South Korean Students: Overstudying?

Source: Yahoo, Sep 2011

… cramming is deeply embedded in Asia, where top grades – and often nothing else – have long been prized as essential for professional success. Before toothbrushes or printing presses, there were civil service exams that could make or break you. Chinese families have been hiring test-prep tutors since the 7th century.

Modern-day South Korea has taken this competition to new extremes. In 2010, 74% of all students engaged in some kind of private after-school instruction, sometimes called shadow education, at an average cost of $2,600 per student for the year. There are more private instructors in South Korea than there are schoolteachers, and the most popular of them make millions of dollars a year from online and in-person classes. When Singapore’s Education Minister was asked last year about his nation’s reliance on private tutoring, he found one reason for hope: “We’re not as bad as the Koreans.”

“You Americans see a bright side of the Korean system,” Education Minister Lee Ju-ho tells me, “but Koreans are not happy with it.”

South Koreans are not alone in their discontent. Across Asia, reformers are pushing to make schools more “American” – even as some U.S. reformers render their own schools more “Asian.” In China, universities have begun fashioning new entry tests to target students with talents beyond book learning. And Taiwanese officials recently announced that kids will no longer have to take high-stress exams to get into high school. If South Korea, the apogee of extreme education, gets its reforms right, it could be a model for other societies.

Koreans still spent 2% of their GDP on tutoring, even with the downtick. Andrew Kim, a very successful instructor at Megastudy, South Korea’s largest hagwon, says he earned $4 million last year from online and in-person lectures.

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