“Indeed, Mr. Obama cites [South Korea President] Mr. Lee’s views on education in virtually every speech he gives these days, including one in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, holding up the hard-working Asian country as an example of what the United States needs to do.”
from The New York Times
These are excerpts from today’s article in The Economist describing schools in South Korea:
…high school is hell. Two months before the day of his exams Kim Min-sung, a typical student, was monosyllabic and shy. All the joy seemed to have been squeezed out of him, to make room for facts. His classes lasted from 7am until 4pm, after which he headed straight for the library until midnight. He studied seven days a week….
A poll by CLSA, a stockbroker, found that 100% of Korean parents want their children to go to university. Such expectations can be stressful. In one survey a fifth of Korean middle and high school students said they felt tempted to commit suicide. In 2009 a tragic 202 actually did so. The suicide rate among young Koreans is high: 15 per 100,000 15-24-year-olds, compared with ten Americans, seven Chinese and five Britons. Min-sung’s older sister, Kim Jieun, who took the exams a few years ago, recalls: “I thought of emigrating, I hated the education system so much.”
….Kang Jeong-im, a musician, puts it bluntly: “I think it’s difficult to live the way you want to in South Korea.” High school was the worst, she recalls: “We were like memorising machines. Almost every day, I’d fall asleep at my desk. The teacher would shout at me or throw chalk.”
…talented students “care too much about other people’s expectations,” he sighs. “They don’t want to fall behind their friends. They fear that if they do something different they might be viewed as a failure.”
Korea is rich, so it can no longer grow fast by copying others. It cannot remain dynamic with an ageing, shrinking workforce. It cannot become creative with a school system that stresses rote learning above thinking. And its people cannot realise their full potential in a society where they get only one shot at doing well in life, and it comes when they are still teenagers. To remain what one writer called “The Land of Miracles”, Korea will have to loosen up, and allow many routes to success.
Compare that description with an excerpt from a recent Atlantic article on Finland’s schools:
And while Americans love to talk about competition, Sahlberg points out that nothing makes Finns more uncomfortable. In his book Sahlberg quotes a line from Finnish writer named Samuli Puronen: “Real winners do not compete.” It’s hard to think of a more un-American idea, but when it comes to education, Finland’s success shows that the Finnish attitude might have merits. There are no lists of best schools or teachers in Finland. The main driver of education policy is not competition between teachers and between schools, but cooperation.
And we’re supposed to be more like South Korea?
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