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Apr 16, 2009

'Delicious English Class' at an island school

Kwanghwa Reporter Doo Lee:  dlee@chosun.com

In the afternoon on Mar. 12, at the exclusive English classroom of Deokshin High school of Kwanghwa County, 10th grade students wearing headphones input their designated numbers into computers and soon American teachers’ faces appear on their monitors. The dialog begins immediately as American teachers smiling and waving their hands say “Hello”, and the students answer “Hello, teacher” into their microphones.

An American teacher remarks to Dong-Jun Lee, “I can see about twenty students in your room." Lee answers, “No, No, about thirty". On this day, students talk with their American teachers around the topics of school life, relationships with friends, parents’ occupations, hobbies, weather, future dreams, and so on.

Thanks to a subsidy from the IMOE, all 197 students in the 10th and 11th grades of Deokshin high school have now enjoyed the unique opportunity of this type of English study since the new semester began this year, and the school commenced 1:1 English sessions with local U.S teachers using live video conferencing. According to the Ministry of Education, remote video classes with local American teachers began on a full scale last year, and are now ongoing in schools at fishing and agrarian areas of 12 cities and provinces excluding Seoul, Kyeonggi, Daegu, and Jeju. In most cases, there is 1 teacher per class or 1 teacher per 4~5 students in the system.

Establishing a 1:1 system between students and US teachers, like at Deokshin high school, is still rare. IMOE has provided $60,000.00 to Deokshin high school to purchase teaching aids and computer equipment.

Deokshin high school students take turns by groups two times per week in specially prepared classrooms to receive instruction through Internet video conferencing from English teachers located in Wyoming in the US. Each class of 35 students is divided into 3 groups of 11~12 children. While the 1st group is receiving video instruction on one side of the English classroom, equipped with a video conferencing system, group 2 and 3 are either reading English novels or watching English TV on monitors at the other end of the room. The session time per group is 15 minutes. The American English teachers [employed by Eleutian Technology], numbering 12 so far. are former or current school teachers in the US, and have full teaching certificates with at least 5 years of field teaching experience.

Students can not only communicate with but also see the movements of their teachers, like gestures and facial expressions, directly through 1:1 video sessions. The English teachers in America also capture students’ expressions, hand motions, and the classroom atmosphere and so on. They can throw out and answer questions If they feel the students need help understanding the dialog, American teachers can also send the students written dialog of what they are discussing through an instant chat messaging bar next to their image on the monitor.

Many students remark that “English class has become really fun!” Student, Daecheol Jeong, said, “On the 1st day, I repeated only ‘Yes and No’ with hesitation during the whole session”, he added, “It still wasn’t easy to open my mouth even though I prepared a script for the conversion in advance with help from my friend, who is good at English, because I wanted to do better.” Minju Kim said “Unlike the conventional English classes, video sessions are lively and very fun. I think I can understand about 30% of what teachers say.” The recording files of the conversation between the students and American teachers are provided to the schools within two weeks and are used to monitor the increased English proficiency of the students.

Mr. Dongcheol Kang, the English teacher of this school, said, “The American teachers will conduct their classes focusing on conversation skills for a while to check the English proficiency of our students, then they will teach using textbooks consisting of vocabulary, grammar, listening, and speaking skills.” School supervisor Mr. Jeongho Jeong of IMOE commented, “This system has been introduced because the infrastructure for the Island schools of Incheon was lacking, and dispatching native English teachers was not easy either. We will expand this program as we continue to see good results.”