The teaching and learning of English at secondary school level in South Korea: The curriculum and its implementation
Oh, K. (2016). The teaching and learning of English at secondary school level in South Korea: The curriculum and its implementation (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10289/10626
Permanent Research Commons link: http://hdl.handle.net/10289/10626
This thesis explores the professional attitudes and practices of a sample of teachers of English in South Korean secondary schools in the context of a focus point-based analysis of the South Korean national curriculum and a sample of widely used textbooks. There has been widespread criticism of the teaching of English in South Korea since the curriculum reforms that were first manifested in the 6th national curriculum. That curriculum, later superseded by the 7th national curriculum and a number of curriculum amendments, was the first major attempt to respond on a national level to the impact of globalisation and, in particular, to the rapidly increasing use throughout the world of English as a lingua franca. At the core of the research reported here is language teacher cognition. The backgrounds, beliefs, attitudes and professional practices of a sample of Korean teachers of English in secondary schools are explored using a mixed methods approach that combines questionnaire-based surveys and semi-structured interviews with classroom observation. Surrounding and contextualising this aspect of the research is analysis of the 7th South Korean national curriculum as it relates to English and a sample of English language textbooks used in South Korean secondary schools. Problems associated with the teaching and learning of English in South Korean schools have been widely attributed to three main factors - teachers’ lack of an adequate level of oral proficiency in English, the fact that the national examination system is inconsistent with the general direction of teaching reforms, and student resistance to communicatively-orientated teaching. The findings of this research project suggest that although these issues are very real ones, there are other issues which are of equal or greater significance but which have been the subject of very little criticism. The first of these is the nature of the national curriculum itself. Close analysis of the 7th national curriculum documentation uncovered a number of critical issues associated with the authors’ interpretation of some of the literature in the area of communicatively-orientated language teaching along with a number of internal inconsistencies. These things, taken together, were found to result in an overall lack of transparency and coherence. The second problem identified relates to the nature of the textbooks which are made available to teachers. The authors of the textbooks analysed as part of this research project had clearly attempted to be as faithful as possible to the curriculum, selecting much of their content directly from lists of decontextualised phrases and sentences that appear in appendices to the curriculum document and providing, in teachers’ guides, actual lesson scripts in English which are, in some cases, accompanied by anticipated student utterances (which are uncannily correct and/ or appropriate). In view of all of this, it was not surprising to find that many of the teachers who took part in this research project indicated that they were struggling to cope with what they believed was expected of them. What was surprising was the nature of the language lessons that were analysed. It is widely claimed that grammar translation is still practised in parts of Asia, including South Korea. However, grammar translation was not in evidence in these lessons. Nor were audio-lingual methodology or any of the various manifestations of communicative language teaching. Although each of the lessons was very different, what they shared was a sense of theatre in which the teachers, generally occupying centre stage, seemed concerned, above all, to demonstrate their own oral proficiency in English. The South Korean government has spent a vast amount of money in an attempt to resolve problems associated with the teaching and learning of English. Much of that money has been spent on providing in-service teacher training opportunities. However, unless the problems relating to the nature of the curriculum documentation itself are resolved, it seems unlikely that any of that expenditure will result in a significant change for the better.
University of Waikato
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