What it is all about

The following article, in all it’s seemingly innocence, shows exactly what education is all about in Korea:  Homework agencies.

The rhetoric on homework aside (disclosure: I’m not a big fan of homework), homework does aspire to some people to improve the academic success of the individual student.  It gives parents some kind of warm fuzzy feeling that their kid is heading in the right direction.  It gives teachers the opportunity to shift the work/blame/energy/whateveryouwant to the household So overall it is a Win/Win/Win/LOSE situation (hehehehe  Parent/Teacher/School/Student)  Let’s simply assume for the sake of argument that homework does benefit every player in the education game.

From that assumption, that article is mighty interesting. There are so many things we can pluck out of it.

Lee, like many women in Korea, is an overly-involved mother. The 41-year-old considers her son’s school assignments her business. Homework scores factor into overall academic performance, along with the college entrance exam, when universities select their students.

“Overly involved mother“, I wonder why.  O yes, their social status depends on it.  Good homework improves the score at school which improves the entrance exam, which improves the University the child can attend.  Which is the goal in South Korea.  Your adult life is determined by the University you were able to attend.  Your parents social status is dependent on which University you went.

But one assignment in particular tested her resolve. Her son’s art teacher had asked the class to make a unique work using hanji, traditional handmade paper made from the bark of indigenous mulberry trees.

Math,English, Korean, Chinese, Sciences, etc are all covered by one or other hagwon.  But Arts and Crafts seems to be a problem.  Look at the word unique, which indicates that the teacher would like something that sprouted out of the brain of  the student, I assume.  Isn’t Arts and Crafts ultimately to express oneself through manipulating materials?

She immediately found the business online and filled her address in on its website, along with the specifics of the assignment and the deadline. The agency charged 30,000 won ($28), and Lee received the finished assignment two days after sending the fees.

Problem solved.  Which problem?  The problem of having something “unique”.

These days, many parents like Lee are losing confidence in typical hagwon – cram schools that prepare students for college entrance exams – and believe they are no longer enough to turn their children into top performers.

What many people don’t see is that ultimately, Education is the great EQUALIZER.  It doesn’t matter where you come from, if you studied exactly the same thing as everybody else, you can do what everyone else can do.  In Korea, education is still perceived as a DIFFERENTIATOR, something that makes you unique, but education teaches us what we know, not what we don’t know, therefore, education can only equalize the situation, not differentiate.   Ergo sum, cram schools and parents, inevitably, have to find novel ways to make it seem like the kid is getting a head start.  But it is a fallacy.

Most parents believe time spent working on these types of projects takes away from the time their child could be using to study for exam-centered subjects, like English and math.

The crux of the matter: time.  The student has to be marginally better than everyone else, because entrance to a top-tier University depends on marginal percentages.  A student with a 94.5% score might miss out and the student with the 94.7% is in.  So we have to make sure, by spending hours and hours upon hours to make sure the student gets the 94.7% instead of the 94.5%.  It is in the margin that the differences occur.  Since most people know that those hours are spent inneficiently, they will turn to study to the test or cheating.  Which is quite the opposite of what people tend to think education is all about. Exasperating.

“The Education Ministry needs to come up with ways to implement a new set of rules that warrants punishment,” said Kim Moo-seong, a representative of the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Associations. “This issue needs to be addressed. It is seriously jeopardizing public education.”

Here we have to governments point of view. People are looking for ways to get ahead. Those things cost money.  Money is used to keep rich people in the top.  Middle class people follow suit, cause they want to be part top society, and the lower class get’s left out since they have no ability to pay for it.  Government than has to show they are FOR the people and start passing out rules and regulations to keep it “democratic”, too bad they have a constitution to consider.

So here we have it.  Public education uses homework to get the lower achieving social classes to come to the same levels as the other classes, to give them a fair chance.  The upper classes want to protect their families social status, and send their kids into cram schools so they can keep the family in the top.  They spend a lot of money on education to do so, in various different ways.  Government starts to take notice of these “free-market” “undemocratic” solutions and starts regulating the whole industry (with little effect since they just go underground), which forces rich people to become even more creative in their quest for a better future for their children.  A lovely rat race we got here.

The only solution is a deep cultural one, but since this is not my country, since I am only a guest in this country that I care about, my opinion has no value and carries no weight.

Keep on fighting the good fight.

Chief out.