Ministry.
Membership is about 2,500, yet it is said that there are some 8,500 online members who read the information of the KETG homepage.
The KETG research activity is unique in that each local chapter is assigned research themes such as Teaching Reading, Teaching English through Movies etc. Each chapter holds study meetings and/or publishes textbooks based on the assigned theme. For example, Seoul branch is very large so it is divided again inside Seoul and each district studies topics such as Reading, Listening, Grammar, or Test and Evaluation; Busan branch works on Writing as well as developing Reading Text Based on their Locality; Ulsan researched Cooperative Learning and Daegu tackles Teaching English Using Drama and Movies as well as Effective Extracurricular English Education.
The KETG teachers have edited and published a seasonal magazine titled "English Education, Exercised Together" and it's become a monthly this year. They are holding "in-service teacher development" training every spring and fall as well as big once-a year national conference, which is held in various places in Korea just like Shin-Eiken's national conference. They also share the same stance with Shin-Eiken toward the government and sometimes criticize the government language policy when necessary.
The similarity between *Japan and Korea English Education systems
Next, Mr. Ikeda, the research division chief of Shin-Eiken, talked about Japan's situation around English Education. The topics included - introducing English education at elementary schools under the *name of 'general studies', classrooms with too large number of students for language study and decreased English class hours at junior high schools, teachers becoming busier and busier and exhausted, restrictions on free study hours of teachers, and so forth. (Please refer to the article of Ikeda in this New English Classroom magazine, Nov. 2001 and the series of articles of him from Dec. 2001 to Feb. 2002 on English education at Korean elementary schools).
Mr. Lee pointed out that in Korea, with overheated English Education fever and blind worship of TOEFL, only how-to teach English is being stressed and materials are mainly copies of Western textbooks which are not really interesting or motivating for Korean students. When he first saw Shin-Eiken's materials at the KETG Seoul office, he found them so fresh and impressive. Stimulated by Shin-Eiken's ideas to pick up original, local materials in textbooks, he tried to utilize famous places in Busan, it's traditional mask plays and local heros, one of whom was killed in a tragic train accident in Tokyo trying to help an old Japanese.
KETG's textbooks are full of activities
The new English course books made by KETG have well-balanced themes of peace, the environment, and human rights. Especially those for high schools are said to be popular with interesting contents such as "Talk between Father and Son who wants to wear pierces", "Story of a rainforest monkey, Alex", "Tale of Paper bag Princess" which makes students think about gender, and the reunion story of former wife and husband who were separated by war between North and South Korea for fifty years. Another feature of both junior and high school textbooks by KETG are that each lesson is full of exercises and activities of listening, speaking, reading and writing. The average age of Korean teachers is fairly young, so such textbooks with abundant guided exercises are popular with them. Such textbooks are nearly 300 pages thick and it seems difficult to finish them in a year.
A textbook, An-nyon Korea
The author of a popular sub-reader, An-nyon Korea!, Michiko Muroi, told of her zeal in making this textbook. She related how hard it was to realize 'Korean language' class in her high school and how she made this An-nyon Korea! with a colleague who could teach Korean. She also referred to her study which analyzed topics depicted in English textbooks in Japan and found that the theme of the environment is fairly well-covered, but there are still very few topics on peace and human rights in our English textbooks.
A teacher from BETG, Mr. Soe, related that his students were impressed by the fact that this textbook was written by Japanese people and said, "the content is really good but there are too few exercises and tasks, so Korean teachers will be at a loss on how to use it in class."
We also had group discussion time in the interim with a Korean teacher in each group. Ms. Kim is the youngest of the five Koreans who participated. Shy and calm, she has the expertise of a graduate school degree. She sadly told us that she wanted to try Shin-Eiken self-expression activities but Korean parents would not accept them, saying that such things hinder their children's study to enter good universities. Robust Mr. Kim is an introspective Christian who says he is attracted by Indian meditation and deplores present day materialism. He told us how he was stimulated by the eager discussion of Shin-Eiken teachers at the conference. Mr. Park served as lecturer with Ms. Kim at a workshop to introduce Korean language and culture, and even sang and showed us elegant Korean dance there. He was involved in the famous Gwangju Rebellion when he was a high schooler and barely escaped from the police hiding on the roof. He (and other members as well) looks so young for his age and it may be due to healthy Korean foods which use a lot of various sorts of vegetables. The cheerful time of exchange was continued on to the second session at a restaurant in town.
By the way, there is an episode that once some people tried to float an unpersoned coal ship from a port in Korea during WWll, which supposedly arrived at Senzaki port in Yamaguchi prefecture, showing how near Yamaguchi is to Korea! Noted local Hagi pottery was also influenced by graceful Korean pottery. Our exchange in such a place, Yamaguchi was truly a special unforgettable one.
Lastly, I would like to thank Professor Asakawa, who spared no pains in making all necessary arrangements for Korean people with the assistance of Japan Foundation (Kokusai Koryu Kikin). I'd also like to thank the people who contributed their money for this occasion and all the participants and helpers of this special event.