Friday, December 28, 2012

Hagwons (Academies in English)

 The harbor at Tapdong during a winter storm

Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas.  Between having Vicky here, skyping with family, great presents and tasty food, I certainly did.  To add to my joy, Friday began a 5 day holiday for me.  My school decided to close for the Friday and Monday before New Year.  I suspect this is mostly to give the director of my school some time off but I'm certainly not complaining.

With that downtime and the start of winter vacation for my students, I began thinking again about just how different the education system is here.  I've mentioned before that the kids here have more school and definitely have to work a lot harder than in the US.  What I haven't done is really explain what I mean.

First some quick background.  In Korea there are two types of schools.  Public schools and private schools, called academies.  Academies teach a huge range of subjects and serve many different functions.  There are academies for all the basic school subjects plus sports, music, art and others.  Anything a kid might need to learn is taught in at least some academies here.  They also function as an unofficial national daycare.  Korean parents believe these academies give their children an educational advantage and pay high premiums for them, often $300-500 a month or more.  Due to the costs and national obsession with education, children are placed under lots of pressure from a young age.

For an example we will use one of my students whose English name is Todd.

Say Hi Todd

Todd is a 7th grader, the 1st year of middle school here.  He gets up at 7am and goes to school at 8:15.  He stays until 3.  After school he goes to a science academy for 2 hours.  Then he goes to English academy for 2 hours (it's now 7pm).  Then he goes to math academy for 2 hours.  Then he finally goes home, eats dinner and does his homework.   He usually finishes around 11 to midnight.  Around big tests times (which happen several times a year here) he usually goes to extra academy classes on saturday and even sunday.

Sound fun so far?  It gets worse.  When he gets to winter and summer breaks (both last about a month), he doesn't have school but he still has his academies.  So even during his vacation he's still in a kind of school for 6 hours a day.

 Phillip, a 1st grader with a nearly identical schedule to Todd.  Crazy huh?

Now obviously not all of the kids have that ridiculous of a schedule (until high school.  Then they ALL have that schedule) but none of the students I see goes home before 6pm.  The upside to this is children who are very good at memorization and who do well on standardized tests.  The downside is kids who don't have time to be kids.

 Yes they're cute now but wait until you have to get them to sit and be quiet for 45 minutes.  It's impossible

Ironic as it seems (since I work for one), what I think would help the most would be to get rid of the academies.  Especially the academic ones.  Or at very least make them truly optional, not semi-mandatory like they are now.  Giving the kids more playtime and more leeway to be creative would definitely benefit them.

However since those changes are not likely to come any time soon, I'll continue to enjoy my job on Jeju and the opportunities to save and travel that it provides.  Happy New Year!

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