Korean kids talking with the Obama children, from the Chosun Ilbo, March 11, 2009.
Coverage of Korea in western outlets usually amounts to "news" that's lazily reported several months later, or something that fits into the "news of the weird" category that aligns with western stereotypes of Asians. I've written that before about the persistent, and untimely, reporting on Korea's English-teaching robots that turns up in "news" stories every few months. This week, the syndicated, low-brow column "News of the Weird" covers those "Inscrutable Asians" in South Korea:
Though South Korean children score among the highest in the world on standardized reading and math tests, their success comes at a price, according to an October Time magazine dispatch. They supposedly suffer "educational masochism" -- punishing themselves by overstudy, especially in high school preparing for university admissions tests (a process so competitive that even test-coaching schools are picky about accepting students). Earlier this year, to curb the "masochism," the government began enforcing a 10 p.m. curfew on coaching-school activities, and in Seoul, a six-man team conducts nightly after-hours raids on classes that run late-night sessions behind shuttered windows. (Ironically, Time acknowledged, American educational reformers want U.S. students to study harder, like Asians do, but Asian reformers want their students to relax, like American students.)
Wow, South Korean students study a lot . . . that's so weird. Here's the September 25th Time magazine article, which reports on the hardly-new phenomenon of long-studying students and the on-again, off-again efforts of the authorities to crack down on late-night cram sessions. The article leads to an important point:
The problem is not that South Korean kids aren't learning enough or working hard enough; it's that they aren't working smart. When I visited some schools, I saw classrooms in which a third of the students slept while the teacher continued lecturing, seemingly unfazed.The spectacularly inefficient use of classroom time---with kids "studying" "year-round" but spending a month after exams watching movies in class, or attending schools on Saturdays to play soccer or go on field trips---is one problem with comparing the Korean and American school systems and their different school calendars. (See also "Continued exaggeration of President Obama's views of Korean education" from 2010.)
Related to sleeping in class, members of a prominent and . . . weird teachers' union said sleeping in class is a "human right".
The survey of 1,649 students and 1,132 teachers, conducted by the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union, came amid disputes over moves by liberal-controlled educational offices to change the way teachers treat students.Like a lot of what this union does, the survey is a publicity stunt. But it leads you to wonder how much improvement could be made in Korean schools if teachers like that weren't in charge.
The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, headed by liberal superintendent Kwak No-hyun, announced measures last month to enhance students’ human rights, sparking protests from conservative groups advocating teachers’ rights.
According to the survey, 44.5 percent of the students said they were entitled to do other things than just focusing on lessons during classes ― 24 percent of teachers agreed to such rights.