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Speaker’s Corner: Education in Korea

March 1, 2015

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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!”

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Speaker’s Corner: Education in Korea

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  1. In Denmark the high school system offer a lot of different subjects. Its the same as in Korea, where you have 1 classroom with the same classmates, except the classrooms are made depending on the “line” youve chosen. And so there are different kinds of humanitarian, natural science, and music/arts lines, all with various mashups of different subjects. At my high school theyve made a whole new kind of line (the first in the country actually) called “Innovation”. Basically its most of the subjects all the other students have, but my line is getting trained in being creative and innovative. Whatever the subject is the teachers make us “think outside the box” and we also take part in various activities; from being in professional projects on how to make the city look more appealing to helping a local politician on his campaign. Its really awesome, and Im definitely being taught how to be a thinking individual but also a creative leader!

    4 years ago
  2. My experience is atypical because I went to school both inside and outside Korea. I broadly agree with what people are saying about the overemphasis of rote memorization and lack of emphasis on creative thinking in Korean education, but I do think being able to absorb large amounts of information is a useful skill (even if it doesn’t last beyond the exams). What I really don’t agree with is how rigid they are about what is the right answer, even in disciplines like literature. On a test you could be given a poem and a multiple choice question about the interpretation, and the only right answer accepted would be the one you find in the textbook. I once read a news article where a poet didn’t know the correct answer to a test question about his own poem because the “correct” interpretation was not what he originally had in mind.

    I also had an experience in art class where we were supposed to draw a logotype for our school and were given an example of the lettering in the Korean alphabet on a grid on the board to copy. It was frankly quite ugly, with mechanically constructed letters with no optical correction, so I deviated from it somewhat to make the letters more balanced and beautiful. The art teacher came and seemed impressed, asking me if I had prior training in this. But at the same time he told me to “correct” my lettering to follow the example on the board strictly.

    Going to high school in Korea in the 1990s, I was amazed by all the free time I had because we received hardly any homework. The reason was that I didn’t go to hagwon, and I guess they didn’t give homework because it was assumed that most of the time after school would be spent in the hagwons. But the stunning thing was that so many students were brazenly dozing off in class, heads buried in their arms on the desk, and the teachers didn’t seem to care. So they were sleeping through school and studying in hagwons what you were supposed to be studying in school anyway? Wouldn’t it make much more sense to skip hagwon altogether and focus on the schoolwork? I have to think that this is a situation created by parents who feel like they’re falling behind if they are not sending their kids to hagwon, regardless of how much it actually helps them. I am lucky that my parents were ok with me not going to hagwon. Instead, I would go to things like French discussion clubs at the French cultural centre after school where I was the only high school student among a mostly university crowd. And I still did well in school because I paid attention in class—I got a reputation for being the right person to sit behind when you wanted to read comic books in class because I was always sitting straight up instead of dozing off.

    4 years ago
  3. I remember watching your teaching advice videos. When you ended your videos with something like, Korean Cultural Education. Good times!

    I’ve been watching ever since.

    4 years ago
  4. I been “educated” both from America a little and quiet a bit from Korea. when I was student in Korea,I got hit from teachers and beaten(slap on the face and such) for I don’t even remember the reasons. But It doesn’t matter teacher or anyone should hit their students or children. Now the law changed that It is illegal to hit as a punishment for teacher to student. I was beaten over hundreds of times with sticks, hockey sticks, and ect. Korean Education is all about the numbers you get from each subject you learn. Numbers doesn’t create dreams. I hated going to school in Korea. Education system in Korea needs to be changed. It’s the way society is formed as well, We, Koreans wants everything fast and easy. They won’t give you time to think creative or dream about unimaginable things. Oh How I hate the education system in Korea. It is a fail. And that is my opinion from who went up to high-school first year in Korea. I never learn anything about chasing my dreams and being creative person in that education system which I think is very important in life.

    4 years ago
    • Wow, that sounds awful. I could send Governor Walker of Wisconsin over there to ruin the Korean School System. He’s doing a damn good job of destroying education over here. Were you able to be more creative when you were receiving an education in the States? It sounds like whomever owns/runs the hagwons are cashing in the way Korean schools are doing things.

      4 years ago
    • But It doesn’t matter teacher or anyone shouldn’t or should not be allowed to hit their students or children.

      4 years ago
  5. OH MY GOD! Reuben!
    I know one of the guys in the video! The Australian on the right, at the end. We took hip hop classes together in Melbourne.
    It’s really weird seeing a known face on here! Hey there, if you remember me.

