When entering the South Korea's Gyeonggi English Village (GEV) Paju Camp, which started formal operation to receive students on Monday, a mini English town appears in front of visitors' eyes.
The old style mini train, the "castle" and "Stonehenge" in the camp make you like stay in a "theme park" rather than an English village.
The GEV Paju Camp makes several world firsts concerning the capacity, size, number of foreign teachers and budget, according to Jeffrey D. Jones, executive director of the camp.
The Gyeonggi Province invested 85 billion won (87.6 million U.S. dollars) to construct the camp at 277,200-square-meter site in Paju, some 45 kilometers north to Seoul. It can simultaneously accommodate 550 students a day.
It also has 100 native speaking teachers and 50 South Korean teachers who both have background of English teaching and education.
As the GEV's Ansan camp, located some 100 kilometers southwest to Seoul, the Paju Camp also provide various program suitable for school students, families, English teachers, kids and military personnel.
The Ansan camp of GEV opened in August 2004, which can offer the programs to 200 students a day.
Gyeonggi Province has been dedicated to make the GEV as a new model for public education. It combines participation in English village with school lessons through active cooperation with the provincial office of education.
"We do not provide grammar class, what we do is to make sure kids have fun in using English and are comfortable to communicate with foreigners in English," Jones told Xinhua.
"South Korean students always turn away when they see foreigners, fearing to communicate with foreigners although they spend much time on studying English... To break down the fear wall is the primary goal, " said Jones, who also the CEO of Gyeonggi English Culture Foundation.
Although students stay a short period of time in the camp, two days or one week, they acquire confidence in communicating in English.
As non-English speaking country, South Korean students always focus on studying grammar and vocabulary, but pay little attention to communicate. Here, at the GEV Paju camp, children have chance to use what they learned in class.
Upon arriving, students are required to take steps for entry with English-speaking interviews at an international airport-like immigration office. From here, students start their living in the "English town."
Students are encouraged to only speak English in the camp. They will utilize broadcasting studio, small theater, bank, post office, hospital, police station, restaurant and kitchen in the camp to practise how to communicate in English.
The camp also boasts various cultural facilities such as indoor and outdoor theaters, an exhibition hall and museum and a multi- purpose gymnasium including a swimming pool, basketball court and soccer field.
According to a report released by (South) Korea Education Development Institute earlier this year, the number of South Korean primary school and middle school students who went abroad for study is 10 times as six years ago.
The report said during March 2004 to February 2005, a total of 14,640 primary school and middle school students went abroad for study. While in 1998, the figure was only 1,562.
Moreover, most of those students chose the English-speaking countries, such as the United States, Canada, News Zealand and Australia, as their destinations.
Such trend of sending school students to foreign countries to learn foreign language became more and more popular among the rich and middle class in the Asian country. But poor family's children in the country have not the chance.
South Korean rich families invest almost seven times more than the poor families in private education of children, according to a statistics of the National Statistic Office in late last year.
Gyeonggi Province hopes to narrow "education gap" between the rich and the poor by the GEV. The two camps, Ansan and Paju of the GEV, allow students from poor families to attend the programs free- of-charge.
Here, at GEV, children from poor families can enjoy all the facilities, attend programs suitable for them and communicate with native English teachers free-of-charge.