Panelist Presentation

Some Problems of Korean Language Education in Southern California

Michael Namkil Kim
Director, Korean Studies Institute
University of Southern California

 




Dr. Michael Namkil Kim


0.      Introduction*

This year is the 100th anniversary for Korean immigration to the US. It may be fair to say that Korean language education started with this immigration. It is significant then, under this circumstance, that we consider the current status of Korean language education and its problems in Southern California, where today’s largest Korean immigrant concentration worldwide exists. In this paper we will discuss three topics: first, current status of Korean language education in the world; second, current status of Korean language education in Southern California; and third, some problems arising from language education in Southern California and proposals to amend these problems.  

1.   Current Status of Korean Language Education in the World

The internationalization (or globalization) of Korean language education has been taking place owing to the massive increase of overseas Koreans and the amazing expansion of the national strength of South Korea in the latter part of the 20th century. According to Korean government statistics (Lee 2,000), there are approximately 79 million Koreans living worldwide: 47 million in South Korea, 27 million in North Korea, and 5 million and 640 thousand overseas. Of overseas Koreans, there are the four largest overseas Korean groups: 2 million and 100 thousand in North America, 2 million and 40 thousand in China, 6 hundred and 60 thousand in Japan, and 500 thousand in the former Soviet Union. Currently Korea has diplomatic relationships with 183 countries, of which 95 countries are occupied by Koreans.

   When talking about the Korean language education for children, we can start by considering how the Korean language is being taught to children; i.e. whether language instruction takes place in public schools or private schools. The introduction of Korean in the public school system is much later in time and on a smaller in scale compared to private schools. As we well know, private Korean language schools are mostly supported by overseas Koreans. We will now examine Korean language education in the world at both private and public schools.

1.1.  Schools Operated by Overseas Koreans

Koreans living in 95 countries have greatly contributed to the development of Korean language education by establishing Korean schools to provide language and cultural education for their children. According to the recent statistics (Lee 2,000), there are about 1,613 Korean language schools operated by overseas Koreans in the world. These schools can be divided into regular schools and weekend schools.

1.1.1.      Regular schools

Regular schools were established by overseas Koreans and supported by funds from the Korean government to educate overseas Korean children. In these schools, all subjects are taught in Korean. The first Korean school was established in 1949 at Osaka, Japan. In Taiwan, two Korean schools were established at Gaoshong and Taipei in 1961. From the late 1970s many Koreans went to the Middle East, and consequently eight Korean schools were established in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt, and Libya. With the start of immigration to South America in the late 1960s, Korean schools were established in Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil. After opening diplomatic relations with former and current communist countries in 1991, Korean schools were also established in Russia, Vietnam, and China. In China, the first private Korean school, which was not financially supported by the Korean government but by Chinese Koreans themselves, started in 1989 at Beijing.  There are currently 8 branch schools in cities of Shenyang, Chagchun, Harbin, Mudanjiang, Dandong, Jilin, and Shijiajiang, and Weihai (Hwang 1997). With expansion of trade with Southeast Asian countries, Korean schools have been established in Indonesia and Singapore. Currently, there are over 30 Korean schools in 17 countries. In Los Angeles, there is also one regular school operated by overseas Koreans.

1.1.2.      Weekend schools

Weekend schools typically meet for three hours on Saturdays or Sundays, and their curriculum consists of Korean, Korean culture and history, dance, music, Tae Kwon Do, calligraphy and so on. (There are also schools which meet either on Friday or Wednesday evenings.) According to Lee (2,000), there are 1,588 weekend schools in 95 countries and the number of students attending these schools is 93,982. The number of countries, schools, teachers and students is as in Table 1:

Table 1: The number of countries, schools, teachers, and students

    Area       

Number of Countries  

No. of Schools 

No. of teachers 

No. of students

Asia

24

118

991

9,226

North America         

2

935

7,705

58,609

Central and South America

18

61

412

3,718

Europe

26

445

1,163

21,648

Middle East

8

9

54

267

Africa

17

20

109

514

Total

95

1,588

10,434

93,982

 Countries in Asia in Table 1 include Australia and New Zealand. There are 33 schools and 2,454 students in Australia, and 7 schools and 1,263 students in New Zealand.