    4 years ago
  6. I’m category D. Well, here in Brazil there is a standard, compulsory, govern made curriculum for every school. Starting from preschool (where is teached how to write and read) until high school. That means, for example, that in every high school in the country they teach the same “obrigatory” subjects (math, physics, chemistry, biology, geography, history, english, physical education, portuguese and portuguese literature). That being said, there is a lot of differences on the extra subjects that schools offer. Some offer a third language (usually spanish); arts, music. there are a lot of “technic high schools” that offers a technical degree (computation, accounting, civil construction, etc). Some subjects are very much taught with memorization, but others have more different ways. But basically, the studant has no freedom whatsoever to choose what he will have to learn… that only happens in university, but even so it is limited! In Brazil you enter the uni already knowing the course (medicine, nursing, law…) so you only have freedom inside your area of interest.

    4 years ago
  7. I’ve only ever been to school in Northern Ireland, but I think we’re not so different in terms of the goal of Korean learning, it seems, which is to pass exams. At least in my high school. But that didn’t mean we weren’t pushed to think creatively, half the time if a teacher asked you a question and you didn’t know, they would just be like “Well, tough. Figure it out yourself.” Also (this was just my high school I think) We always addressed male teachers as “sir” and female teachers as “miss” which is something I’ve learned I can’t not do at uni. It annoys my younger lecturers, they ask me to call them their first name, but I can’t – not to their face anyway.

    I chose entirely essay based subjects for my final years in high school and basically that meant several essays a week. It was hectic and I didn’t sleep properly for about 3 years. But now at university, because I had essay and exam technique drilled into me, I can pass coursework and exams with no problem. I can – and have – written essays half asleep (during morning exams when I couldn’t stay awake. I’m not a nervous candidate if that wasn’t an indication haha)

    We also start education very young here. I had pre-school from age 3-4 and then primary school begins when you’re 4-5 years old. When I was in primary school we sat exams in our final year called the “11 plus” and basically that determined whether or not you could go to a grammar school (i.e “good” schools). It’s just maths, english and science based questions as well as general aptitude, but boy, from the start of summer prior to my final year in primary school, everyone was doing practice exams a few times a week, then again during weekends when school began (because we also did them in school) in the run up to the final exams. It’s not the most laid back education system, but it’s certainly nowhere near the toughness of other countries. But I’ll be honest, I probably have more fingers than the number of students in my year who didn’t go to university.

    4 years ago
  8. I’ve never go to Korea but their education system was almost the same in Malaysia. As a middle schooler, all I had to do is listen to the teacher talking and memorize everything and you’re done. But it all changed in 2014. There’s a new system that is been introduced to us where you had to both memorize and think outside of your brain box and be creative. To be honest it’s really difficult to get used to it. There is a thing called ‘Band’ which means the higher the band is, it will get more difficult and there’s no answers in textbooks. The thing is, if you have so many wrongs in the lower bands, you will not achieve a higher band. For example you failed in Band 3, you can’t get to Band 4. The classes are divided which the smarter you are, you can be in the higher class. I’m in the higher class and teachers will have high expectations. So the teachers will ask questions which are required to use creative thinking skills. If you get it right, you get a big score which will be counted in your final exam same goes for projects. The system is very stressful in my opinion, but sometimes good for my learning.

    4 years ago
  9. I was actually in this video (The girl with the mask and the grey sweater), but I thought of so many better things to say after watching it again. So here goes. . . I was home-schooled all the way through high school (in California) and got a Liberal Studies degree at a private university. (I was basically preparing to become an elementary teacher.) I have taught English at a Korean public elementary school for one year, and also have some Korean friends who have shared their experiences with me. I have a pretty idealistic view of education in general. I was brought up with a love for learning and the belief that people should be creative thinkers, apply their knowledge to everyday life, that there are different learning styles, talents, and fields of knowledge, etc.

    I definitely don’t agree with the heavy emphasis on grades and memorization, lack of creativity and interaction, and pressure to cram and lose sleep to excel, which I have heard are prevalent in Korean schools. However, from my limited experience with Korean classrooms (a couple open classes I visited and whatever I pick up as I walk down the halls and peer into different classrooms), the teachers at my school seem to be incorporating a lot of interaction and creativity, and implementing various learning techniques. . . but this may be attributed to three things: 1. This is an elementary school. It’s probably completely different once they enter junior high/high school. 2. I live in a more countryside area of Gyeonggi-do. 3. Many of our teachers are young and may have different views on education, or have received different training at their universities. When I attended the GEPIK training sessions we were made aware of some new teaching/educational agendas for Korean teachers, which included goals such as utilizing group work and creative thinking, and encouraging student participation, speaking in class, etc. They seemed similar to educational goals which have been introduced in California in recent years, except that they may be more novel ideas here. Perhaps this is a sign that Koreans are trying to change these flaws in their educational system? But then again, if there are such goals from, say, the school board of education, how much will be practically implemented in the everyday classroom? This is the eternal debate/dilemma for educators in all countries. It basically reminds me of issues educators in California are facing.

