Saturday, April 01, 2006

Top-Down Training vs. True Education

The Korea Herald is running a series of articles consisting of excerpts from Tariq Hussain's Diamond Dilemma: Shaping Korea for the 21st Century, and since I subscribe to the Korea Herald, I've been reading them daily for over a week now.

The excerpts are of generally good quality, if uneven, but yesterday's article on education, "Korea wastes its most valuable asset," was exceptionally good at analyzing precisely what is wrong with the Korean understanding of education. Here are some notable passages:
Korea's education system indicates the country's potential to shine -- no other country spends or values education as much -- but it also reflects Korea's challenge: the need to move from top down training toward true education.


Education and management experts have long highlighted the crucial difference between training and education. James O'Toole calls training the "forming of habits of thought and behavior by discipline and instruction" -- the core of Korea's school and university system today.

According to O'Toole, training has to do with right and wrong: right and wrong answers, right and wrong behavior; in other words, the essence of Korea's multiple choice system.


The verb "to educate" has its roots in the Latin word "educare" which literally means to "draw out": it describes a process designed to develop the powers of a person. An "educated person" therefore develops a capacity to pursue true learning: to explore issues and ideas from multiple perspectives, to ask questions and critically test answers.

While training narrows a person's perspective, education broadens it. While training is about learning the right answers, education is about learning how to ask the right question so that one can be innovative, creative and responsive to change.


For all their praise about Koreans' discipline, dedication and hard work (the hallmarks of a highly trained work force), foreign executives also clearly recognize Koreans' weaknesses ... [Here are three] areas are of particular concern:

Lack of critical thinking and problem solving skills: Foreign executives frequently point out that "Koreans do too much analysis, and too little thinking." One foreign management consultant notes that "Korean consultants will work day and night to come up with fancy analysis -- but ask them about the 'so what,' and you will often get an empty stare. When you probe, the result is even more frantic analysis; very few are able to sit back and think. Just like Samsung Electronics semiconductors, Koreans have immense memory capacity and processing speed, but little application specific solution capacity."

Lack of communication skills: Having gone through more than 15 years of top down drill, many Koreans find it difficult to engage in a discussion or logically present their view. When the discussion switches to English, Koreans often fall completely silent .... Not used to arguments and discussions, some Koreans find it difficult to build on others' views....

Lack of diversity: Today's most successful economies and companies thrive on diversity of people, ideas and skills. In Korea, students or managers that look or think differently are quickly forced to step in line -- or risk being treated as an outsider. The homogeneity of Korea's society is reinforced through a training system which favors conformity over creativity, similarity over difference.
I wasn't familiar with the distinction between "training" and "education," but I find the concepts very useful for expressing what I find wrong with many of my students' thinking patterns. Hussain is right on the money when he notes that Koreans focus on learning the 'right' answers (training) rather than on learning how to ask the right questions (education).

I told my wife, Sun-Ae, about this excerpt on education, and based on her own experience growing up 'trained' in Korea's educational system, she agreed with Hussain's analysis of the problem. She also confirmed his remark about the Korean lack of communication skills that results from training rather than true education, for when she went to Germany for studies that eventually led to her doctorate in German literature, she found herself unable to express her views coherently even after having mastered the German language well enough for Germans to compliment her on her fluency. In seminar courses, she fell silent and marveled that other students could express their ideas so articulately.

As Hussain puts it, she would "find it difficult to build on others' views." In the early stages of my relationship with Sun-Ae, I noticed this very difficulty. Sometimes in our discussions, I would respond to a point that she had made, but when I had finished my response, she would reply in a manner that gave me the impression that she had not in the least point integrated my remarks into her own view. It was as if I had said nothing at all, and at times, my jaw would simply drop in astonishment.

That doesn't happen much anymore, for my wife has gotten quite good at building on the views of others ... perhaps even doing it better than I can, which is not particularly good for my self-image but which at least gives me hope for Koreans generally, and I try to teach my students with this hope in mind.

Meanwhile, for those interested in the book or in contacting Tariq Hussain, here are some final details:
The Korean version of "Diamond Dilemma" was published by Random House JoongAng, while its English version is to come out later this year. For more information, please see or contact the author at
I don't know Mr. Hussain, but this note suggests that he would be happy to hear from individuals with interest in his ideas.


At 8:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've actually been working up a post on Education vs Training; it's a topic on which I've had countless discussions with my colleagues.

Most of us who are teachers want to educate, literally as you said teaching our students to ultimately question and have the capacity to learn on their own. To use a catchphrase, to create lifelong learners.

No Child Left Behind and its insistence on standardized testing, however, is creating an atmosphere that rewards training more than educating. This then filters up into universities and we see more and more kids who've graduated at the top of their classes, but woefully unprepared for the kind of thinking required of university students.

As my old principal confided in me after he retired in frustration, "They want us to create technocrats."

At 3:26 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

James, I recall that we had a similar discussion some time back, when I was posting on some of the problems with education in Korea.

Sounds like you know a lot already about "Training" vs. "Education."

As for "No Child Left Behind," I know nothing about the program beyond its slogan.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a subject I think a lot about. A year ago, I left education to try the more lucrative corporate training. I prefer education.

No Child Left Behind isn't much more than a slogan. It's actually not a bad idea in theory (make sure that schools educate all kids equally) but the way it gets implemented is much different. I suspect if they had been forced to call it House Bill 6778 (or whatever) it never would have passed, but with a name like No Child Left Behind how could anyone be opposed? Like much of Bush's agenda it's mostly symbolic.

At 10:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a question for you anyone
who've involed in education.

There are lot of those in society
who believe and train a certain

my question is how do i handle and
seperate myself from these kind of
ideology and belive?

It is listenning and qeustioning
so i can come up w my own conclusion. Another word how to i
educate myself ? become more aware of false fact. create my own thinking for myself and creativity.

At 11:34 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Golfboyyk, that's a difficult question to answer, but I can tell you what I do.

When I'm reading something, I keep several things in mind, e.g., what's the writer's main point, how is this minor point related to the main point, is the main point being supported well, is the main point persuasive, and what objections can be raised against any point in the argument?

These are also good questions to raise as you yourself write -- and writing is a good way to learn what you really think.

Do some brainstorming, i.e., a wild ride of the mind in which one thinks of every possible solution to a problem or answer to a question and writes them all down, only later reflecting upon them more critically.

And for attending a lecture, seminar, or class of some sort, try to think of the best question that you can imagine and then pose the question during discussion.

Also, read a lot, think broadly, follow your interests.

I wish that I could be of more help, but for that, you'd need to be in my classroom and write an essay for me to critique.

Jeffery Hodges

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