March 1, 2015
Last we asked people to talk about their opinion on either the Korean education system or their home country education system. It was a pretty tough thing to answer considering you only have two minutes to leave a response but some people felt brave enough to tackle the topic! I feel like there are pretty much four possible categories of experience:
a) you attend or attended school in Korea
b) you teach or taught in Korea
c) you have friends that have experienced either a or b
d) you’ve never gone to school in Korea
Simon and I fall into B + C since we’ve both taught in a middle school and high school and we know lots of people that have attended school in Korea both as language learning students, film students (HI LEIGH HIIIIIII), and a few friends that got their Masters at a Korean University in subjects I honestly can’t remember anymore. Despite all these differences I hear similar complaints from all of us. A lot of Korean education focuses on just grades rather than fostering interaction and creative thinking. If you’re good at memorizing tons of stuff and regurgitating it for an exam, you’re getting high grades. It doesn’t matter if you can’t actually speak English in person, your paper grades say that you’re good at it, so that’s all that matters.
As a former high school teacher I re-hauled my English language program insisting on the incorporation of debate classes, face-to-face oral English exams, and the inclusion of short essay questions on the final exams. Of course my students were horrified by these additions to the exams, but it was incredible to see the amount of “good” students bomb these exams after they realized they couldn’t memorize the answer for a short essay question. As I got to know my students over a three year time period, I started to include small creative thinking bursts into class, such as “if you could be any animal, what would you be?” I was amazing to see how my students struggled so deeply with simple creative questions, even when they were allowed to write it out in Korean first. As my students adjusted to my class, they got quicker with answering these simple questions, understanding that there was no right or wrong answer. The concept of no right or wrong was really really hard for them to grasp since they had spent their whole education memorizing the correct choice.
To further understand why that was, you should see how my students prepared for their exams. Teachers would go through the textbook for review and they would sticky note all the pages that would be on the exam. I mean literally on the exam. Not as in “these concepts are on the exam” but “I will pick one of these exact textbook questions” so that they could memorize the right answer. It was certainly a different form of teaching than what I was used to doing back in Canada. Besides my classroom, if you walk down the hallways of a Korean school, you’ll hear a massive amount of talking teachers and silent students. It just seems the education system in Korea is firmly based on memorization but I hope to see a shift towards a more balanced approach of memorization and creative thinking in the future. Trying to get an opinion or creative answer out of most of your Korean students can be a struggle, and so it seems to me that Korean students are being educated to be a quiet follower rather than creative leader. Obviously this is not the case for every single Korean person, I always had at least a dozen creative students yearly that blew my mind with their passion and energy. Soozee is also a great example of a creative thinking Korean person, although now that I think about it she went to an International School outside Korea…so never mind…HAHAHAHH! BAD EXAMPLE! *runs away*
Now since I’ve never attended University in Korea I don’t have personal experience at class, but I have heard similar complaints from my friends. A lot of students have told me you MUST show up to class for attendance because missing three classes could get you failed. But they also told me there is no participation in class, you just listen to the Professor talk for hours and diligent students use audio recorders or scribble down notes furiously while other students zone out. I was even told as long as you sign in to class at the beginning, you can just leave during the break and never come back. So it seems University in Korea suffers from some of the similar lack of interactions that Korean high school does as well. I do think that memorization is an incredibly great skill to have depending on the subject you’re learning, but I think learning how to take those memorized facts and apply them to something out of the box is just as important too.
So I’m curious about your take on this subject! Let me know what category you fall in, and if you’re category D) let me know what education is like in your home country! Different things are valued as important all over the world, so let’s find out what makes your education system tick!
Also, HI SOPHIE & HAN! *waves furiously through the internet* They’re good friends of Nic & Hugh (the excellent mykoreanhusband blog) and we had the chance to meet them and their adorable daughter Alice when they were last last in Korea. Thanks for dropping by our coffee shop and leaving a message. Don’t worry Han, I got your GD joke. “HELLLLLLLLOOOOOOO! I’m one of a kind!”