    I think every country’s education system is flawed in some way or other. There are pros and cons. I mean, part of the reason I was home schooled was because my parents saw many problems with the public schools in my area. As a passionate teacher, you can only seek to do your best in your individual school, classroom, district, etc.

    Anyways, those are just my thoughts from the tiny slice of Korea that I have experienced and my very small amount of teaching experience. I am definitely no authority on the matter.

    4 years ago
  10. I studied abroad in Korea for one semester, so I don’t know what it’s like to go to school there for 4 full years, but I do know what it was like to take classes there. All my classes were taught in English, though, with mainly native Korean students taking the class, so I’m not sure how that changes how the class was conducted (compared to classes taught in Korean).

    First of all, I didn’t think the classes were hard. Compared to my university in the US, the classes were a breeze. Professors didn’t assign so much reading, and essays didn’t have to be long. However, there was a lot more busy work. One of my professors made us write and submit a summary of nearly every reading we had.

    Professors generally just taught what was needed, and then I memorized the info, and then regurgitated the info on the tests, which were all essay based. Most professors gave a study guide before the test that had all the questions we would be asked on it, plus some extras (the whole, “here are 5 questions, 3 will be on the test” type thing). I’m sure I had a significant advantage over the Korean students because I was a native English speaker and all the tests were in English, which means I didn’t have to spend time thinking about grammar and spelling. Even so, I noticed the Korean students wrote SO MUCH on their essays considering our time limits. I assume that they just weren’t as concise as they could be, which is totally understandable.

    The thing that made me very upset and is something that I rarely see discussed is the lack of academic integrity. In the US, academic honesty is so important. Cheating or plagiarizing will result in failed classes and possibly being kicked out of school. However, when I did group projects in Korea, some of the students just copy and pasted stuff straight from Wikipedia or other sites. One of my projects was a 20 page paper, and one of my group members who was assigned to do a historical background gave us a 20+ page historical background on our topic. There’s absolutely no way that he could have written all that himself (plus he left in all the Wikipedia tags). He couldn’t even speak English to my face. Getting a list of citations from everyone in the group was like pulling teeth. They just couldn’t remember where they got stuff from because they never cited anything.

    For another group project I did in a different class, we had to conduct a survey of language teachers at our university. We didn’t get too many responses, so obviously our sample size was small. However, my group wanted to make up results to make our project look better. I said no, absolutely not – we’re undergrad students who had 3 weeks to put this project together, our professor will totally understand if it’s not perfect. Plus we can use our lack of responses as good material for discussing what we would do differently, how the results were affected, etc. I think they still made up some results, though, because I’m pretty sure we only had 12 responses initially, but for our final presentation we had “19 responses.”

    I discussed this with one of my Korean-American friends who goes to school there full time, and she agrees with me that the lack of honesty is astounding. She told me that when she takes classes in Korean, she never has to submit a works cited page with her essays. She says the only time she’s ever done that is with a class taught in English.

    4 years ago
    • I remember this topic being discussed maybe a few years ago? This is such a huge difference between cultures. With so many students from Asia attending North American universities, many universities have found it necessary to have a class on plagiarism during orientation, just so these kids don’t accidentally get themselves kicked out of school. I mean, in my school kids are taught how to write a bibliography starting in 3rd grade. Just today I saw a 5th grader give a power point presentation report on Alessandro Volta. The last slide of his presentation was a list of his sources. When I was working on my Masters I would run my work through a plagiarism engine just so that I could be sure that I wasn’t accidentally not citing something properly. American schools aren’t particular about much, but we’re very, VERY particular about this (again, maybe because we’re all semi-lawyers).

      4 years ago
    • Also, here’s a short article from the Financial Times about the academic dishonesty in Korea: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/28387268-26bd-11e4-bc19-00144feabdc0.html

      It’s a problem that plagues all layers of society – from undergrads to the elite.

