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(Yonhap Editorial) Introduction of new state English test requires careful approach

All Headlines 16:55 May 27, 2011

SEOUL, May 27 (Yonhap) -- The education ministry plans to replace the English section of South Korea's standardized college entrance test, known as the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) or Suneung, with a new English aptitude test developed and certified by the government.

The ministry said on Thursday the new English aptitude test will be introduced in full-scale in 2015 (for the 2016 academic year) after periods of its trial run over the coming years.

Starting next year, the ministry will begin administering the new test to a selection of new college students at a limited number of colleges.

The new English test will include writing and speaking sections that are not tested on the current CSAT.

The test is to be divided into three different levels -- one adult level to substitute the TOEIC and TOEFL, and two student levels to substitute the CSAT English session.

If all goes well, the new homegrown English test will be added to the list of the existing exams such as the TOEFL, TOEIC and TEPs, ministry officials said.

The new test is judged to be desirable as it aims to reduce students' financial burdens for private tutoring and it will have writing and speaking tests. So far, English education has been focused on developing reading and listening capabilities, which critics say is inefficient in enhancing conversation ability.

Despite the government's aim to slash the enormous expenses for private English tutoring, there is substantial concern that the new system may increase private tutoring expenses on the contrary.

The inferior English environment in schools, like audio and visual facilities and skilled English teachers, may drive many students to well-equipped high-cost private institutes.

Some private institutes have already started to open classes for middle school and elementary school students who will be subject to the new test.

Experts also worry that the new test will lose its assessment function as it will be much easier than the current CSAT English test.

In order to prevent downfalls, the government should make complementary measures after fully analyzing possible problems. It would be worthwhile for the government to consider drastically lowering the difficulty levels of the test or use the test to select students who pass or fail in order to suppress the increase of private tutoring.

The government is advised to take more time and make multi-sided considerations before introducing the new policy.

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