 North American schools can be divided more specifically as in Table 2:

Table 2: The number of schools, teachers, and students in North America

Area

No. of schools

No. of teachers

No. of students

New York

182

1,634

12,337

L. A.

122

1,318

11,942

Chicago

110

867

1,226

San Francisco

72

621

4,760

Seattle

94

613

4,708

Atlanta

76

599

3,751

Houston

80

664

3,359

Washington

68

526

4,464

Boston

28

220

1,082

Honolulu

35

202

1,852

Ottawa

1

7

102

Toronto

56

346

4,111

Montreal

5

39

268

Vancouver

6

49

466

(Since Table 2 is based on source collected in 2,000, it does not reflect the current status in the Los Angeles area. More detailed facts will be discussed in due course.)

   Europe in Table 1 includes the former Soviet Union. The number of schools, teachers, and students in the former Soviet Union is as in Table 3.

Table 3: The number of schools, teachers, and students in the old Soviet Union

Countries

No. of schools

No. of teachers

No. of students

Russia

65

152

2,861

Ukraine

13

40

535

Uzbekistan

77

92

5,473

Kazakhstan

183

40

535

Kirghizstan

29

41

801

Tadzhikstan

3

3

60

1.1.3.      Korean Education Center

There are 33 Korean Education Centers in 13 countries. These education centers are established by the Korean government to support the education of overseas Koreans. The first Korean Education Center was established in 1963 in Japan. The countries where the centers are established and the number of government officials dispatched to these centers are as in Table 4:

Table 4: The number of centers and officials in Japan, USA, old Soviet Union, and Canada and other countries

Countries

No. of  centers

No. of officials

Japan

14

28

USA

6

8

Old Soviet Union

3

5

Canada and Other ten countries

10

16

1.2. Public Schools

There are currently four countries, China, Japan, USA, and Australia, where Korean Language education is conducted in public schools. Since there are no statistical numbers available for the schools in Japan and Australia, the discussion will be limited to the schools in China and USA.

  

1.2.1.   China

According to Chun (1997), there are 1,388 public schools in China, where Korean language is instructed to students. These schools have 268,697 students and 24,185 teachers. The number of elementary, secondary, and normal schools, and the number of their students and teachers are as in Table 5:

Table 5: The number of elementary, secondary, and normal schools, and the number of their students and teachers

Schools

No. of schools

No. of students

No. of teachers

Elementary

1,150

173,658

13,946

Secondary

235

92,398

9,912

Normal

3

2,641

327

Total

1,388

268,697

24,185

When we look at Table 5, the numbers look impressive compared to other countries. However, Korean language education in China is now facing several difficulties. Chun (1997) cites the following:

  

1.2.2. United States

The earliest Korean language education in US public schools started in the late 1970s in New York and Los Angeles as a part of bilingual education. However, bilingual education for Korean heritage students failed due to the lack of support both from parents and school administration. Successful Korean language education in public schools started recently in the United States owing to the innovative school program in the Los Angeles Unified School District and the effort of the Foundation for SAT II Korean.

   According to the source provided by the Foundation for SAT II Korean, at present there are 44 schools where Korean language is taught to about 3,700 students by 46 teachers. Specific numbers of schools, students and teachers are as in Table 6:

Table 6: The number of schools, students, and teachers for SAT II Korean

Schools

No. of schools

No. of students

No. of teachers

Elementary

5

553

5

Junior High

7

349

7

High

32

3,098

34

Total

44

3,700

46

   According to the Foundation for SAT II Korean, 6 more secondary schools will start to teach Korean from the Fall Semester in 2003. If this is the case, then the total number of schools which teach Korean will become 50 from the time Korean language was adopted as a subject of SAT II in 1996.

2.   Current Status of Korean Language Education in Southern California

Since the largest number (approximately, one million) of overseas Koreans are living in Southern California, there are more schools here than any other place in the world, ranging from weekend schools to colleges, which offer Korean language instruction to students. In this section we will study how Korean language instruction is conducted in Southern California.

2.1.   Schools Operated by Korean Americans in Southern California

2.1.1        Regular school

There is one regular school in Los Angeles, Wilshire Elementary School. When this elementary school started under the name of Los Angeles Hankook Academy in 1985, the whole student body consisted of heritage students and the school was supported by students’ tuition and fund from the Korean government and school trustees. In the midst of operation, the school faced a financial problem and the name of Los Angeles Hankook Academy was changed to the present name of Wilshire Elementary School in 1998.  Currently the school is operated solely by students’ tuition and the student body consists of both heritage and non-heritage students. The number of students and teachers is as in Table 7:

 

Table 7: the Numbers of student and teachers in Wilshire Elementary School

Students

Regular teachers

Teachers for special classes

Teacher aids

164

10

8

6



2.1.2.        Weekend schools

There are 16,059 students in weekend schools which belong to two large organizations: Korean School Association of America (KSAA) and Korean Institute of Southern California (KISC). KSAA has 244 schools in which 13,659 students are taught by 1,820 teachers, whereas KISC has 12 schools in which 5,048 students are taught by 147 teachers. The number of schools and their locations under KSAA and KISC are as in Tables 8 and 9 respectively:

