A better Hagwon

Some time ago,  I saw a link pop up on my stats and was put in a very good mood from that point on.  I even got my wife to laugh at me while reading it to her.  She finds anyone taking me serious as being seriously funny.

What peeked my interest more though is this, this and this.

You can see he put some time in trying to understand the hagwon Industry, and I am happy to say that Part I and Part II are pretty much to the point.  I don’t think I can add anything extra.  In Part III he starts thinking of what it would take to make a better hagwon.  The one bog flaw is the consistent negligence of the business reality of costs and revenue, and how to make a profit.  But we cannot blame him for that, assuming he had no formation in any part of economics education.  This is why my point of view, inside the ESL world, offers a second limitation to what is possible as a hagwon.  On the one hand we have desires concerning what education is supposed to be doing, and on the other hand, we have the economic limitations on running a school.  Resources are not infinite and time even less so.

I will be grouping ideas based on similar underlying principles.

Idea 1 to Idea 4, Idea 7 and Idea 13: Time!

Let’s assume a full time teacher is hired for 38 hours a week, but teaches 25 hours per week, allowing for 13 hours of “doing something else”.  That means that only those 25 hours make money, and the margin on those 25 hours needs to pay for everything else.  You can already see that this is not going to work, unless you got a lot of students in each class, or each student pays a lot of money per hour teaching.  Since tuition fees in Korea are “limited” to around 10k per hour, and even if we pay the teacher 2.1M nominally (real cost 3M) on a 25 hour teaching schedule, you get 3.000.000/(10.000) = 300 student hours per month, just to pay for the teachers wage, that is about three student per hour per teacher.  A known secret among most people that are in business know that to run a healthy business, 30% of total cost is labor cost.  Given this “normal” standard we come to the point we need 9 students in class to run a healthy school at 10.000 won per hour per student.  Now, the exception is with industries that rely heavily in HR to create revenue, it could rise up to 50% of the total cost, so in that case, a class would need a minimum of 6 students in a class to be considered normal. It is when you reach student 7, 8 that you can consider a school to actually make a profit.

Given the 38 hour week for a teacher (yeah right …) you have 13 hours per week for your teachers to either study English or Korean (which costs money, you still have to hire someone to run that class), have some social time (or shall we force people to do that outside of the working hours?), Evaluate students (a decent evaluation takes 30 mins per student, depending on the number of students, that is a heck of a long time), Keep getting trained, and prepare for classes.  All that in 13 hours per week or 650 hours per year.  I don’t think so.

The one condition you are forgetting is that most people have NO interest in expanding the hours they work, unless you are crazy like me, working 12-13 hours a day.  Most people just want a job, go home and enjoy life, that is reality.  The job is to pay the bills, so the time you are paying them for is the time you get to put ALL of those ideas very tightly packed.  A lot of people pretend otherwise, but that is only because they are looking for a job…

Time is a very valuable commodity, and making your employees go through all that hassle will ultimately backfire in less energy IN the classroom, and students dropping out.  My take is completely the opposite.  ALL energy should be focused on what they are here to do, and that is to teach.  If the teacher wants training and asks me for it, I will provide, but if I force it unto him/her, it will only result in a less effective teacher in the classroom.  A plane doesn’t make money sitting in the hangar getting a fix over, it is only there because if they don’t, it will fall out of the sky and business will suffer.  A teacher creates value teaching, and that is what a school should support, all the other stuff is just a distraction.  Under the condition that the individual wants to do it, all is fine, but most simply won’t, unless it has a direct effect on their pay-grade.

HR is a real bitch, and to get people to even do what they are paid to do is already though, don’t put on anything extra that doesn’t directly involve getting the job done, unless they want it.

Idea 5 : Curriculum

That idea is so spot on, I did you one better.  I do a “curriculum” based on a week.  The fickleness of the students (mothers) can be quite high especially during February and September.  Added to that we got so many other things impacting the consistency of student participation that planning anything for more than a week doesn’t make sense. Every week, I focus on some language points and make sure they get it within the week.  The problem is making it all string together cohesively. You need a framework in which a teacher can use as a guideline, to make it easier for the teacher to adapt to the flexibility a school requires in an environment where students can drop out or in at any lesson.