      4 years ago
  11. I have never studied out side my home country Finland, but I hope I will be able to go and study abroad in the future!
    I think the school system is good in Finland. It’s not perfect but it does have some really good points. For example I really love the fact that teachers and students are almost at the same level with each other. You can call them with their first name or even with a nickname! And in the smaller schools teachers normally learn to know all their students by their first name too. The relationships between student and teacher is more friendly and it makes students more likely to take part in debates and such.
    I’m in university now and I think it’s quite great! My university isn’t really big, so people know each other quite well. The classes are quite relaxed but we do have rules for example you have to be on time and most of the time you have to attend classes at least around 80% of time or you will fail. We have quite many different kind of essays and report that we have to make and most of the time it requires creative thinking and problem solving skills. One of our teacher hates lectures and tries to provide different kind of problems and presentation exercises for us to do. She doesn’t want us to sit and listen to hear voice for hours. I think it’s great! One teacher even asked groups to study certain things and then to teach it to the rest of the class! It was very effective way to learn things!
    Unlike in Korea, students can’t get good grades in Finland just by memorizing things. You have to be able to use the knowledge from classes in the exams in creative ways. But of course it doesn’t apply to every single exam or subject. Being active during classes and lectures will give you extra points and the teachers will give the grades based on exam result and others factors.

    4 years ago
  12. Having both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree from the United States, I feel like teaching strategies are all over the board. I have had the “sit quietly and listen to me drone on” classes, the round-table classes, the classes where as long as you participate you get an A, the creative thinking test, the test where the teacher told you all the questions and answers that were going to be on it, the skills test (where you have to use your learnings in action), and the classes where the teacher just doesn’t care and you can do/not do whatever you want and everyone will pass. I have also been graded based on a teacher’s whim before, you know, based on his favorite students and not anything you actually did or did not do.

    Honestly, I think Korea sounds better, just because you know what you’re going to get. At least they got their sh*t together, you know. The U.S. doesn’t seem to know what the F we’re doing. Of course, there are a lot of conspiracy theories about this fact ;)

    4 years ago
  13. I am from the USA and was homeschooled until college where I then went to a private university. The homeschool movement has grown a lot since I was little and besides there being lots of options for curriculum and support there is also more opportunity for taking outside classes. From 8th grade onward I always took outside classes. The state I’m from has a program called Post Secondary Enrollment Option (PSEO) which allows high schoolers to take college courses for high school and college credit which helped the transition from being homeschooled.
    Does Korea only have private and public schools or is home schooling an option?
    There’s still a lot of misconceptions about homeschoolers though about the quality of education and especially about socializing. I personally loved being homeschooled and want to homeschool my kids.

    4 years ago
    • Forgot to mention that in most of my classes in university you were expected to participate unless it was a big lecture class like Western Civ then you were expected to be present with only a week or two of class skips allowed (classes held Monday,Wednesday, Friday or Tuesday, Thursday).

      4 years ago
      • You sound like my twin! I was also home-schooled through highschool in the US, loved it, and would like to home-school my kids someday. I have heard different responses about home-schooling in Korea. I know it’s not very common at all. But I’ve heard there are some cases of home-schooling. If I were ever to have children in Korea, I would definitely have to look into it. It’s a lot easier to home-school where I’m from (California), especially in recent years.

        4 years ago
  14. I study languages in Poland now (English and German), and I have to say it’s really challenging. And there’s no such thing as sitting quietly in classes, you’re expected to actively take part in it. Especially in learning languages. And there’s always TONS of homework.
    On the other hand, I’ve studied International Relations last year but I’ve given it up, and there, you weren’t obliged to be active in class, but if you were, you could have a better mark at the end of a term. So I would say the way that you’re taught depends on the studies and the professors at a certain university (and of course on your motivation). But I have to say education in Poland is pretty good, at least for me.
    Oh, and one more thing, you don’t have to pay to study at a university ^_^

    4 years ago
  15. D Category Canadian here. Education in BC is…. well… you’re lucky if you are out of a public high school before teachers decide to strike. Lets just say there’s overcrowding classrooms, no funding for supplies and poor pay gets teachers grumpy. Doesn’t help that the premier (leader) of BC was an education minister, yet sends her kid to a private school and she herself dropped out of university…

    In high school they let you start to choose electives for your own path. By grade 12, the only mandatory course is English, and the rest you can choose. Maybe it was my high school, or maybe it was the same for others, but i found it mostly about memorizing. I mean science, math and languages I understand why it would be about memorizing. But social studies… for me was memorizing information… I was the only one who can give good explanations to almost everything.

    I’ve noticed something odd about some of the people I meet or know from high school who go to this “prestigious” university. They’ve come out to lose creativitiy, lose how to think critically, and even lose social ability. I’ve heard its that they dont allow students to take courses that are outside their field of study for full credits. That makes me sad. I go to a different university, and they encourage in class discussion and thinking critically. Some students take courses totally out of their field to gain abilities that are necessary.

    My dad and I agree that you can always learn/memorize how to create something, do something, or what a chemical formula is. But if you cant go out and socialize or critically think outside the box, then everything you’ve memorized from school is useless.

