The purpose of this study is to outline the current status of English education for young children in Korea—from when, where, and how preschoolers learn English, the reasons and motives behind learning the language, and the amount of time and money invested in English education. This is done in order to identify ways for kindergartens to provide English education that meets parents’ demands but at the same time can be accommodated without compromising the existing curriculum.
A survey was conducted on 1,200 caregivers who have children in the 1st or 2nd year of elementary school in the Seoul and Gyeonggi areas. The survey was designed to shed light on the following: when and why the subjects began English for their children; the relationship between age and institutionalized English education; whether parents have taught preschoolers English at home; the costs of preschool English education; the levels of satisfaction of preschool English education; and whether subjects’ children have studied other languages. Eleven meetings and interviews with experts, parents, teachers of elementary schools and kindergartens, and principals of private institutions and English kindergartens were held, to better understand the current situation and associated issues. The findings and conclusion of the study are outlined below.
Young children start learning English at an average age of 3.7. When asked about the reasons for teaching English to their children, 44.5% of the respondents said that they wanted to expose their children to the language at an early age so that they could become accustomed to and develop an early interest in it, and 20.3% said that their children started learning English simply because their kindergartens or daycare centers provided such courses. The survey also studied the relationship between age and English education. Our results indicate that most young children receive some form of English education: 69.4% of the respondents’ children were taking English classes in institutions (e.g., kindergartens, daycare centers, and private institutions) by the age of three, 83.4% by the age of four, and 84.6% by the age of five. The children who were taking English classes when they were three years old on average had classes twice a week (34.9 minutes per class), and it cost 18,000 won per month, while the majority of 75.6% said that no additional cost was incurred. The children who were taking English classes by the time they were four years old on average had classes twice a week (10.8%) for about 30 minutes per class (37.8%), and the cost incurred was 42,000 won. The survey indicates that children receive more education as they grow older: 84.6% said that their children were taking English classes as part of a regular curriculum by the age of five. Among them, a mere 30.2% said that they were taking extracurricular English classes—32.7% from kindergartens and 28.0% from daycare centers.
A case study on the subjects who chose to enroll their children in private English institutions indicates that they chose institutions dedicated to English education because they wanted their children to have experience and use English at the most exposed situation, and because they were not satisfied with the teaching level provided at regular kindergartens, which teach English through play. The subjects pointed out the following as some of the key characteristics of the English education provided by private English institutions: they use text books used in the U.S. and provide English classes in all the subjects, they have vocabulary tests and assign English home work such as writing diaries and book reports in English. On the other hand, it was revealed that these private institutions fail to provide diverse hands-on activities and are lacking in terms of the physical support for education; for example, an elementary-school like classroom environment with whiteboards, chairs, and desks; a lack of materials and items necessary for childhood education; and lack outdoor facilities such as playgrounds. Private English institutions for young children were separated from kindergartens, as they are privately-run organizations with fundamental differences in educational goals and teaching methods. Therefore, in order to increase the percentage of children attending kindergartens, policies that can enhance accessibility and lower educational fees should be implemented. The link between the curriculums of kindergartens and elementary schools should be strengthened, so that taking courses from regular kindergartens, rather than learning English from private institutions, can better serve children when they enter elementary schools. In order to meet parents’ needs of high-quality English education, this study suggests that a process that can recommend reliable English programs (e.g., a certification or accreditation program) and verify the quality of native-speaking instructors should be established.