Sunday, February 21, 2010

Culture of Discussion: Education in South Korea?

South Korea on the Map
Global Education?
(Image from Wikipedia)

Yesterday, I posted an entry on critical thinking and promised to return to a discussion of the article by Peter Facione on "Critical Thinking: What It Is and Why It Counts," but not today.

I want to follow up on an excursus through Korean education because an older post of mine on this topic received a comment by the writer Carl Honoré:
Stumbled across your blog while doing some research for a book I'm writing about problem-solving (see my bio below). Not a how-to manual, more a cultural critique of our obsession with the quick fix.

One of the things I'm investigating is how problem-solving is taught in schools. I'm particularly interested in South Korea, given that it came top in the world in that category in the last PISA round. I am also taking a hard look at the Finnish system, which seems very different in spirit from the Korean one yet produces similarly glowing results.

Anyway, I'm writing because I'd love to chat to you about how you see Korean education and perhaps to get some ideas of whom to approach for interviews. I'm based in London UK but will be in South Korea to give a talk in late August/early September. Would love to use the trip to do some research for my next book.

Thank you very much in advance for any help you can supply. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
I'd heard of Mr. Honoré because of his book In Praise of Slow. I haven't read it, but it has come to my attention as part of the slow-living debate. If he does indeed visit Korea, I'll be happy to talk to him, but I'll try to find people with more expertise than I have for him to interview.

Anyway, Mr. Honoré notes the not-insignificant fact that South Korea ranks at the top, along with Finland, among nations tested for problem-solving. A couple of years ago when I was teaching at Kyung Hee University, one of my students wrote on this high ranking and compared the Korean and Finnish school systems, arguing that the Finnish system was far superior and that the Korean system was very inefficient in helping Korea reach its high ranking in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). I agreed with my student, and I see from an article, "Students rely on hagwon more than public schools" (February 19, 2010), by Kim Mi-ju and Park Su-ryon in a recent edition of the JoongAng Daily that the public school system in Korea is probably not the reason for Korea's high ranking, as indicated by the remarks of one student interviewed:
A student surnamed Song, who goes to high school in Gangnam, a famed private education district in southern Seoul, is in the top 5 percent of his school and is typical of many of those surveyed. He said he rarely raises his hand to ask questions of his public school teacher.

"I got a sense that schoolteachers don't like their classes being interrupted and I walk on eggshells," Song said, adding that it’s also difficult to ask teachers questions after class.

Aside from lecturing, public school teachers are busy with administrative chores, making it hard to get their attention. Students said they are barred from entering the teacher's office in the midterm and final exam periods to prevent them from seeing exam questions.

Song said that's why he turns to his hagwon teachers.

"In my hagwon I have been told to feel free to ask questions at any time," Song, 18, said. "Hagwon teachers prepare supplemental study materials tailored to my study level and I feel more comfortable at a hagwon than at public schools because hagwon teachers approach me first and give me encouragement."
The freedom to ask questions, as we've noted, is fundamental to a culture of discussion, but Korea's public school system actively discourages questions and focuses upon rote learning, whereas the private academies (hagwons) encourage questions from students and apparently teach problem-solving.

Relevant to this issue, my wife yesterday mentioned the case of a Korean girl who lived for a time in China and attended an international school where she was encouraged to ask questions, and she loved learning, but when her family returned to Korea and enrolled her in a Korean public school, her teachers told her to stop asking questions during class.

Our own daughter experienced this when she was in the seventh grade last year, which is partly why we withdrew her from the Korean school system and turned instead to an online American school. Our daughter was discouraged from asking questions during class. Even worse, she witnessed students receiving corporal punishment for getting wrong answers (sometimes even getting kicked, though this was apparently for misbehavior). That seems to me to be a very good method for discouraging students from active learning and of warning them not to take intellectual risks.

I'd like to know more about the Finnish system, and perhaps if I do have a chance to speak with Carl Honoré next August or September, I'll ask him some questions. Meanwhile, our daughter is relieved not to be in a Korean school anymore and happy with her experience at The Keystone School.

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At 9:10 AM, Blogger Conservative in Virginia said...

Is a hagwon only a supplemental learning place? It sounds like the kids would be better off if they went to them instead of school.

I think there are hagwons in the USA, too. Seems like I've heard the term before, in the context of getting Korean and Korean-American students into better schools or colleges.

At 2:58 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hagwons are supposed to be supplemental, but most of the learning seems to take place in hagwon classes.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm curious if your wife knows which Chinese city the girl lived in.

At 8:43 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I'll ask, Sonagi.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:29 PM, Anonymous James Ryan said...

There are many critical issue happen when student has to accept new schooling system.

My son faced same situation when we shifted from UK to USA, After some issue we decided to do High School Diploma Online from excel high school. We get more satisfied results.

At 3:05 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

James Ryan, you are not a native speaker of English; you are an outsourced worker posting ads for an online service.

I have your IP address and know that you're in neither the US nor the UK.

I could delete your comment, but it's written in such embarrassing English that I'll leave it as a sign of your dishonesty.

Nobody who reads your writing will be tempted to use that online service.

Jeffery Hodges

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