    4 years ago
  16. I fall into categories A, B (if working in Hakwon also falls for type B.)and C since I also experienced Canadian, Singaporean and British education systems as a student. I think Korean education isn’t that bad. Every education system requires certain extent of memorozation. I had to memorize so many things for my A levels and O levels. Also, the competition of getting into uni and highschools in the UK and Spore respectively is as intensive as Korea.

    Korea does not have much natural resourses. We have to rely on human resources and the fastest and the most cost effective ways to pick the top end students is by the exams and through education system.
    Of course, there are hakwons. The public school system of Korea can not afford to provide kids with extracurricular activies (like arts, sports, music etc.) (~but nowadays there are after-school classes where they can learn/play the kayagum, violin, sports at a low cost in school. )That is one of many reasons why parents are sending the kids to hakwons. Also, for the elementary kids, their school ends at ard 1pm to 330pm. Working parents need some places to send their kids before they come back from the work. Mind you though, at hakwon, kids dont just study-study-study. They meet and spend time with their friends, eating snacks together and chat with teachers too!

    Korea’s education system is not as intensive as Singapore’s, though. Our elementary education system is standardized and students do not have to be stressed out by the entry exam, whereas in Singapore, kids have to take this PSLE exam to get into good top notch middle schools or no longer taking academic courses but technical courses at the age of 12.

    Regarding subjects: yeah, we can not choose what we want to learn. We have to follow the govt curriculum. However, for me personally, I think I gained lots of basic knowledge as a global citizen by having to study 13 subjects per semester in my middle school. Yes, it was tough and stressful but it was very useful when I had to write essays in my singapore & uk schools. I learned world geography, music history, art history, astrological sciences, and many others and I could use so many evidences or examples for my essays based on the things I had learned in Korean middle school. I am pretty satisfied with the extensiveness and scope of Korean education because it somehow broadens your knowledge and you can easily accept and absorb what you learn.

    Lastly, Korean education is changing fast. Getting into top uni not only depends on SAT scores or school grades. Some unis like Seogang puts emphasis in writing (nonsul논술). Many other unis have started to choose their students based on various levels. Interviews, essay tests, portfolios, volunteer works etc.
    Yes, back in the 20th century, a war-torn nation of Korea had struggled to develop in order to avoid hunger and poverty. So the whole nation knew the importance of education and everyone went all in and we are no long a third world nation. Now, I admit that Korea has to revolutionize education systems for the sake of wellbeing of our future and to create value-added technology to continue to progress. Hope policy makers, parents and educators can bring about wonderful, happy educational environment for kids of Korea!

    4 years ago
  17. Oh man, this is my area. I think about this kind of stuff daily, so I have many things to say.
    I think the thing to consider is what are the different education systems trying to achieve? As an American who has been teaching for…awhile, I can tell you what I’ve noticed. We are focused on creating lawyers and politicians. That’s not a criticism, that’s just an observation that our education system puts a lot of focus on debate, making a statement and backing it up with evidence. That’s preparing kids for law school. Lawyers need to speak up, lawyers need to have opinions, lawyers need to think outside the box. Lately S.T.E.M. has become a big thing because we realize we have a ton of lawyers, and hardly any engineers.
    I also think the American system really elevates and rewards innovative thinking. The philosophy of taking a thing, and trying to improve it (sometimes the world likes what we come up with, and sometimes they really, really don’t.) When someone tries something new and they crash and burn, it’s too bad. But if it works? That person is elevated beyond the stars. The most American of American movies is The Lego Movie. Really.
    Awhile back I was watching that show Abnormal Summit, and they were talking about colleges and universities. The China rep brought up that it had been in the Chinese news recently that a student had gotten into Harvard (or somewhere along those lines) after writing an essay about spending a year taste testing different kinds of instant ramen. Everyone was shocked that such a silly topic would get the kid into Harvard. As an American familiar with the American system, I wasn’t shocked at all. Think about it, what did they learn about this kid from that essay? They learned not only was he smart, but he had interests and he was willing to pursue those interests passionately. They also learned that he is creative in a culture that does not necessarily reward creativity, but that he pursued it anyway. They learned that he’s confident enough and unafraid to share his interests and research with others. That is EXACTLY the kind of person they want at Harvard. What I think many people forget is that when a university gets your application, they aren’t thinking of who you are now, they’re trying to predict who you will be. Will you be someone who eventually enhances the reputation of the school? Yes Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard, but we all still know they went there don’t we?
    The big drawbacks of this system is that you’re teaching kids to argue with you, all of the time. And they do. All of the time. Also, motivation is something I, as the teacher, am expected to instill. A big part of my job is getting the students to *want* to know this information I’m sharing. That is a HUGE difference from other countries where the students are expected to be intrinsically motivated.

