The Education Ministry wants to reduce the number of English language lessons in schools by 30 percent from 2017.
The ministry says the aim is to lessen the burden on students, but the move is drawing criticism for coming at a time when language skills are getting ever more vital in a globalized economy.
The ministry on Monday proposed several reforms aimed at reducing the classroom workload. They include cutting the amount of work in Korean, English and Math classes.
“We plan to lower the classroom workload by 20 percent in all classes,” a ministry official said.
Elementary and middle schools will cut down on English reading and writing lessons, while high schools will reduce conversation and listening but boost the amount of reading and writing.
English language textbooks will be required to slim down new vocabulary. “While the overall amount of English lessons will decrease, we plan to offer some advanced classes in reading, writing and literature for those who need them,” the official said.
Teachers warn that slashing requirements will inevitably lead to a decline in skills.
English evaluation standards are to shift from a curve system to an absolute evaluation in the college entrance exams in 2018, which could prompt students to put less focus on studying the language.
One high school teacher said, “The purpose of English language teaching is not just to pass tests, and reducing the number of English lessons at school would mean that only rich kids who can afford expensive private lessons excel in the language.”
The ministry’s plan is also sparking fears of a general dumbing down. Yang Jung-ho at Sungkyungkwan University said, “The aim should not be simply to lower the classroom workload of students but to equip students with the skills they will need in higher education.”
Parents feel the opposite is needed, not least so they can save on endless hours of crammer lessons. “I think more English language lessons are necessary to compete in a globalized society, and I don’t know why education officials are trying to go against the tide,” said one parent whose child is in middle school. “I may have to spend more on crammers so my child will be prepared to enter university.”
The ministry hopes to finalize its decision later this month after putting the latest proposal through public hearings. The revised policy will then go into effect in 2017 at elementary schools and in 2018 in middle and high schools.