Ahn Byong-man, Minister of Education, Science and Technology, says the state-run English proficiency test will replace foreign tests such as TOEFL and TOEIC in order to improve the level of English education, at his office in Seoul, Tuesday. / Korea Times Photo by Shim Hyun-chul
By Oh Young-jin, Kang Shin-who
Korea is pushing for a state-developed, standardized English test that will replace English proficiency tests in the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) and TOEFL and TOEIC by 2012.
"The new exam surpasses other similar exams in its credibility because of the fact that it is supported and approved by the state," said Minister of Education, Science and Technology Ahn Byong-man during an exclusive interview with The Korea Times last Tuesday.
"Once it is made available, I am sure that it is just a matter of time before all schools start to use it," Ahn said.
The new test is similar to EIKEN, Japan's test in practical English proficiency. Already, a round of pilot tests is being conducted.
Because the new test is intended to provide a pass-or-fail result for applicants, its adoption in the annual standardized college entrance exams means a significant disincentive for students to take private English lessons.
Currently, out-of-school lessons for English are estimated to occupy half of the tab for private lessons, which the Lee Myung-bak administration sees as one of the major diseases sickening the health of the country.
The 69-year-old former president of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies expects the new test to have economic benefits of replacing the "imported" TOEIC and TOEFL exams, as well as improving the level of English education.
"EIKEN is not just recognized in Japan but also in the United States and Australia, where English is the native language," Ahn said, adding that, if the new test proves to be effective, it will have an advantage over other exams, including the Seoul National University (SNU)-developed TEPS tests.
Currently, tens of billions of won are spent on TOEFL and TOEIC tests on an annual basis, with TEPS making a small but significant inroad into the English test market.
Regarding The Korea Times' report about U.S.-based ETS not paying any taxes on TOEFL tests that costs Korea 25 billion won in annual fees, Ahn said that he intended to ask the commissioner of the National Tax Service to check the legality of their nontax-paying status.
Ahn stressed the globalization of colleges and universities, particularly pointing out that it was important to create an atmosphere for international students to find it easy to study and intermingle with others.
"We now offer a Global Korea Scholarship for foreign students, similar to the U.S.-offered Fulbright scholarship that has benefited many Koreans," Ahn said.
The second education minister in the Lee administration talked about Vietnam's request made during President Lee's recent visit to Thailand for the ASEAN-plus 3 meeting. "They (Vietnam) asked us to increase scholarships," the minister said, explaining that the budget will be increased from this year's 30.4 billion won to 52.6 billion won next year.
He said that scholarships focused on developing countries will foster understanding of things Korean among future leaders of these countries. "It reminds me of those days when bright Korean students used scholarships to study in the U.S.," he said.
Regarding his alma mater, SNU, Ahn said that it may be included in the leading group of schools in Korea in globalization, but added that it was behind by global standards.
"SNU should be ranked globally within the top 20 schools in proportion to the size of the economy," he said.
Ahn added that it is not his policy to meddle in the school's daily operations but he sees the need for him to "nudge" it to set up a prayer room for Muslim students and pay attention to ethnic concerns.