    4 years ago
  18. Our school system in Germany is very difficult to explain. But one thing is sure: After primary/elementary school one can choose between 3 different schools. 1.Hauptschule (its about craft/for students with lower grades)5th-9th grade/class 2.Realschule (for students with normal grades/who want to work at the office)5th-10th grade/class 3.Gymnasium (for students with very good grades/ who want to study, go to university afterwards) 5th-13th grade/class
    I personally went first to Realschule, studied hard and got approval to get into the 11th grade in Gymnasium. After Gymnasium I had the opportunity to go university. In Germany everyone has the opportunity to prove that one is capable to do better. But one doesn’t have to. Gymnasium is a very strict and good school. Only the best get into it. But everyone who starts at the bottom has the ability to get into it. One can also switch back into a ‘lower’ school if its getting to hard for one. I know people who went from Gymnasium back to Realschule. And its not something one has to feel shameful/bad for.
    I hope I could give you an insight into our educational system. There are many more schools in detail. These are only the basics.

    4 years ago
  19. Also a D-person here. Studied in The Netherlands where I got my Bachelor degree. School here is very different, depending on what you study I think. My education was filled with interaction and practicing your skills in class because it’s based on art and therapy so you need to know what to say of course. A therapist with bad communication skills is rather… useless. But when you study stuff like chemistry and such you are stuck with lectures a lot more. Still, participation is a big deal in our country and they want you to understand what you drill into your heads. So you actually need to study the exact words AND know how to apply that knowledge for tests. So you’ll get multiple choice and open questions where you need to solve problems or think of solutions for a case by using what you learned. I think our education system works great like that… unfortunately it doesn’t always connects to the line of work you’ll do though. But as you are educated in creative thinking and solving problems (in higher education anyway) this gap is easily crossed.

    I seriously wonder if Koreans remember the stuff they learn in this way… I mean… I don’t remember any of the information I drilled into my head, only the stuff I used in roleplaying-tests and all. There is scientific proof that you won’t actually learn from cramming. Sure, you get high grades, but it doesn’t raise intelligence, it only proves you have a good short-term memory.

    4 years ago
    • American teachers are always so jealous of the Netherlands education system. It’s not just that you guys seem to know what you’re doing, it’s that you have the support of your society to do it. Once the head of education from some Scandinavian country gave a talk in the U.S. about why their countries education system was so successful. However they were very honest with the American audience when they said they didn’t think it could be replicated in the U.S. because, essentially, there are too many cooks in the kitchen in the U.S. It was a little depressing to be honest. He was basically telling us that we’re screwed.

      4 years ago
      • Really? I’m not sure about high school, but most of the prestigious universities are in the US right? As a Dutch student having done my BA and now finishing up my MA, I actually think we could do with a little more memorization. Most of the uni exams are problem solving and critical thinking, understanding the principle and applying it. However, there was one course where you just had to memorize and 90% of the students crashed and burned (seriously, 90% failed).

        Also I heard about a study of the Dutch school system where it was found that although our basic education level is very high, we do not stimulate excellence. This would be caused by the fact that people are already in an assigned education level that is deemed most suited for them and are therefor not really challenged to do more.
        I’m not complaining though, I really like the Dutch system, but to say that the US is jealous of this system suprises me. :)

        4 years ago
  20. When I saw the thumbnail on twitter I went HAAAAN and SOPHIIIIIE! :D I loved the MKH videos they were in! btw Han is much cuter than GD and he doesn’t sound drunk when he speaks English like GD does :P
    the two guys at the end made me laugh so much…

    Schools in Germany have changed since I graduated from high school in 2008 and I’ve been abroad a lot so I don’t actually know what it’s like right now. In Germany each federal state has it’s own education system, it’s difficult to make general statements. Back then I can’t remember ever having a multiple choice question in an exam. We wrote a lot of essays but we only had one single oral exam and it wasn’t a language test, that has changed though since I left. Like someone in the video said, the focus was more on expressing your opinion, being able to process and evaluate information and finding you own solutions to problems. In maths exams we actually only got a few points for the correct result but most of the points for how we solved the problem. Until the age of 13-14 most of our school days ended at 1pm, we went home for lunch and then had the rest of the day for hobbies, meeting friends, learning an instrument, sports clubs etc. Later we would have more classes in the afternoon but usually not more than about 30 lessons (45 minutes) a week. Life was good. :D

    I teach at midde and high school in China at the moment and it seem similar to Korea. The students have to listen to lectures and memorise stuff all day and they are seriously overworked. But there is a school reform happening right now. They’re including oral language exams in the final exams for example and trying to put more emphasis on teaching practical, useful skills but the workload for the students just seems to be getting worse. I’ve heard that Chinese universities are the opposite. The students have lots of freedom and don’t study much. Primary school seems to be all right, then you go through six years of torture to get good gaokao results (college entrance exams) so you can go to a good uni and then it’s freedom finally. The system is a complete mystery to me. TIC.