Table 8: The number of schools and their locations under KSAA

Locations

Number of schools

Arizona

8

Nevada

13

New Mexico

4

El Centro

6

Cerritos

20

Fullerton

35

Los Angeles

54

Roland Heights

19

San Bernardino

11

San Diego

9

Santa Maria

13

Torrance

13

Irvine

9

Valley

30



Table 9: Names of schools and the number of students and teachers under KISC

Names of schools

No. of students

No. of teachers

Los Angeles Korean Language School

569

13

Valley Korean Language School

213

10

South Bay Korean Language School

168

7

Glendale Korean Language School

838

21

Riverside Korean Language School

244

8

Peninsula Korean Language School

312

9

Wilshire Korean Language School

565

16

Fullerton Korean Language School

747

19

Arcadia Korean Language School

165

7

Downey Korean Language School

209

8

Granada Hills Korean Language School

593

17

Diamond Bar Korean Language School

415

12

Total

5,048

147

2.1.3     Korean Education Center in Los Angeles (KECLA)

The main function of the Korean Education Center in LA (KECLA) is to provide necessary help for Korean language schools. KECLA is housed in the building purchased by the fund provided by the Korean and government and raised locally. One of the most important activities done by KECLA is the operation of Korean teachers training session. Thus far KECLA has completed four teachers training sessions. Each session lasts ten weeks and trainees meet twice a week. Each class lasts three hours.  

2.2.              Public Schools

2.2.1.        The Korean/English Dual Language Program

The Korean/English Dual Language Program started in 1992, in the Los Angeles Unified

School District, to use Korean and English as the target languages. In this program Korean heritage students and non-heritage students study together under the same educational environment with the goal of having both groups of students learn both languages. Students participating in this program consist of 70% ethnic Korean students and 30% non-ethnic Korean students. According to Merrill (2002: 316), “the program serves nearly 800 students in kindergarten through grade 12 at four elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school. This program has received recognition from the California Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education for excellence in program development and student achievement. Students in the program have consistently outperformed peers in monolingual English programs on nationally standardized tests of English and other academic subjects.”

2.2.2.        Secondary school programs

There are currently 29 secondary school programs in Southern California that teach Korean as a foreign language or as part of a bilingual program. The number of students and teachers in these schools are as in Table 10:

Table 10: The numbers of secondary schools in Southern California offering Korean and the number of students and teachers in these schools

Types of schools

No. of schools

No. of students

No. of teachers

Elementary

4

491

4

Junior High

4

199

4

High

25

1,867

19

Total

33

2,557

27

2.3.      Non-academic Organizations Promoting Korean Language Education       

 

There are three active organizations which concentrate on the promotion of Korean language education in Southern California; they are the Foundation for SAT II Korean, Korean School Association in USA, and the Foundation for Korean Institute of Southern California.

2.3.1.        The Foundation for SAT II Korean

The Committee for SAT II Korean was organized to raise funds for the adaptation of Korean for SAT II in 1994. In 1995, the first raised fund of $500,000 was delivered to the College Board of USA. In the same year, the Foundation for SAT II Korean (FSAT II Korean) was established to promote Korean language education in US public schools and to lobby for Korean to be adopted as one of the SAT II foreign languages. After the Korean language was adopted as an SAT II language in 1997, FSAT II Korean has been concentrating on petitioning for more high schools to offer Korean as a foreign language. In addition, every summer FSAT II Korean takes American teachers including principals and administrators and Korean language teachers to Korea for their training. The number of students who took SAT II Korean since 1997 is as follows:

Table 11:  The number of students who took SAT II Korean

Year

No. of students

1997

2,500

1998

2,443

1999

2,550

2000

2,605

2001

3,336

2002

3,194

 

2.3.2.        Korean School Association of USA (KSAA)

Korean School Association of America was established in 1982 to enhance the promotion of Korean language education, the coordination of school activities, and the exchange of information between schools. KSAA covers California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada with 244 weekend schools, of which church weekend schools constitute the majority. The main activities of KSAA include a school principals training workshop (once a year), a teachers training workshop (four times a year), the operation of SAT II Korean preparation classes and tests, a competition for Korean story telling and proficiency, and the development of Korean curriculum and teaching materials.

