South Korea’s

Educational System

US President Obama has praised South Korea’s educational system. Korean students score among the top in international rankings.


issues average Confucian
blink illustrate opportunity
chew literally food for thought
jostle obsessed counterpart
tough compete ideal (2)
status influential catch the eye
meager crumble challenge (2)
lust appear (2) demanding
praise table (2) impressed
vote timetable role model
drag routine taken aback
tuition discipline entrance exams
cram extended vote with their feet
fair (3) can afford open-minded
sake dimension one-dimensional
admire reliance rote learning






Of course no news report about South Korean education would be complete these days without an average South Korean schoolboy, or girl, to help us illustrate the issues.

So, meet Hae Chan.

Ten years old and blinking his way into yet another tough day.

School children here get on average, one hour less sleep a night than their American counterparts.

And here’s another statistic to chew on: every day South Korean school children study a full three hours more than in the US.

Breakfast here is food for thought, quite literally.

“The harder you work, and the earlier you begin, Hae Chan tells me, the better university you get into…and a better university means a better job.

South Korea is a country obsessed with education, a place where families jostle and compete for every opportunity for their children.

Perhaps it’s the Confucian ideal, under which knowledge is passport to status and wealth.

But whatever the reason, this country’s lust for learning has caught the eye of one rather influential individual.

During his visit to Seoul last November, President Obama asked his South Korean counterpart to name this country’s biggest educational challenge.

Not crumbling schools or meager budgets, came the reply, but parents who are too demanding.

For Hae Chan, today’s first lesson is geometry.

In measurement of school level mathematics ability, South Korea sits near the top of the table.

That too has impressed President Obama who has been publicly praising the extended school timetable and the results it produces.

But is South Koreas really such a good role model?

Hae Chan has just a few private lessons every week. Many school children though face an after school routine that drags on for class after class — sometimes until after midnight!

Even the South Korean government, which welcomes President Obama’s warm words, is a little taken aback.

“Why was I so surprised about hearing his comments is that we always thought we had some problem with our education system. And we have to take care of our problem before it becomes a really, really big trouble for us.

In fact the government now appears to believe that South Korea is too much education.

This country’s late night private cram schools are robbing children of their childhood, the theory goes and with an over-reliance on rote learning and pupils are being turned into little more than exam passing machines.

“And this competition requires a lot of memorization, a lot of work; not imagination or a creative mind — but memory.

You have to memorize thousands and thousands of different things before taking the entrance exams. So we’d like to change the educational system.

Meanwhile South Korean families are voting with their feet.

Every year thousands are sending their children overseas in search of a better education.

At this combined education and emigration fair, I met the Kim family, thinking about leaving Korea for the sake of their children.

Korean education is one-dimensional, Mr. Kim tells me. Foreign schools are far more creative and open-minded.

So back to our average boy.

Hae Chan’s family can’t afford to escape or pay for the best private tuition. To compete, he has a tough fight ahead of him.

There is much to be admired about this system, the discipline and the appetite for learning.

But some say South Korea offers a warning: that you can have too much of a good thing.

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1/2. Do South Korean school children get lots of sleep at night? Why or why not?

South Korean students are lazy and listless. True or false? If yes, why do they study so much? Describe the Confucian ideal.

1/4. In Korea, is there fierce competition only in sports, especially during the Olympics and Soccer World Cup? Give examples.

Did US President Barrak Obama praise the American school system, and recommend that South Korea adopt it?

2/3. After school, Korean students watch TV and play video games. Is this right or wrong?

3/4. Is there “too much” education in South Korea? Describe the teaching and learning methods in South Korean schools. Some or many South Korean families are “voting with their feet”. What do these mean?
4/5. Is or was your schooling similar to Hae Chan’s or is it different? Do or did you enjoy your learning experience? Was it effective? Describe your schooling.

5/8. How could your school improve? What should your school and teachers do?

7/10. Do many students from your country study abroad or emigrate? What are some popular destinations?

9/10. My friends and I would like to study abroad or be an exchange student. Yes or no? If yes, where would you like to study?

99/100. What will happen in the future?

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