    4 years ago
  21. Cat

    my son goes to an alternative form of schooling (Steiner, also called Waldorf)in Australia, but there are Steiner schools all over the world. I believe there is at least one Steiner school in SK, and I’d like to visit it one day. It is quite different to mainstream schools, the early years are very play and nature based, second languages and instruments start much sooner and continue the whole way along. Art and creativity are just as valued as other subject areas and song and movement and story are used to teach concepts, IT and other technology are held off until high school years, there is a focus on the environment and kids learn how to grow their own, cook for themselves, knit, sew, build a boat ect. and be very self sufficient – essentially if there was a sudden apocalypse go find the nearest steiner school because we’d know what to do :D In high school the continue to teach broad subjects rather than having kids choose from a range of subjects and the kids choose an independent research project which they spend all of year 12 researching, implimenting and evaluating before presenting their findings. Kids do all sorts of things from go on month long solo hikes, build solar cars, assess crop growth, write cook books, hold art exhibitions or find out how to compose a symphony as some examples, they usually link up with experts from universities ect, relevant to their chosen project and it can count towards recognised prior learning for alternative university entry. They don’t do the standard tests for year 12 but can sit an SAT if they want to. So yeah, very different to other schools but we love it because the kids really get a broad knowledge base and confidence to find what it is they are passionate about. In primary they have the same teacher for 7 years so the class is like a family. In high school there are a bunch of different teachers but because it is a small school they all know your child well. Kids call teachers by their first names, teachers tend to be very warm and care about the kids as an individual and you find that that means the kids don’t have the fear of Authority figures that some mainstream kids have, so when they get to uni they aren’t terrified to get something wrong or ask a question. There are also almost no textbooks, the kids create their own :D

    4 years ago
    • AAAH, the nostalgia! I went to a Steiner school in the Netherlands until I was 10. Then I changed to a regular school. Your story shows all the positive things about that system and the theory I do blieve is legit. However, the practice is a little more challenging. I’m not sure about your school, but in the Netherlands you’re stuck with 1 teacher for 6 years. If you have a good teacher, all is fine, but as in my case where the teacher was inadequate, you are very much screwed. The teacher did the “favourites” thing, he has dyslexia and refused to use a spelling controller and most of all, he severly neglected some of the kids.
      This sort of thing gives the steiner schools very bad reputations. It also doesn’t help that the Steiner fylosophy is not the most open minded. They pretend to be, but when someone critisezes their practice, they tell them to go f*ck themselves… (i’m afraid that was a quote).

      Anyway, I love the creativity and the freedom of those schools, but I do believe a bit more regulation wouldn’t hurt. :) Then again, it might be different in Australia.

      4 years ago
      • Cat

        oh it is definitely different school to school and class to class and person to person. We’ve been lucky to have a great experience, there is just one teacher in our high school who I find to be a pain but the greatness of all the others makes it worth it.

        To be fair, we did send him to mainstream school for 7 years, and we found it was hard having a new teacher every year and not all of them were great, they often didn’t seem to care at all, twice our son was assaulted and we have had teachers in mainstream that were mean and awful so it isn’t necessarily a problem you avoid going mainstream.

        We found more rigidity and unwillingness to work with us in mainstream schools, but I also know that there are parents who were very happy there so I guess the thing to remember is that each child and family is individual, so to me it doesn’t matter what type of schooling you go for but that it works for your child and your family.

        In Australia our Steiner schools have a national approved curriculum, because our government wanted a national curriculum set out for all schools and alternative schools then had to show they could also meet the required outcomes so they would be allowed to do things their own way.

        Steiner schools mostly come under the category of “independent schools” in Australia. They do still receive some government funding and they are required to meet guidelines and standards (that include things like how students are treated) that are the same as any other school.

        I don’t know what the laws are in the Netherlands but the legal requirements of having a “duty of care” for schools are pretty strong here :)

        4 years ago
        • Cat

          I should add that while I love our school, I don’t think I would love every steiner school, because so much of how things are done is a result of the mix of people you have. Our school has a reputation of being particularly good at the academic side of things, and there is a good mix of people who have been there since the school began and new people who bring new ideas. We have a college of teachers who really are quite amazing.

          It says a lot that the younger children are known to cry if they are too sick to go to school they love it that much, and I have an almost 16 year old boy who LOVES his high school, sees most of his teachers as great role models and whose biggest concern when he broke his leg was that he was going to miss a particularly interesting main lesson subject!

          We often have student teachers come to the school and they are amazed by how calm, engaged, friendly and well behaved the kids are. They say there is so much less problems than what they have seen in other schools.

