Is America the new, world-leading model of education? If you’ve listened to all of the numbers, read the statistics, and believed the reports about American students failing in schools and standardized test scores, you would never think that the American education system is envied by anyone. I wouldn’t have thought so either, until I recently read about the crackdown on too much studying that is occurring in Asian communities, especially Korea. In fact, South Korean education officials are trying to convince their students and their students’ parents that too much studying is a bad thing.
In America we have long heard how we should be envious of the test scores brought home by Asian students. For decades South Korea has boasted some of the top scores in the entire world, giving the rest of the world something to which to aspire. However, the South Korean government is now cracking down on relentless hours of tutoring and rigorous study of its students – and hoping its schools will learn a little from American education. This Asian country known for its top-ranking test scores is reducing the emphasis put on these tests in the hopes of regaining some educational and cultural balance.
Laws Against Too Much Studying – Seriously
A curfew of 10:00 p.m. has actually been established for students working with hagwons, private tutoring academies that are the norm for the 74% of South Korean students who work after school each day. Special patrols go out each night, looking for offenders who have gathered in covert locations to study with tutors and other students. Like drug enforcement officers on stakeout, these education officers rely on tips and undercover information to find these hidden hagwons.
The Dangers of Too Much Homework
South Korean officials fervently fear that unless their society moves away from constant studying, cramming for exams, and pushing to pass entrance tests that much will be lost. National economic growth cannot progress with innovation, and one-size-fits-all testing and highly regulated academia do not produce innovative thinkers. These methods produce prepared students who can pass tests and enter higher levels of education, which is precisely what many Americans are pushing to duplicate. South Korean education officials are very worried that such rigorous school and tutoring programs will stifle creativity and lead to the downfall of the economy and advancements in technology, sciences, and other progressive areas of study.
Perhaps it is not even so much how many hours the students in South Korea are studying that matters as the quality of time they put in each day at school. Shops in South Korea sell special arm pillows designed with a sleeve so that students are more comfortable as they nap during school lectures, necessary after late nights studying with tutors. It appears that the emphasis might be so strong on the effectiveness of the hagwons that daytime school hours are not put to effective use.
Many in South Korea also fear that the constant push for 15 hour school and studying days will diminish the country’s population as families feel the financial pressure of paying for thousands in private tutoring. Enforcing curfews on hagwons does appear to have an impact on how much families are paying private tutors as spending for that dropped by 3.5% in 2010. However, private tutors are still earning millions for private classes and online lectures. In fact, one way many students appear to get around this curfew is to study alone online.
South Korean Education Failures – What Can the U.S. Learn from Them?
It appears that nations everywhere have a lot to learn from the education failures and successes of other countries. While many in America are striving to develop a system where our students are more like those in Asian schools with their top test scores and dedicated study times, many in these Asian communities are trying to work toward a more “Americanized” school system.
The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.
So – if we are to combine the best of both worlds, it looks like that golden education system would foster
- Innovation through diverse coverage of topics
- Creativity through broader curriculum offerings
- Entrepreneurial spirit derived from opportunities in education
- Preparedness through rigorous academic teachings
- And good old fashioned well-rounded citizens who raise families, contribute to the economy, and support their country
If we listen to both sides of the fence, those with the world’s best test takers and the more relaxed system in the United States, maybe we will hear how we are supposed to be providing our children with an education that leads to brighter futures. Words and phrases like Montessori and online schools, specialized classes, and internships for high school students seem to make a little more sense. What do you think would help get us where we need to go?