Friday, 04 July 2008

Dont Worry, Be happy.

As part of my evaluation for my students, I give them a test every two lessons. That will come to six speaking test for the year. These are other sources of evaluation, but for this post they are not important.

The speaking test is basically students memorising the “Listen and Speak” text for each chapter and then displaying that they can respond with it and use it to ask questions. I would love to make it better, but I have 500 students and up to 40 that I have to evaluate in 45 minutes.

I rate the students on Effort, Knowledge, Pronunciation and Tone. Effort is very important. This reflects whether you studied. I usually change small things and if you know that as well, then you will get 5 point out of the 20 total. Understanding tests to see if you or are you able to change from that the book gives you without dropping the required parts of the sentences, in other words, are you following the book like asheep or not? Pronunciation and Tone are obvious. So far I have been very lenient on that, but I think I need to make it a little stricter now.

As it is now the end of the semester, the English teachers are asking me to provide them with my results. Conversation is 10% of their total mark and here is my first problem with the system. You are studying a language. Conversation, your ability to actually use the language for what it was intended, counts for only 10%? Whatever.

I provided them my scores, but the second and third grade teachers asked me to give the scores to them as A, B, C, D values. My first reaction was: “If everything else are a numerical values, then how are you going to use these symbols for the final mark? Surely they must be converted to a number as well?” Eventually it was determined that I need to give them the results as a numerical values. No biggie. The next time things will be much smoother. Everyone is no clear on what I need to provide and I should be able to use the templates for the inevitable changes as well.

So far there is only the little issue of the 10%. That is no serious problem, but, here is always a but, isn’t there, here comes my BIG issue with the system. As already mentioned, I have to convert my score to one of 4 values. These values are, out of ten, 10, 8, 7 and 6. Yes, you are not reading wrong, there is no 9. Students are not allowed to score 9 for Conversation. Also, you can not score less than 6!

The fact that you can not score less 6 just irked me something serious. They wanted me to figure out how I was going to give the students the adjusted marks. I tried, but in the end I told them “I am sorry, I can not give a student who FAILED my easy test a passing mark with a clear conscience. I will give you my marks and you figure out what you want to assign to that. I will write an Excel Formula to convert it for you, but I am not taking responsibility for this.”

For the tests I had students who would answer the questions “What didn’t you like the movie?” with “Yes!”, and then follow it up with an answer to, “Why didn’t you come to the party?” with “Yes!”. Even worse, I had students who refused to say anything. How can you ask me to give a student who did not even open his book or who did not converse at all a passing score? It is possible to get 10 out of 20 for a test by spewing rubbish with decent sounding words. You will get 4 out of 5 each for Pronunciation and Tone and you will get 1 out of 5 for the other parts. If you are telling me I am not being nice already then, well….

I can see how the cultural aspects pressure the system to let students pass, even if they don’t deserve it. It is a big issue if you have a child who failed a year. He will have to walk around hearing everyone say he is stupid. Koreans are not very excepting of things like this and children are downright nasty here. You will also have to deal with an older student who has no “legitimate” reason to be with younger students. The younger students will refuse to respect his age and this will cause all sorts of problems.

I have to ask, however, if I don’t come to school for a month, will I still get my salary? Does the education department really believe they are going motivate this country to reach their dream of speaking English when the very reason that they bring foreigners in to the system is being undermined by telling student that even if they do absolutely nothing in said foreigner’s class, then they will be rewarded with a satisfactory mark?

I can honestly not see why ANY student even bothers in my class. Even if I give them all 0% for everything from here on, it will have to be adjusted to give everyone a mark of 60%, a passing mark, for conversation. How is this supposed to motivate me to care about the students who don’t even try? I don’t think I am a great, or even good teacher, but I want to be better and I work in improving every day. Why should I even make an effort when it will all come to nothing?

I don’t see how the Education Department can say they really care about the students. The system is set up to make everyone appear to be performing swimmingly, while hiding those who do nothing. This is just another political game in the whole structure that is Korea.

I am sure this practice is not isolated to English. This is from the Korean Times:

More than half of teenagers here do not know when the Korean War broke out or who started it, showing ignorance about the country's history and national security.

The Ministry of Public Administration and Security said Monday that a survey of 1,016 middle and high school students showed nearly 57 percent didn't know the war started on June 25, 1950.

Moreover, 51 percent did not know that the war started with North Korea's invasion of the South. About 14 percent picked Japan as the nation responsible for the war; 13.4 percent, the United States, and 11 percent Russia. About 2 percent even said it was the South invading the North.

This is not exactly an anthem for the school system, but hey, it is close enough...


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