Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Teachers emerge as Korea’s new ‘export’ item

          Few would argue that people’s zeal for education and dedicated teachers were a driving force for the country’s rapid economic growth.

Korea’s education system is now being emulated by numerous developing countries around the world as it is regarded as a good example of how education could create a virtuous circle of social change and innovation, and successfully contribute to cultural and economic development.

According to Kim Sang-young, president of Busan National University of Education (BNUE), Korea has become an educational powerhouse that can bring positive changes to underprivileged countries.

“It’s time to send more teachers to these countries so that they can share our best teaching practices and ultimately contribute to their economic development. Teachers should be a major export item,” Kim said in an interview.

The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has signed agreements with a number of countries in Asia, Africa and South America to train teachers ― especially in science and mathematics ― there.

The ministry also plans to provide resources worldwide to meet the growing needs for Korean language learning amid the popularity of K-pop and K-drama.

The BNUE is now sending students to the Philippines, Ethiopia, China, Japan, the United States and other countries.

“We call them educational ambassadors because they help strengthen partnerships with the countries. It’s a good experience for the students as well because they can have global mindsets and learn about cosmopolitan values,” said the 60-year-old physical education professor.

The school is currently working with Pohang University of Science and Technology to develop joint training programs for Ethiopian elementary school teachers.

The ministry will finance the project in a bid to boost people-to-people exchanges between Korea and Ethiopia. The two Korean schools plan to provide courses on science, mathematics, music, culture and educational theories.

Kim recently visited the African country to discuss the project with educational policymakers.

“Ethiopia is one of the countries that are eager to learn from Korean educators. We will send a team of BNUE teachers to Ethiopia to help it nurture teachers and develop its own teaching programs,” he said.

The school is also focusing on teaching Korean language and culture to the younger generations of ethnic Koreans abroad as well as foreigners who are interested in learning Korean as a second language.

Kim said that’s necessary because the country’s international presence is expanding and the number of foreigners who want to learn Korean and customs has been growing rapidly.

According to the ministry, the number of foreign elementary and secondary schools which have set up Korean language courses increased to 695 in 2011 from 522 in 2009.

Last year, about 121,500 people from 47 countries took the Test of Proficiency in Korean, administered by the Korean government, compared to 50,133 from 28 countries in 2007 and 85,000 from 35 countries in 2009. The exam has become a must for foreigners who want to study and work in Korea.

“We need to boost efficiency in providing language education to ethnic Koreans and foreigners and introduce cultural exchange programs that meet their needs. There should be more administrative and financial support for them,” Kim said.

Best school for teachers

Since he took office in March 2009, he has adopted new teaching methods centered on creativity and character building of students.

He stressed the importance of character education at primary and secondary schools, saying the surging cases of bullying among peers are largely attributed to a lack of this and a competition-oriented system.

“Creativity and character education can lead to creating new knowledge and new solutions for problems. That’s because, in a globalized, knowledge-based world, we must engage, exchange and collaborate with each other based on mutual understanding. That’s what educators should always keep in mind,” Kim said.

The school has been ranked the best institution for educating elementary school teachers in Korea for several years in a row, but it is relatively cheap to study there.

Its tuition for a semester is about 1.5 million won, about 45 percent of the average tuition at four-year Korean colleges. It has frozen tuition for three consecutive years, while providing more scholarships to the students from poor families as well as those with academic excellence. The school said about 75 percent of its 2,000 students received scholarships this year.

“It’s our social responsibility to nurture good teachers and provide them with an excellent learning environment. We are trying to reflect the school’s educational philosophy of love, service and wisdom in our policies,” he said.

Kim is sharing its teaching programs with other universities. He is now serving as chairman of the President’s Council for the National Universities of Education and co-chairman of the Development Committee for the Universities of Teacher Education. He is also vice-chairman of the Korean Council for University Education.

Kim said he will increase the number of students chosen by admission officers so that more talented and well-rounded students can become teachers.

“In the past, Korean universities picked students only based on scores from the annual college admission test. We should evaluate applicants based on their potential and extra-curricular activities,” the president said. “That’s because teachers are examples of students. They should not be judged by only test scores.”

“The purpose of schools is not to foster students who do well on tests. Ethical and moral education is also important,” he added.

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