On the Road with Gary in…Korea

Technology, typhoons and Cambridge Days

I travelled to Korea for my first time in mid September to present at the twelfth annual Cambridge Days there—Cambridge Days XII, as they write it.  250 teachers from around the north of South Korea attended the event in the capital of Seoul and then about a hundred brave souls attended the event in Pusan (or Busan, ‘depends on the map you’re reading’ I was told) even with the winds, waves and rains accompanying  the start of Typhoon Sanba!

Cambridge Day Presenters

You know, my first Cambridge Day was in Bern, Switzerland back in 2002 (and my next one is in fact also in Switzerland, this time in Fribourg on Saturday November 10). And my longest Cambridge Day tour was in Italy in 2006 to four cities in that elongated country when Cambridge ESOL also first participated. Of course now that Cambridge ELT and Cambridge ESOL have joined forces under the Cambridge English banner, both organisations are intricately involved in Cambridge Days, as in Korea. In fact, one of my talks at Cambridge Days XII was ‘Which comes first: Language development or Exam preparation?’. The answer is that you can achieve both if you’re using materials (from Cambridge ELT) which develop all four language skills and that also prepare for exams (from Cambridge ESOL) which assess all four skills,  i.e. Cambridge English materials for Cambridge English exams.

Typhoon Sanba wave (Yonhap News Agency)

But anyway, my main talk at the Korean Cambridge Days XII was on ‘ELT in(to) the Digital Age’. Now I had understood—correctly!—that Korea was a very advanced country digitally. And you could see that all over the country. In taxis, for example, they pay with a chip card and on the taxis’ windows there are stickers with a QR (‘Quick Response’, right) code to scan on your smart phone for an app for Instant Translation Services. And on the KTX bullet train back from P/Busan to Seoul (trains, fortunately, weren’t stopped due to Sanba, although all air traffic was cancelled for two days), all the young Koreans and older business people had their Samsung (of course!) smart phones and tablets out for texting, e-mailing, reading, surfing the web and/or listening to music and watching videos—as well as getting up-to-the-minute typhoon weather reports.

So I was somewhat surprised before leaving for Korea on reading an international survey in the special August Time Magazine ( How has wirless technology changed… ) ‘The Wireless Issue’ in which more than 60% of Koreans voted that ‘Technology is a distraction from studies and other responsibilities.’ rather than ‘It’s good for children to be learning about technology at an early age.’! But teachers at the two Cambridge Days XII weren’t surprised and when I informally polled them, they voted with their countrymen and women.

What do you think about your students and technology? Would you agree with our Korean colleagues that technology distracts students from their studies and other responsibilities? Looking forward to seeing your votes in the above poll, to reading and replying to any comments—and to perhaps meeting you at an upcoming Cambridge Day in your country!

Gary Anderson, Cambridge ELT International Teacher Trainer


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