Thursday, January 27, 2011

Battle Hymn of Korean Education

Over here in America there has been a lot of buzz over Amy Chua's book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother". For the most part reporters and commentators have been using her book as another way to bring up the stereotypical image of Asians as hard-core studying people who's parents won't even accept an "A-". However, if you read the book and hear Amy's own words you would find that it is more about her becoming a better parent, in that case it is more like a memoir.

In a recent interview on NPR Amy talked about her book and fielded these social questions from listeners. Although I enjoyed the interview and it did clarify some things it felt like Amy didn't attack the social issues clearly enough. She kind of mostly focused on herself and her family.

To me that leaves a lot of room for debate over the issue of East-Asian parenting vs. Western parenting. From my point of view my mom was pretty tough on me but not because of my grades it was mostly due to my attitude or behavior. With that said I know what living in a "tough" household is like, but when I think about Korean households there seems to be nothing I have to compare it to.

The analogy of Chinese moms being "Tigers" makes Korean moms look pretty tame. In the animal kingdom of parenting I would put Korean moms as something more ferocious and obsessed. However, I can't think of an animal for that. Vultures come to mind but I think it is a bit insulting and I don't really want to make that association. Really, Korean parents are just doing what they know how to do and functioning within what their culture calls for.

Whether you agree that the East-Asian model of parenting is best or the Western one, in Korea education is still taken a bit extremely. The following PBS video highlights practically everything you need to know about Korean education and its affects on students.

What I like best about this video is the part at the end where the discussion of change is opened up. Certainly, I feel most people in Korea are self-aware of how obsessed their country is with education and how the end result doesn't work out for everyone. I would like to say that I don't expect Korea to change in a way that will resemble the west. Rather, Korea's education system should change for the better of its people so that suicide rates come down and empathy goes up. 

As much as we expat teachers in Korea like to judge and pass criticism on the Korean education system it is what pays our salary. Currently, you can start to feel changes taking affect especially if you work in the public school sector. I have come to realize that as an outsider it is best to watch as things transform and lend a hand only cautiously. 

How have you seen Korean education change? Has it been for the better or only made things worse?


  1. I think that there have been a lot of good changes. The best one is probably that Seoul and Gyeongi do got rid of the barbaric practice of hitting students.

    I also worked at a Korean middle school for three and a half years, and every year has been different. One of the best improvements was changing from a text book that made absolutely no sense to a more coherent series of books. Also last year, the school hired more teachers and made smaller classes. The average class size went down from 36 students to anywhere between 15 and 25.

    It still isn't perfect. There is still a lot of time that it wasted. I figure that Korean teachers waste about 7 minutes of class through showing up late, turning on the computers, and well just getting set up. That would be okay if the class wasn't 45 minutes long. If there was enough time to organize classes better, those seven minutes could be turned into better instruction time. Those seven minutes add up through the year: I figure a good weeks worth of classes are missed from all the messing around that happens.

  2. Better question is, what part of the US education system you think should change so that more US kids realize that English was not originated in Mexico?

  3. 3gyupsal: good to hear. Reminds me of the wasted time I saw at the Elementary school level. Not to mention that nearly every week a computer either crashed or completely didn't work. Efficiency is definitely a component necessary for change.


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