The U.S. president called for Americans "not only to expand effective after-school programs but to rethink the school day to incorporate more time, whether it's during the summer or through expanded-day programs for children who need it."
Obama's remarks came as a surprise to many South Koreans as the country's education system has been under constant public criticism due to its lack of creativity and heavy dependence on private tutoring.
Indeed, though I suspect his remarks in context would be less surprising, as it's the headline here that's jarring rather than what he actually said. I highlight the bit about the academic calendar because that's likely all the "lauding" he did of South Korea's schools. You can read the transcript of his speech to the Hispanic Chamber of Congress here, in which he mentions Korea twice. The second mention may not be as flattering as you might think:
Now, I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas. (Laughter.) Not with Malia and Sasha -- (laughter) -- not in my family, and probably not in yours. But the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom. If they can do that in South Korea, we can do it right here in the United States of America.
Actually I'll bet you he was confusing Korea with Japan when he talked about the academic calendar, but I guess the papers will take any praise of Korea they can get. All in all his remarks were encouraging, and give them a full read-through, though it will take a major attitude shift toward education in America, not simply legislation, to right this ship. The hours children spend in Korean schools aren't remarkable---everyone knows public schools aren't effective here---but they hours they spend studying are, and while American children don't need to be up until two o'clock memorizing crap, it wouldn't hurt to make education a larger priority in their lives, rather than bitching about the oppressive half-hour of homework they're doing each night. I'll end with this excerpt from page six:
So here's the bottom line: Yes, we need more money; yes, we need more reform; yes, we need to hold ourselves more accountable for every dollar we spend. But there's one more ingredient I want to talk about. No government policy will make any difference unless we also hold ourselves more accountable as parents -- because government, no matter how wise or efficient, cannot turn off the TV or put away the video games. Teachers, no matter how dedicated or effective, cannot make sure your child leaves for school on time and does their homework when they get back at night. These are things only a parent can do. These are things that our parents must do.