Is the Fad for Sending Kids to School Abroad Dying?

      October 28, 2010 07:25

      The number of primary and secondary schoolchildren going abroad to study dropped sharply last year, though it is unclear whether this was as a result of the weak won or diminishing zeal for overseas education.

      According to data released Sunday by Grand National Party lawmaker Suh Sang-kee of the National Assembly's Education, Science and Technology Committee, a total of 18,119 primary and secondary school students from across the country went abroad to learn last year, down 33.7 percent or 9,230 from the year before.

      The number of middle school students fell by 36 percent from 8,888 to 5,723 -- most sharply among all groups. That of elementary schoolchildren plunged 34 percent from 12,531 to 8,370. It was the first time since 2004 that the total annual number of Korean students going abroad to study dropped below 20,000.

      Suh obtained the data from the Korean Educational Development Institute.

      ◆ Industry Slump

      Since the government permitted early schooling abroad in 1999, about 150,000 children were sent overseas to study. Advocates for early schooling abroad say that if they go at an early age, children are able to pick up language and culture better. But critics say this is causing problems from wasting dollars to family disintegration, because often the father stays behind to earn money while the mother accompanies the child.    

      Study-abroad agencies are already feeling the pinch. "It seems that the number of students going abroad to study has plunged by 20-30 percent over the past two to three years," says a person who has run such a business in Seoul's upscale Gangnam for over a decade. "The number of students applying to foreign colleges or graduate schools remains unchanged, but there are fewer high school students who go overseas to get a better shot at college admission, and fewer elementary and middle schoolchildren who go abroad to learn a language."

      The head of another business in Gangnam said the decline is probably due to "economic difficulties."

      ◆ Growing Skepticism

      The downward trend is likely to have been caused at least in part by the global financial crisis and the weak won. But there is also a growing awareness that early schooling abroad has not produced as much benefit as parents expected, experts say.

      A 38-year-old parent in Gangnam sent his sixth-grader daughter to elementary school in South Delta, Canada last year. He found a Canadian homestay family for her but had difficulty staying in touch through phone or Internet, probably because there was little access to the Internet in the village where she stayed.

      The agency which arranged her study program also dissuaded him from talking to his daughter often because she might feel homesick and would speak less English if she spoke too much Korean. "It seems she was very lonely in a foreign country by herself at a young age. She must have been stressed when she had to mingle and study with other children because of her poor English," Kim said. "There now are a lot of good private tutoring institutes in Korea. I don't think I'll send her abroad again."

      Another parent sent his fifth grade son to study in Minnesota in the States where he stayed with a family friend. "I saw many children go astray because they weren't properly taken care of."

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