Agroup of English teachers from South Korea has spent the last few weeks in some of Kennett's schools, exploring the ins and outs of the English as a Second Language program.The five teachers - three at the high school and two at Kennett Middle School - were here as part of a program sponsored by the English Language Institute from the University of Delaware and the board of education in Seoul, Korea.
During their visit, the teachers took classes at the ELI by day and took graduate courses in English as a Second Language at night. The university also provided workshops for teaching methodology.
According to Shinja You, the South Koran government recently initiated a reform in the English language program, with an emphasis on "teaching English in English," forcing the teachers to adapt to a language immersion program to teach English to all students in the education system.
You explained that the new government created the English reform initiative to strengthen English education in public schools and to improve communication skills.
"Traditionally, we don't emphasize communication skills, so the government is promoting this, and communication skills among students," she said.
Shim Lew said that in Korea, while English is taught in all schools from third grade on, the teachers themselves are allowed to instruct their classes in both English and Korean, a marked difference from foreign language classes in America where typically the teacher speaks only in the language to be learned.
"The Korean government thinks the lack of oral communication skills in Korean students is because we teach English in Korean," she said.
Assistant Principal Ray Fernandez said that the immersion philosophy is utilized in the World Languages program at Kennett High School, where the only language used in the classroom is the one being taught.
"Of course, there are difficulties not understanding, but eventually that's how you learn," he said. "The key is to use it in a meaningful manner."
In her time at Kennett Middle School, Hwaja Kim observed teachers speaking Spanish to students in English class, something quite different from what she is used to in Korea.
"The teacher doesn't mind and never prohibited [speaking Spanish], just as she sometimes used Spanish to better explain [something]," she said. "They are so natural with teaching in two languages."
Teaching in two languages, Fernandez said, can often times help a new ESL student acclimate to a new environment and also prevents them from being discouraged in the process.
"You have to be very, very careful not to discourage a student, where they feel they don't really want to learn the language," he said. "It's a fine balance."
The English language program in Korea is of utmost importance, according to Lew, particularly since there is still a heavy American presence remaining there after the Korean Conflict over 50 years ago.
"When we came here, I didn't have much culture shock, we're so accustomed to American custom," she said.
"Korea is a small country, and we don't have enough natural resources," You said. "We only have people so Korean people are very much into education one of the best ways for our country to be competitive is to be educated and to know English - it's a world language."
Disciplinary issues seemed to be the biggest difference between American and Korean students, according to the visitors. Things like eating and chewing gun in class, while seemingly small distractions, would not be tolerated in Korean schools, along with the legacy of violence that haunts American education.
While Kim felt those aspects had to be changed in general, she found Kennett Middle School to be an enriching environment.
"People say in America, public schools are almost ruined, but in Pennsylvania, public schools are quite different," she said. "[In America], you have good systems and ones not so good, but I found it depends on the people and the area."
In two weeks of observing an ESL class at KMS, Kim said that while the teacher was very knowledgable and knew her course material, she ultimately felt the teacher was too lenient when it came to classroom discipline.
"She is so generous, she rarely punished her students, even though her students behaved very badly," she said. "Her teaching skills are very good almost too good, but she isn't too strict."
"Maybe we do need to be a bit more strict, but then again, what is strict?" Fernandez said. "Sometimes you're not sure what that should be, either."
The focus on modern teaching tools at KHS impressed Young Won most of all, with the use of Smartboards and other instances of current technology being used in the education process.
"I was impressed they were using those kinds of tools to teach their students," he said. "They are very motivated by those educational materials."
Shim Lew was impressed with the opportunities the students have to speak out during class and offer their opinion - whether it supports what they're just learned or not.
With large class sizes in Korean schools - sometimes over 1,000 students to just 60 teachers - Lew said the opportunities for one-on-one teaching or the time to nurture individual opinions simply aren't there.
Discipline can also become a factor, she said, when the groups are so large - an idea that she said goes against the stereotypical image of the Asian student.
You said she was inspired by the level of competency displayed by the ESL teachers at KHS, something she said she would take home with her.
"I said to myself, 'I can do that,'" she said. "And that is the purpose of our visit."
With their visit complete, the five visitors are expected to reveal their findings to members from their school districts and show what they've learned from the course - in English.
"So it isn't free," she said. "It's a lot of pressure."