View from here - Welcome to the 'City' of elite dreams

24th September 2010 at 01:00
The island of Jeju is planning to house 9,000 students - with all lessons conducted in English, reports Michael Fitzpatrick

The balmy isle of Jeju, alongside South Korea and the islands of Japan, has long billed itself as a palm tree-filled holiday resort. But it is now trying to enter an altogether different market as "an education hub for the world".

The ideals of the Global Education City - which plans to host up to 9,000 students, from kindergarten to university level, with its first intake in 2011 - are not lacking in ambition.

Housing up to 12 elementary, middle and high schools, and a university zone, the idea is to make all instruction in English, except for classes in Korean language and Korean history.

The scheme is rooted in South Korea's desire for fluent English, elite schooling and foreign brands. Parents have even been known to pay for citizenships in foreign countries, so they can qualify as foreign residents and send their children to prestigious international schools in Korea.

A government survey last year suggested almost half of parents wanted to educate their children abroad. There is a strong feeling that the teaching of English, in particular, is not good enough in South Korean schools.

Officials in the capital, Seoul, hope projects like Jeju will help cut the practice of shipping mum and the kids off to an Anglophone nation for guaranteed English proficiency. It could also mean the end of "geese fathers" who only fly to see their wives and children in winter and summer holidays.

Christopher Bogden, the scheme's project manager, told a South Korean newspaper: "The intent is to educate all the children in these schools in English, to create an immersion environment for them, even when they're outside the classroom."

But critics from the vast and lucrative English as an additional language industry in South Korea are not convinced the billion-dollar project will succeed.

There are already numerous "English Villages" in South Korea, where only native English-speaking teachers immerse children in their culture and language. With such competition already in existence, doubts have been raised about whether this new project will thrive.

As one Jeju island blogger put it: "Korean English teachers have a difficult time teaching in English. Just how in the hell are they (other Korean teachers) supposed to teach core subjects in English?"

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