After hours tuition out of control?


South Koreas education system because it does so well in  the Pisa OECD  tables is held up as a benchmark for others to emulate. It is only bettered by Finland in league tables. Korea and Finland, for example, top the OECD’s latest PISA survey of reading literacy among 15-year olds, which  for the first time in the latest report  also tested students’ ability to manage digital information.

But Koreans themselves are worried by the direction of travel and worry that their system will not, over the longer term, provide them with the skills they need to support their rapid economic development. Since 1962 the nation’s GDP has gone up about 40,000%, making it the world’s 13th largest economy.)

Their system is curiously unbalanced. Many pupils have a school day that effectively lasts from 0800 am to 10.00pm. Pupils are heavily reliant on extra tuition out of formal hours too, and on a biblical scale

In 2010, 74% of all students engaged in some kind of private after-school instruction, sometimes called shadow education, at an average cost of $2,600 per student for the year. There are more private tutors in South Korea than there are schoolteachers, and the most popular of them make millions of dollars a year from online and in-person classes. When Singapore’s Education Minister was asked last year about his nation’s reliance on private tutoring, he found one reason for hope: “We’re not as bad as the Koreans.”

As Time magazine recently pointed out, in Seoul  legions of students who fail to get into top universities spend their entire year after high school attending hagwons, in other words after hours tuition academies,  to improve their scores on university admissions exams. And they must compete even to do this. At the prestigious Daesung Institute, admission is based on students’ test scores. Only 14% of applicants are accepted. After a year of 14-hour days, about 70% gain entry to one of the nation’s top three universities.


What is so absurd about the system is that many pupils will catch up on their   sleep during their normal school hours in order to be fresh for their after- hours tuition.


Compare this with Finland. In Finland, public and private spending combined is less per pupil than in South Korea, and only 13% of Finnish students take remedial after-school lessons.


There is strong pressure on Korean pupils. If they don’t go to extra tuition there is immense pressure from parents and peers to conform.


The Government hopes to reduce the strain on pupils. It is clamping down on these  hagwons, imposing curfews and fines.  The most obvious approach is to tighten up instruction in schools so that extra tuition is made redundant, but there are cultural inhibitors at play here ,not to mention vested interest in the form of a massive industry providing tuition. This involves big money.  The Government has recently banished  corporal punishment  ,in schools. Admissions tests for prestigious, specialized high schools (like foreign-language schools) have been eliminated.  Pupils going to Middle schools are now judged on the basis of their regular grades and an interview. And 500 admissions officers have been appointed to the country’s universities, to judge applicants not only on their test scores and grades but also other abilities.


So Korea is supposed to have an education system that is the envy of the world. It is worth looking closely at other systems to see whether or not we can learn some lessons. But how many lessons might we learn from Korea? The Far Eastern approach to hot housing is giving even Koreas educators second thoughts.


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