Wednesday, March 11, 2009

South Korean Education Public Service Announcement

From a recent AP article on President Obama's new education policy:

Children in South Korea spend a month longer in school every year than do kids in the U.S., where the antiquated school calendar comes from the days when many people farmed and kids were needed in the fields.
"If they can do that in South Korea, we can do it right here in the United States of America," Obama said.
Yes, Korean students have a longer school year than Americans. You know what else they have?

- Class sizes of 40 to 50 by secondary school.

- No or few writing assignments, because if you teach 50 kids 8 periods a day, you have 400 students by the end of the day and there's no way to grade that meaningfully. (Drowning under a pile of essays on 19th century treaties, I have to keep reminding myself that it's worth it).

- Corporal punishment. I just got a journal entry from a student who described an experience in a Korean school being hit with a stick by a teacher - in elementary school.

Fantastic quotes from the linked article:

According to the report, 74.7 percent of those polled think that teachers should be allowed to beat students on the condition that it is being done only for educational purposes. [Note from Nana: Well! As long as it's an EDUCATIONAL beating!] In contrast, 25.3 percent were against corporal punishment.

In particular, fathers were more supportive of corporal punishment than mothers with 78.9 percent of them in favor of beating students physically. Only 71.6 percent of mothers recognized the necessity of corporal punishment.

"Necessity" of corporal punishment? And that's the REPORTER talking.

- Foreign language teachers, especially English teachers, who don't speak the foreign language, and students who study for six years but can't talk.

- A high teen suicide rate, often connected to school performance

- A burden on parents to supplement school education with after-school academies (hagwons) to the tune of, on average, several thousand dollars a year. And that means some spend far more, often leading to competitive advantages for wealthier families (see above link "Foreign Language Teachers"). In the US media, Korean kids' test scores are entirely due to their public educations. This omits the fact that many of them spend almost as much time in a hagwon as they do at the school. Obama is wrong: Korean kids don't spend an extra month a year in school. By the end of the school year, they've probably spent at least four extra months in hagwons alone. And then they go over vacation - I had a kid who went from 9-5 last summer, a longer day than his academic year schoolday.

- Families who split up across continents to raise their children in non-domestic schools.

Do I think American schools are busted? You bet. Do I think many of Obama's visions are sound, especially teacher merit salary (if it can be well executed?). You definitely bet. Are there many things that are better here, including classroom discipline, a culture supportive of education, and (for many kids!) work ethic? Absolutely.

But man, I am so tired of the American press holding up East Asian test scores in math and science (two things an Asian-style rote-memorization curriculum is well-equipped to teach) and saying, "Wow, I wish we could be just like them!" Take a closer look, please. All systems have pros and cons, and there is a downside to these test scores - enough downsides, in fact, that demand exists here for American-style education at schools like APIS.

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