April 22, 2010

Education. At what cost?

I am and have been teaching in the private sector here. Undoubtedly this skews any cross section of children I have contact with. I think I can safely say I am involved mainly with the middle and upper classes. Upon reflection of the life of these children I would rather grow up poor.

Imagine a society where your IQ and test scores give you status. Entry to high schools and universities in Korea is largely best on standardized testing. How often I wished that the U.S. would give more credit to the brain than the wallet. Now I am immersed in a society that may do just that. As a rule a parent will invest all in a child here. A well to do parent's investment is rather extreme and scary.

It all begins around age four or five (which translates to three or four years old in the west). Kindergarten may possibly be the most freedom these kids will ever see. However, these kindergartens generally don't allow much play time. My former school kept kids in class from 9:30-2:30. The playground was a rarity as were field trips or out of class events. It was as if the children were being indoctrinated into the daily grind of adulthood. Some remained after regular classes for hours in special programs or extra classes. I understand this may have simply been a glorified daycare system for some but I cannot imagine eight hours a day away from my home at such a young age.

After graduating the relatively free world of kindergarten elementary school follows around age seven. Sounds great right? Well, maybe but consider classes now begin around 8:00 and run until nearly 4:00... Why not throw in a half day on Saturday as well. Education is important but this seems too big a load for a child. Here comes the big but, the word children loathe: ACADEMY. After daily classes end a series of private learning facilities continue the parental quest to have the smartest child. I will make a guess and say most children attend two to four private academies in the evening. The subjects of study are endless: English, Chinese, Robot, Art, Piano, Viloin, Taekwando, and even private supervised study rooms.

This will continue and expand in scope as the children progress through middle school. Where is the play time? How does a child really become well rounded without a little more social interaction? I am all for education but the situation in Korea borders on ridiculous. I am part of it and I do feel a bit ashamed. I assign a great deal of homework to please the parents but make sure that the kids can get 90% of it finished in class. I cannot place further burdens upon them. I do my best to teach with the goal of minimizing the stress and torture these children feel.

The public education system here seems more than enough. The final thought: Why can't a parent spend the evening teaching their children if it is so important to them? I can understand that the desire to learn English requires me. I cannot understand how a ten year old can spend twelve or more hours a day away from home attending school after school. Korea may find a social crisis will soon follow.


Boonsong said...

An interesting assessment. Thanks for this

Stuart Smallwood said...

When I taught more elementary a year ago I used to tell my exhausted students about my schedule at their age. Upon hearing this, they were shocked and expressed their desire to live my home country.

I too feel sorry for them, but I wonder if this drive to educate is the natural reaction of a country without resources, forced to rely on their human capital.

Regardless, glad it wasn't me when I was younger.


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