Idea 6 : Individualized Learning Model

This is an idea I really have to dig into.  I just need to find a way to put that into something deliverable.

Idea 8 : Homeroom

Most of the time the kids got a list of hagwons to go to.  They go from music, to math, to sports and English.  The homeroom might be empty most of the time, unless you enforce a homework discipline into the schedule.  Hiring extra people is still hiring extra people.  Tuition still depends on the hour taught, not on the hours of the children’s presence.  It will be difficult to tie revenue to the cost, and make it go break-even.  I transferred one room into a Library, and it has other uses.

Idea 9 : Integrated

Of course it is better.  Do you know how many times I get asked the question “What do you teach?” Answering English is not the best one.  Integrated/Immersive doesn’t mean anything.  The question in their minds is, “How will this get my kid to outperform any other kid.”  If people want corn on their pizza, you sell pizza with corn, irregardless what you think of the taste.

Idea 10 & Idea 14: Testing

Depends on the test, right?  That is what you are saying.  What do you test and how do you test it.  If you read my previous post, I alluded to the idea that extreme testing can lead to a misguided idea from the students that what matters IS the test, not the actual acquisition of language capability. Developing a test that isn’t a test will probably require 20 PhD’s. …. That is why I focus on what the teacher can do, and that is asses the students IN class while they are working with a yard stick in hand.  The problem is that parents don’t have the attention to take a wider perspective of analyzing their kids.  They want a simple number that explains everything.  No wonder they get cheated half of the time.  I am not in the business of selling bridges.

Testing also takes a lot of time, time that could be spend actually learning something.

Idea 11 : Infrastructure

The day I can see that teaching and technology working seamlessly without a teacher having to spend hours prepping for one hour of class with same said technology, we can talk about it.   Every time I try to do something with technology, not only do I spend a lot of time prepping, it also has a direct negative impact on the output of said class.  Technology and Entertainment are now too much intertwined for children to see technology as nothing else as entertainment.  It’s still too disruptive.

Idea 12: Hagwon as a home

Actually, the rule I employ is that the Hagwon is MY home and if they destroy anything in my school, I will come to THEIR home and destroy one of their toys. They are my guests, they should behave like them.

I also don’t allow students to bring their pens and pencils.  They use MY pencils, My paper and MY books.  Any disrespect towards my stuff, translates a story from me asking them if they would like me to disrespect their stuff.  One incident per student is enough to stop them from Erosion Vandalism.  They cannot write on the table and since it is pencil only, it is not hard enough to even scratch the surface of the table, which is where the real damage begins.

Another issue is clutter.  I allow my teachers to come up with ways to “improve” their work-space.  None of them have taken up the opportunity.  At least my classrooms are clutter free.

Idea 15 : CRM

CRM is very expensive.  Only a school of a certain size can afford to even consider making use of it.  What you need is Admin people who are working for you , who believe in the product you are selling.  That is your CRM.

Firing parents only work when you have filled enough capacity to pay for everything else.  Getting rid of a customer before you break even is a bad idea.  It’s a luxury problem.

A better strategy is to learn how to handle them.

Idea 16 : Empowering

Empowerment is a beautiful idea.  That’s it.  In the end, all that matters is the pay check.

Idea 17 : Flat fee

Actually, a hagwon is no longer allowed to do more than a flat fee. No more book selling, no more paper selling.  Just tuition.

Idea 18: Detention

Never saw that happen and very stupid indeed.  It just helps to make the kids NOT want to go to the school to begin with.  The negative mindset will decrease any output you might create. And it costs money to keep kids around for longer than necessary.  So it simply doesn’t make any sense.

The extra stuff is probably not allowed by MOE, or is either not possible due to the expense it entails.

Cheers and thanks for your point of view!