  

2.3.3.        The Foundation for Korean Institutes  of Southern California (FKISC)

The foundation for Korean Institutes of Southern California was established in 1972 to support the starting of Korean education in Southern California. Weekend Korean language schools supported by FKISC started from 1978, and there are currently 12 schools under FKISC. The major activity of FKISC was to get the approval from the State of California to start the regular Korean elementary school. In 1984 FKISC attained approval from the state and started the school from 1985.

        

3.         Issues and Proposals

Korean language education has made phenomenal expansion and development in the last two decades owing to the rapid increase of overseas Koreans and the expansion of the national strength of Korea. Particularly, people in the world witnessed the vitality and underlying strength of Korea through two international athletic competitions, the Olympic and World Cup games. These two games became important catalysts for many overseas Koreans as well as many foreigners to learn about Korea and to pursue learning the Korean language. However, both Korean language educators and students face many problems in teaching and learning Korean. In this section we will discuss the pressing problems and the possible solutions to these problems. Most of these problems are the recurring issues pointed out by the experts in Korean language education (N. Kim 1994, Sohn 1997, 2001, Lee 2000, Sung 2001, K. Kim 2002, and Merrill 2002).

3.1.   Textbooks and other teaching materials

The most critical problem pointed out unanimously by the teachers (who responded to questionnaires prepared by the Korean teachers’ workshops at USC Korean Studies Institute in 2001 and 2002 and to K. Kim’s (2002) questionnaire) was the shortage of adequate teaching materials including textbooks, technology-related materials and other supplementary materials. There aren’t many textbooks in existence which teachers can choose from for their preference.   (Currently, there are three most widely used teaching materials in Southern California: two are textbooks, It’s fun to learn Korean compiled by the Korean Institute of Southern California and Korean Language and the accompanying conversation book, Korean Conversation, compiled by the Institute for the Promotion of International Education and the Institute for the Evaluation of Educational Curriculum, and the remaining one is a resource book for teachers, Korean Language Curriculum compiled by the Korean School Association of America. Of the two textbooks, the first one is mainly used by schools under the jurisdiction of the Korean Institute of Southern California and the second is mainly used by the schools which joined the Korean School Association of America (KSAA). Since Korean Language Curriculum is compiled by KSAUSA, it is mainly used by the schools under KSAA.) Although few textbooks have been published both in Korea and abroad, these books are still far from meeting students’ needs and teachers’ satisfaction. Although there may be many reasons why the existing textbooks are inadequate, I will just cite a couple of the most serious problems in regard to textbooks and teaching materials.

   The first problem with textbooks is the lack of authenticity. The language used in the textbooks must reflect how language is used in real life situations so that students can be exposed to authentic language usage in society. When the use of language is apart from real life, textbooks tend to be dry and boring and consequently students lose interest in learning language seriously. Since the books used in Southern California’s schools are mainly designed to teach reading and writing, they tend to show a lack of authenticity. They should be written in such a way as to allow and promote the use of a variety of authentic language materials, such as children’s storybooks, video dramas, clips from children’s magazines, restaurant menus, commercials, etc.

   The second problem is related to technology-related materials. In recent years, a variety of technology-related materials have been produced and utilized constructively and innovatively by teachers in language teaching. However, there are very few technology-related materials available to Korean language teachers except for a few websites which provide self-studying of Korean for students.  In order to maximize the learning of Korean language learners, a variety of technology-related materials should be produced.  These materials would at least include audiotapes with listening exercises, lectures, stories, and authentic samples of native-speaker texts, and videotapes with documentaries on specific topics, movies, films, and news media. In addition to the production of these materials, each school should have a resource center where these materials can be stored and loaned free of charge.

   Another urgent problem is the development of Korean textbooks and other teaching materials for public schools. Currently no official textbooks are available for public school students. Most of the secondary schools mainly rely on books published in Korea. These books are designed not for secondary school students in USA but rather students in general, and they were written without any consideration of students’ dominant culture and their psychological behavior. Thus, it is recommended to write a series of textbooks and other supplementary materials based on sound pedagogical research, teachers’ real experiences, and students’ needs.  

3.2.   Teacher training

The success of Korean language education greatly depends on teachers. In this sense, teachers’ training is equally important as the availability of good teaching materials. The current situation of weekend schools in Southern California is deplorable with respect to teacher qualification. The recent questionnaire (K. Kim 2002) demonstrates that only 20% of 162 teachers who responded to the questionnaire majored in Korean language and literature, Korean language education, or education. It is unrealistic to believe that weekend schools would hire only qualified teachers. Most of the teachers teach Korean with meager pay. Teachers are unfamiliar with the structure of Korean language, modern language pedagogy, and the theory of education and psychology. When teachers were asked in the questionnaire (K. Kim 2002) what kind of knowledge is most needed for teaching Korean, more than 50% of respondents expressed knowledge about Korean and pedagogy.

