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The Gachon Herald
What kind of education have you received?What do you think is a good education?
CHOI Hyun-Jin  |  ann528@hanmail.net
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Updated : 2014.09.10  17:03:59
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  What do you think about education in Korea? Barak Obama, the current president of the United States said, “Considering the importance of 21st century education we should emulate the education of Korea”. Did he really understand the overall problems in Korean education when he made that statement? Maybe he didn’t realize that some Korean elementary school students commit suicide because they are tired of school and private education. Perhaps he hasn’t heard that some high school students are forced to study at school until 10 p.m. So, what is the reality of a Korean students’ life? I assume most Korean students have experienced similar middle and high school days. They usually do their best on their given tasks, and their entire lives and personality are evaluated at least 4 times each year in examinations which require simple memorization of knowledge.

  How do these educational systems affect college students? Today many undergraduates don’t usually study to follow their aptitude but rather they study to enter a high ranking university or the best college they can get into in accordance with their grades. However, even after they enter the school, they are faced with a new competition called ‘employment’. During that process, so as to enter big companies they spend their twenties taking unnecessary assessments such as TOFEL, TOEIC, certificates and overseas study or training which don’t have a direct influence on their future. To build up these certificates or experiences, they learn things by rote or by short-term memorization solely for a short-term goal. Is this effective for their future? Don’t you think they are wasting their once-in-a-lifetime twenties doing something worthless? It’s not too much to say that all of these are caused by a flawed educational system and social atmosphere. Now I will tell you the reality of Korean education and students.

  <Korean teaching methods>
  The dictionary says, ‘a school is an organization where a teacher teaches their students continually with certain purpose, curriculum, system, policy and regulations.’ Are Korean students really learning properly in school? Among middle and high school students, only a handful of students are learning from their teachers. One of the reasons for students’ lack of concentration in their classes is the growth of private education. Maybe most of the students have already learned all of that they are supposed to learn in school at least a year to three years in advance at private education institutes. As a result students are less focused on classes and this in turn leads to ruining the class atmosphere. Then what are some causes for the rise of private education? There are two causes. First is the distrust in public education. Currently, Korean public education doesn’t provide an education in its true sense, but it gives a certain way to enter a good university. Due to insufficient time, students learn only the given curriculum and mainly use memorization to cram the contents into their brains rather than understand them. So it’s obvious for parents to prefer private education that teaches students much more details than schools do. Teachers also are not passionate about their teaching since most students have already learned through private education.

  The other reason is related to Korean parents’ self-centeredness that only their children should be the successful person. It is no exaggeration to say that this idea was formed by people’s belief that only good universities can lead you to a better future, or that working at big companies can guarantee you your happiness. Parents who want their children to be employed in large companies and enter pre-eminent universities are much more competitive and educate their kids with better private education. Therefore, the parents’ self-centered thinking causes private education growth.
  The second reason is passive learning and cramming in education. In Korea, tests are considered the most important thing. In school, teachers make students memorize for the test without considering each student’s intrinsic aptitude, personality and creativity. Some schools even deprive students of the chance to look for what their interests are and oblige them to do self-study at school until late at night for three years. It is hard to find positive aspects in this system.
  Lastly, a university oriented social atmosphere is another reason. These days many students don’t care about their major or their own inclination. In some cases, they even give up the major they are interested in and study for 1 to 4 years in order to transfer to a better university. It is because they only consider the university’s fame. This is plainly caused by a social environment where people believe that only entering good universities can improve the quality of life. The notion formed in this atmosphere focuses only on tests and defiles the purpose of education. This entrance examination oriented thinking disturbs students’ attention for any class which is not related to the entrance examination.