          I am not blind to the potential pitfalls, but goodness, when it works it works brilliantly. We have teenagers who decided they wanted to create a film, give speeches and make presents and food for a party for all their teachers and staff because they wanted to tell them that that appreciate how much hard work they do. That is pretty special :)

          4 years ago
  22. Well, here in Indonesia education depends mostly on school. Some schools here are stricter than the other. For example Christian schools are usually stricter then national schools and other private school. Also, when you are in high school you need to choose between 2 specialization groups which are natural science and social science. People who chose natural science are mostly better in grades and more competitive than people who chose social science so people have different experiences depending on their specialization group. For myself i am a student in a christian school and here everyone is so competitive, but when i saw some other classes which are the social science classes, students there don’t study as much as we study and they don’t really care about their grades whatsoever. I also have another experience of transfering into another school, here in my new school teachers don’t give homeworks so often but instead they give tests like 3-5 times almost every week. My friends who are still in my old school instead were given more homeworks than tests, and their environment are less strict then here. So yeah, you can’t really tell exactly what’s happening in Indonesia’s education except for it’s curriculum which is currently struggling because of recent changing in curriculum, which receive so much protest because of implementing too much things that are stressing students in Indonesia.
    *ps I have never been to Muslim schools so I don’t really know what’s happening there whatsoever but from what i know from my friends and from what i have experienced, Christian schools are stricter than most schools.
    *sorry for making so much mistakes in grammar and things, I’m still learning to speak english
    *BTW, this is my first comment :D

    4 years ago
  23. heyhey,
    As I don’t actually attend school in Korea, but rather do research in a lab at a university (for my study in the Netherlands)I’m not all that sure about the education system. However, I have noticed a rather striking lack of initiative and just general common-sense thinking in the lab. An example: the protocols that are used here are very different from what I’m used to at Utrecht University, some of it seemed very time consuming and pointless. When I asked them anything about the protocols, like “why this” or “what does that do?” they could not answer at all. They had no clue. There was only a very passive “this is the protocol, so you just follow” attitude.
    Reading the blogpost, it’s not very suprising I guess. There is however one thing that really bothers me about it: if you’re educating people to become scientists, then why don’t you learn them to think for themselves? It is such a waste. They are smart people without doubt, it’s just that they never learned to think/reason.

    On a side note, environmental awareness is a gaping hole in the course material. I’m in a civil/ecological department, and still people have 0 sense of energy conserving, global warming, overfishing, etc. It’s painfull to watch while knowing how hard Earth is going to shit. It’s more unpleasant when you realise that it will be the poor people that will face the consequences first.

    Well, that’s my opinion,
    Cheers

    4 years ago
  24. Thanks for the shout out to Han and Sophie! Sophie is still in Korea but Han was only here for a few days over Lunar New Year.

    School education is a hot topic for couples like us. We haven’t made up our minds yet about which country we want our kids to go to school in yet.

    4 years ago
  25. I fall into category D – I’m from Portugal and I’ve never been to Korea. Contrary to some opinions, I think our education system is good – not great – but good.
    We have several paths we can follow once we enter 10th grade (high school) and according to what you like and what you want to be in the future, you choose one. For example, I chose CT (Sciences and Technologies) and had subjects like Maths, Portuguese, Biology, Physics and so on. There is a mixture of creative thinking and memorization, depending on the teacher – you have to be lucky.
    In terms of grades, yes, they are important. But I also find that if you listen to the teacher and study and comprehend, you’ll sail through high school. At the end of the 11th and 12th grade you have exams, which are fundamental for your college applications. (Our college applications are in the Summer and you start in September.)
    What I like about our education system is that you have mandatory exams but you can choose to do exams from other paths in case you changed your mind and want to follow something else and that requires that exam.
    I agree that our system needs a lot of changes still, since there’s still a lot of memorization and a general stress to have good grades on these final exams. But, from what I’ve seen from other countries, it’s not that bad in comparison.

    4 years ago
    • Also, I’m in college and since I chose a very practical course, our classes are very interesting and mostly creative thinking, which is great!

      4 years ago
  26. Wait, so does the Korean SAT’s only consists of multiple choice questions? No essays?
    Malaysian primary & secondary education system is also somewhat like Korea but less strict/rigid. It’s a totally different thing in tertiary education though.

    4 years ago
  27. Our education system is mostly based on memorization too and mostly also sitting and listening to kectures whole day long. But there are times when the teacher asks questions but thats about it. Maybe there might be a group discussion is language classes but never in a science related class. Our english learning system i shall say is a tad bit better than korea’s as most lf us can at least string a few sentences but it depends on which school u come from.

    4 years ago