   As mentioned already, two organizations, the Korean Education Center and the Korean School Association in USA are offering teachers’ training sessions and workshops for new and old teachers. However, these teachers training sessions and workshops are also facing a big problem of finding qualified instructors who can give effective and systematic training to teachers. This problem can only be solved when more people are trained in colleges and universities as language specialists and are employed as teachers and professors. Even though teachers training programs are in shortage of good instructors, they are contributing greatly to the enhancement of teacher quality.

   Another problem related with the quality of teachers is the teachers’ ability to communicate with students in English. One might think that in Korean language schools only Korean must be used, but in reality there are many occasions in which teachers must use English. As a matter of fact, many teachers are not well prepared to converse in English with their students. There are many cases where students lose interest or motivation in learning Korean due to the lack of communication with teachers. (This information was provided by Mr. Chung, who is serving as Director of the Korean Education Center in Los Angeles.) Therefore, Korean Language teachers must acquire sufficient English ability to be confident and capable teachers.

   Compared to weekend school teachers, public school teachers who are engaged in teaching Korean are in a much better situation with respect to their quality owing to better preparation. Teachers in California public schools are required to pass an examination for BCLAD (Bilingual Cross-Cultural Language Academic Development) certification. “The process of certification includes the passing of a rigorous six-hour examination that includes evaluation of a teacher’s knowledge of the Korean language and pedagogy” (Merrill 2001: 320).

3.3.  Expansion of Korean classes in public schools

Until Korean was adopted as one of the SAT II subjects, there were only a handful of secondary schools in the US which offered Korean as a foreign language. With the advent of SAT II Korean, many public schools started to offer Korean as a second language, this coming September their number being 50. Despite the phenomenal increase in the number of schools in a short period of time, owing to the effort of Foundation of SAT II Korean, the number of schools offering Korean is miniscule compared to the number of schools offering other languages.

   There are two ways to increase the number of students who will take Korean. First, there is a large group of heritage students who are not taking Korean as a foreign language. This group should be targeted for recruitment of students to take Korean. Not only Korean heritage students but also their parents and school (district) administrators should be targeted. When these three groups work together, the number of schools offering Korean classes will increase. The second potential group of students who can take Korean as a second language consists of non-heritage students. At present there are few schools in which the majority of students taking Korean as a second language belong to the non-heritage group.  For instance, in Los Angeles High School, out of 160 students taking Korean, 110 students are coming from the non-heritage group and in New Hope Academy in Maryland, all 120 students are non-Korean heritage students. Considering this encouraging fact, it is possible that the number of students taking Korean can be expanded in both public and private schools.    

 3.4.  Articulation between weekend schools and public schools

Currently there is no articulation between weekend schools and public schools except the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Korean/English Dual Language Program mentioned previously. There is no substantial connection between the weekend Korean language program and the High School Korean language program with respect to the adaptation of textbooks and student proficiency evaluation. Each program is independently operated by the respective school. For instance, there is no formal method to evaluate a student from weekend schools and to place him seamlessly in the appropriate high school class. Korean community leaders, parents, educators, and school (district) administrators must sit together to find an agreeable solution for this kind of problem. It is also advisable that educators from both weekend and public schools work together to write textbooks acceptable to both schools.              

3.5.   Assessment

Until the advent of SAT II Korean, the most underdeveloped area in Korean language education was the evaluation or assessment of students’ Korean language proficiency or performance. Although a variety of tests for SAT II Korean have been constructed and performed for students, a reliable battery of tests measuring Korean language learner performance is still hard to find. Particularly, a standardized test should be developed to measure all students in both public and private schools. When this type of test is developed, student performance and achievement can be assessed with validity. (Please refer to Brown (2001, PART V) for some important notions of language assessment.)     

4.         Conclusion

In this paper we presented the current status of Korean language education in the world and Southern California and some urgent issues arising from Korean language education and possible proposals to remedy these problems. The facts presented in this paper are not final because they are constantly changing. We promise to pursue our endeavor to improve our research on Korean language education in the future. 

Footnote

*I would like to render my thanks to Kwan-yeong Jeong, Mi-chung Lee and Young-june Cho for their help in writing this paper. Mr. Jeong  and Ms. Lee kindly provided me with  information on Korean language education in Los Angeles, and Mr. Cho took time to illustrate tables for statistics . 

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