This week’s TL;DR is on a topic we often talk about with each other and is a little bit more serious than most of our TL;DRs. The question we were asked this week is about the differences between Korean students and student life, and North American students.

A while ago we remember reading that Obama praised the South Korean school system by saying that

“Our children – listen to this – our children spend over a month less in school than children in South Korea every year,” Obama told a gathering at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce here. “That’s no way to prepare them for a 21st-century economy.”

It’s clear to anyone who has experienced both the North American and South Korean school system that there are huge differences between the two, and while Obama may say that the South Korean system might give South Korean students a competitive advantage, we find that the South Korean system has some serious disadvantages, as well as some serious advantages, that don’t make it a clear cut winner over the North American system.

Flat out, we can say that the South Korean education system is definitely more competitive. There’s a sense of urgency in the South Korean education system. Students start studying from a very young age for their University Entrance Exams, which are a super huge deal in determining the rest of their lives. That kind of importance of education isn’t really prevalent in the North American system. You can get into a good university with mediocre grades (Simon’s a perfect example of this), and if you don’t get straight A’s on everything, it’s not the end of the world. Here in South Korea, though, getting perfect grades is a must if you want to succeed.

Even those students that don’t care about studying hard will still go through the motions with the other students. A student picking fights, doing drugs, skipping class and so on is just about unheard of here in Korea. Now of course, you can find example of a naughty Korean student, but they are so few and far between compared to what we’re used to back home. From our experiences as teachers in Canada, we had difficult students in every class, while as teachers in Korea, we barely had any difficult students. Our co-teachers would complain about some difficult students, but their complaints are about disinterested or tired students, rather than violent or rude students.

So what is the difference between Korean students and North American students to create this giant huge behaviour gap? Well, we have various theories (including how Korean parents take a super active role in their daughter/son’s school marks) and one of them has to do with differences in the concept of individualization. North America is all about finding yourself, speaking up, thinking out of the box, debating, and essay writing, while Korea is all about fitting in, listening to your teacher’s lecture, knowing the one right answer, and succeeding on multiple choice tests. Being able to form creative answers based off a student’s ability to synthesize material is important in North America, while in South Korea it’s almost unheard of.

So they point of our ramble here is that Korean students end up becoming very focused on studying and they consider it a full time job, while North American students are lots of other things apart from students. They hold part-time jobs, they date, they go out with friends, they play on the basketball team, and oh yeah, they do their homework. Korean students don’t do as much as North American students do, because they go to school almost the whole day. They study a LOT more than North American students. A LOT MORE. Sure, South Korean students hang out with their friends, but not to the extent that North American kids do. There aren’t house parties here where people awkwardly socialize and mingle and mate. There are gatherings at the PC room with some of their friends.

Anyhow, we really have a lot of things to say about this, and we can ramble on with examples of differences forever, but the bottom line is that even though Korean students are must better behaved than North American students, we still don’t think either system is perfect. Korean students work way to hard. You teenage year is the time to make mistakes and to grow up and discover yourself, but how can you do that if you spend all your time walking around in a daze because you just study ALL DAY? Plus, you don’t really study as much as memorize, which we think is not as good as say, struggling to write a thought provoking essay. So which system is better? We don’t know, but we wish could take a little bit of each and mix it to create this awesome middle system.

Wow, we said a lot…we definitely need to hear your opinions and experiences on the subject. Let us know!

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