  <Dreaming undergraduates, faced with reality >

  After entrance examination war, students finally experience the glorious event of entering college. Students start college life full of hope for a beautiful future, but it will take less than a year for them to come face to face with reality. Freshmen have an over-confidence in achieving whatever they do. They soon notice the pressure from outside and recognize the flow of society. Then they dive into competition again for employment. Basically they just try to get a high GPA and excellent English test score, get various certificates, and do international activities. One typical example is TOEIC. Many people consider a good TOEIC score as a fundamental requirement for a good job. Although their major or future is not associated with English, many students give up their vacation, plunging into part time jobs and paying expensive tuitions so that they can prepare for English tests. It’s because without TOEIC score, students can’t even apply for a job. So students study TOEIC regardless of their aptitude. Like this, society expects high English scores, high GPA, and many international activities. Additionally, if they had a temporary vacuum after graduation, they are required to explain what they did in that period.
  University students don’t have enough time to explore themselves. Aren’t they wasting their time focusing only on a career and college entrance rather than studying something creative and personally satisfying? Most Korean students live more for a better job than for their own happiness. They wish for a blissful future that has been created by a social atmosphere, not by themselves, and make efforts to adapt themselves to reality at the age of twenty. Now society is demanding too much from people in their early twenties who haven’t found their aptitude yet.

  <The Overseas Education – Denmark>
  Each country has its own educational methods. I will introduce you to a famous educational approach in Denmark. In the case of Denmark, which was ranked first in the happiness index, its educational methods are contrary to ours. They give priority to teaching how to survive independently rather than how to survive through competition. They also think of harmony as something more important than competition. Children learn cooperation and spend their time doing what they want to learn and discovering their own interests in the process. Perhaps most Korean students can’t imagine this type of education. Unlike Koreans, they think that the happiness of all people is ultimately connected to their own happiness. This notion is completely contrary to that of Korean parents who think that only their child should attain success. A unique point in the Danish educational system is that “free school“ is actively managed. Free school refers to diverse types of private educational institutions that set their own curriculum according to their own educational philosophy and purpose. This is done without intervention from government educational policy. Guarantee of educational autonomy makes it possible for students to take a spontaneous and active part in education. Another noticeable point is the role of the teacher. In Denmark, teachers are recognized as incomplete as students, and learn through mistakes and experiences, just like their students. In other words, teachers respect students’ spontaneity and potential, and interact with them as equal educational subjects. What would you choose if you had an opportunity to make a choice between the Korean and Danish approach to education?

  Another example is the Swedish educational system which has no prerequisite learning. Sweden has a well-developed welfare system that is referred to as, “cradle to grave”. Swedish education mainly centers on public education. Classes in high school finish at two o’clock, and after class students usually spend time doing what they want to do such as doing exercise, listening music, and other hobbies. To one’s surprise, Swedish students maintain the highest educational level without private education. They consider middle and high school as not the means of entering a good university but the means of searching for their aptitude and future life. They don’t do learning in advance for entering university since they’ve already found their interests and mapped out their careers. They believe that it is in college that they study what they want.

  <Changing Today >

  We must not see only the negative side of Korean education. Korea has produced many talented people on a limited budget owing to our high enthusiasm for education. Furthermore, the level of education in Korea is highly ranked in comparison with other countries. Our educational system has been a driving force in our rapid economic growth after the Korean War. Now that Korea is wealthier and more stable than in the past, it is time to reflect on our current educational state. I wish education was the means for fostering our potential and leading to a happy life instead of simply being the means for university entrance. The social atmosphere should be changed. In particular, one’s ability should be considered for recruitment rather than one’s educational background. If a company appoints personnel to positions according to his or her ability, people won’t think any longer that they must go to college. Fortunately Korean teaching methods are gradually changing. For instance, from 2016, middle schools will implement a free semester and have discussion
classes. The free semester system allows students to choose one semester and replace written tests with opportunities to find their own dream and have experiences relevant to their aptitude. We need to introduce the kind of educational system which gives students a chance to discover their dreams and tastes.


  There is no correct answer in education. It is just a way to select the most appropriate method for teaching and learning in consideration of each country’s environment and conditions. Foreign countries praise competitiveness as the most representative factor of Korean education. Because Korea has little mineral resources and a small territory, great human resources are essential to its power. As a result of having made a steady and effective use of human resources since the Korean War, the academic competitiveness of Korea has come to be one of the best in the world. Thus we should utilize these advantages appropriately and focus on complementing our weaknesses.
  Can you say you are living a happy life, doing what you want? If you can’t give a confident answer to this question, stop accumulating experiences which society forces you to do and pursue your own dream. You might think you are too late, but as a college student, throw out your perfunctory and passive daily life, find out what you are really eager to do and live for your own true happiness.

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