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Education Problems in Korea
[Opinion] Students are suffering from the ills of private tutoring
Ko Hae-young (kohighy)     Print Article 
Published 2008-07-09 13:31 (KST)   

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There are some uniquely Korean phenomena that are deeply rooted in our society. For one thing, at some point Korean education came to be controlled by an unprecedented massive private tutoring market. Korean students are suffering from the ills of private tutoring which cause a major burden on household finances.

There are families which move into certain neighborhoods for the sake of better educational conditions, causing a rise in real estate in those areas where famous private tutoring academies and high-income families are concentrated.

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Some Korean full-time mothers whose husbands are high-income professionals have become experts on how to get children into prestigious colleges. For example, some mothers have published books, which detail the process of passing entrance exams for prestigious schools. This indicates that some well-educated and wealthy women, who don't have to work, will become the mothers of successful children.

Finally, "goose dads", is a term given to men whose wives and children move abroad, while they live and work in Korea earning money for their children's education. These men and families have become victims. They have to make personal sacrifices and often suffer from mental problems such as loneliness and depression.

The question needs to be asked: "What has made Korean parents so concerned for their children's education?" I would argue there are three causes for this obsession with education: focus on examinations, competitive education policies and parents who live vicariously through their children.

First of all, Korean education has primarily focused on having students enter college, specifically prestigious colleges in Seoul that can guarantee many things such as high social status, decent jobs, financial stability, and a rich and easy life.

The college entrance exam is based on high school grades and one or two tests which are easily passed through private extra-curricular tutoring. Parents feel insecure and socially isolated unless they provide the same opportunities that other parents are providing for their children's futures.

In addition, the incoherent education policies have contributed to parents feeling uneasy. Parents are not able to obtain reliable sources on how to prepare their children for college entrance requirements. Furthermore the market is flooded with advertisements from private tutoring academies claiming that students will be left behind without private tutoring. Under these unpredictable situations parents have no choice but to push their children into private tutoring at all costs.

The new government's competition-based education policies, like grouping children by ability, allowing independent private schools and increasing special-purpose high schools will also aggravate the parents' craze.

And finally, many parents have self-fulfilling sentiments where they live vicariously through their children's successes. They would like to be rewarded with that which they have not achieved themselves, therefore investing all they have in their children. This often happens because, even though Korean mothers themselves are highly-educated, they haven't enjoyed the benefits of using their skills and knowledge.

Mothers haven't had opportunities to expand their role in society beyond the family level. This has given many Korean mothers an inferiority complex, and in turn, an unreasonable obsession with their children's education. At the same time, putting their energy and money into their children comforts parents, although there is little sincere reflection on the goals of education.

In this environment, what are the consequences on children and Korean society? First of all, children will become selfish, dependent, and self-important citizens. For those who are successful in school, society can't expect social responsibility and social competence from them. On the other hand, unsuccessful students will never be free from feeling inferior, insufficient, and victimized, preventing them from developing a clear and positive sense of their own identity.

We live in a society where people are ranked and labeled, this type of society never requires an ongoing effort on the part of people to mature and develop their whole lives. The society will also lose its competitiveness and become stagnant.

Korean society will be dominated by the people from top ranking universities, and the rest will be excluded from the benefits associated with social status. This societal structure promotes many forms of discrimination.

What should Korean society do to resolve these problems? Firstly, our society needs to reduce the gap between income and educational attainment. Secondly, job opportunities should be open to everyone.

The growing income gap among parents will result in an education gap among their children. In other words, social classes are reproduced by the inequality of education. It was shown that in the 2007 academic year, 62 percent of the first-year college students at Seoul National University came from high-income families, the top 20 percent. This means that students with parents of financial means will be more likely to outperform academically, education will no longer enable class mobility.

Our society should abolish the rank and class-based classification of colleges. People should not be discriminated by their college's rank when they apply for a job or promotion. They should be evaluated by their ability and performance, instead of their education background.

Ko Hae-young is a teacher at Suwon Agricultural High School.
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ko Hae-young

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