The word today is that Barrack Obama wants the U.S. education system to be more like Korea’s. I HOPE this isn’t the case, because I’d like to sit my favorite living orator down and tell him a few things…
In the past few weeks, I have for once become a grateful adoptee for growing up in the United States and not here. Not because of the culture. But because of the state of education. Of course, of course, they are intimately entwined. But let’s ignore that for now and just look at the institutions. (I’ll pull this from some of the various conversations I’ve had with half a dozen Korean English teachers this week)
I am told Koreans study abroad because only three of their Universities have any value at all. And the top university barely registers as a blip on the international universities of merit list. In contrast, U.S. universities have excellent reputations and attract students from all over the world. All this week I became more horrified as the amount of study time Korean secondary students are subjected to was revealed: At first I thought kids took after school classes and went home around 10 pm. Then, I found out kids took after school classes, studied, went to hagwans, and then went home around midnight. Now, today I find out kids do all of the above and either study more or go to more lessons and get home around 2 am. TWO A.M. Have to be at school before 8 a.m. I am told my new town is especially renowned for its secondary school scores, and one block from my school is a commercial district comprised entirely of hogwans. I asked to be placed in a location near a subway station, but it sounds like the reason I am where I am is more because the area around my private high school and all of the hogwans has become high rent district, populated primarily by families which have moved to live in the center of their child’s studying universe.
I told In-Yeon (sp?) about the alternative schools my kids went to, approximate school sizes, the kind of classes, etc. She was shocked that such small class sizes and creative, integrated curriculum were public and for free. I told her how kids don’t do that much homework and spend a lot of time exploring their own interests or hanging out with friends. Then, when they get to college they go a little wild as freshman, but quickly become very very serious about their studies and put all their energy into it.
In contrast, Korean students get prodded, pushed, and pressured to study, study, study from the earliest of ages, each year the pressure increasing, until they (hopefully) get accepted to some major university. Whereupon, totally burnt out, they have fun for the first time in their lives and their studies go to hell. Thus – poor university ratings and poor university student test scores: a strange phenomenon, given that Korean secondary schools have something like the second highest math and science scores in the world.
And here is where I will put forth that this is also the difference between learning for tests: quantifiable, testable knowledge is so different from holistic, creative, intuitive thinking. Shoveling in data while not being given time to process that data and own it really isn’t sustainable. American students are greatly lacking in the math and sciences, but more than make up for that through strength in the humanities, which also fosters creativity in math and sciences. Deriving meaning, formulating concepts, and expressing oneself are the bulk of the American education. And because it’s owned by each and every student pretty successfully (in my opinion) it’s not only sustainable but fodder for unlimited possibilities.
Supposedly the Korean president wants all schools to be more like American. But the focus is not on how our institutions are run, but on the English language. As if the English language is the magic bullet to stellar University scores. But the prize is not the art of communicating or learning for the love of education. The prize is still in Korea. The prize is still on scores and prestige. So your offspring can get a top position in a hierarchical corporation, reflective of a hierarchical culture.
This has nothing to do with education.
This has nothing to do with self actualization.
This has only to do with competition.
It is akin to child abuse.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Oh my once culture.
This is madness.
It makes my chest tighten, witnessing the stress of it all.
Can even one thing I say or do provide any alternative or ray of hope to these children?
When I have to make them stand up so they can hear and not fall asleep?