Monday, December 14, 2009

Korean children's daily life.

These snot-nosed little brats sweet little angels are the cutest things on Earth. Proof.

But make no mistake - these kids get more than their daily dose of school. The sheer number of hours spent in the classroom is enough to raise Western eyebrows. They get plenty of instruction in and out of school. The Korean educational system consists of six years of elementary school, three years of junior high, and three years of high school. School semesters are seasonal (like in America) but start in March and ends in February (Spring to Fall as opposed to Fall to Spring).

One overall educational goal is to make them bilingual in Korean and English; if they can fit another language into that sweet little melon, they will do so later in middle or high school. As noble a goal it is in spirit (and often in practice), sometimes it can get out of hand.
Cute Korean kid pwns
So when do these precious little lambs have time to rest their tired little eyes? Late. I do mean late. It's not just sleep that is attracting attention of the media, either. Basically, the kids aren't alright. A typical schedule of a school-age student would include school in the morning until dismissal, Monday and Friday afternoons spent learning English outside of school at a private academy, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday afternoons spent learning music, art, or dance, and Wednesday afternoons spent brushing up on a particular academic subject like Math or Science. It's reasonable to accept the fact that being a student in Korea is a full-time job. And this is a full-time job that parents pay through the nose to afford.

One thing that will surely raise the other Western eyebrow is a certain lack of household chores. Kids are generally expected to study at school, go to an after-school academy, make good grades, come home, eat, study more, sleep, and repeat. Generally, kids aren't told to clean up after themselves, do the laundry, or other household chores.

I feel that this might get misunderstood as laziness enabled by parents - a sort of overindulgence on said angelic children. But, take a closer look from a different perspective:

In America, our educational system is set up to provide a safe learning environment with the goal of socializing and educating our students with the most developmentally appropriate methods possible. We also have a focus on getting kids ready for the "real world". We want kids to be self-reliant, unique, and well-rounded. So, it is very reasonable to have a student that makes C's and B's who is popular and a student who gets straight A's emo-ing it out in the corner of the cafeteria at lunch. It's also totally feasible to imagine an American parent concerned that their child isn't developing socially at the same rate as their peers. This parent might seek outside help in order to get their kid involved in some sort of social activity be it music, sports, or religion. Either way, whatever the student chooses, the parents will generally accept so long as they maintain at least passing grades and minimally decent manners. Hanging out with friends is an acceptable use of an afternoon just as long as the homework gets done at some point in the day. Summation? Too much of anything is a bad thing.

Take a glance at life in Korea in contrast. Kids are not to be burdened with household chores not because they shouldn't learn this life skill; it's because they already have enough on their plate - their job is to study and be a dutiful student. A parent's job is to support the student so that they don't have to worry about things like a dirty room, unwashed clothes, and a empty cupboard. A student shouldn't stick out so as to draw attention to themselves; such a behavior goes against the grain of the common good. It's understandable that a good student is measured by the letter grade that they receive - that's what grades are in place to do - assess and motivate students. The institution of school is to mold students into acceptable members of society - little kids get away with much more than educated teenagers in terms of socially acceptable behavior. A parent might seek additional schooling to give their kids a competitive edge for the workplace; be it a college prep class, music class, or very often, English class. Why not? If a parent can provide such a valuable education that can ensure that their student is successful later in life, why wouldn't they enroll their kid in a 학원? The student's friends will surely notice if they aren't going to after-school class which would very likely make their kid the source of gossip. If their child doesn't fit in at school socially it's not the end of the world - so long as they bring home those A's and speak English like a native. Summation? Sleep five hours and fail, sleep four hours and pass.

So, in conclusion: things aren't the same in Korea. Of course, the system is flawed in some aspects but so is America's system. Overall, both institutions are geared to acclimate students to their native society and in that regard, both systems perform that function. I can see how people from both sides of the fence could claim that their system is superior (or inferior for that matter) because it is the system that they studied under. Despite all the differences, it's very refreshing to read articles like this where compromise can be met.