Slavish Korean Parents and Their Enslaved Children

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Perhaps in some meaningless way, these South Korean parents are rebellious. They want a “western-style” education with no demand to challenge government authorities for all their money can buy.

“We will do everything humanly possible to create an environment where your children must speak English, even if they are not abroad,” Jang Tae-young, a Jeju official, recently told a group of Korean parents.

translation: we will continue Korean methods in a foreign language, and make you pay “top dollar” for it.

I’ve also told students, too, that it doesn’t matter what you study, as long as one has a plan. There’s no magic answer, and English competence will not solve anything. Besides, only a small percentage of people can learn a foreign language. For the majority, such flogging is a waste of time and money.

Perhaps in some meaningless way, these South Korean parents are rebellious. They want a “western-style” education with no demand to challenge government authorities for all their money can buy.

“We will do everything humanly possible to create an environment where your children must speak English, even if they are not abroad,” Jang Tae-young, a Jeju official, recently told a group of Korean parents.

translation: we will continue Korean methods in a foreign language, and make you pay “top dollar” for it.

I’ve also told students, too, that it doesn’t matter what you study, as long as one has a plan. There’s no magic answer, and English competence will not solve anything. Besides, only a small percentage of people can learn a foreign language. For the majority, such flogging is a waste of time and money.

By inviting leading Western schools, the government is hoping to address one of the notorious stress points in South Korean society. Many parents want to send children abroad so they can learn English and avoid the crushing pressure and narrow focus of the Korean educational system. The number of South Korean students from elementary school through high school who go abroad for education increased to 27,350 in 2008 from 1,840 in 1999, according to government data.

But this arrangement often resulted in the fracturing of families, with the mother accompanying the children abroad and the father becoming a “goose” — by staying behind to earn the money to finance these ventures and taking occasional transoceanic flights to visit.

So, that’s where that 8% net decrease in population in the PNMI comes from!

This trend has raised alarms about broken families and a brain drain from a country that is already suffering from one of the world’s lowest birthrates. Many of the children who study abroad end up staying abroad; those who return often have trouble finding jobs at Korean companies, regaining their language fluency or adapting to the Korean way of doing business.

Lee Kyung-min, 42, a pharmacist in Seoul whose 12-year-old daughter, Jeong Min-joo, attended a private school in Canada for a year and a half, said she knew why families were willing to make sacrifices to send their children away.

“In South Korea, it’s all rote learning for college entrance exams,” Ms. Lee said. “A student’s worth is determined solely by what grades she gets.” She added that competition among parents forced their children to sign up for extracurricular cram sessions that left them with little free time to develop their creativity. “Children wither in our education system,” she said.

So Min-joo’s parents believed that exposing her to a Western school system was worth the $5,000 they paid each month for her tuition and board, 10 times what they would have spent had she studied at home.

But Ms. Lee said her heart sank when Min-joo began forgetting her Korean grammar and stopped calling home. Still, she did not want to leave her husband behind to join her daughter, because she had witnessed in her own neighborhood how often the loneliness of “goose” fathers led to broken marriages.

“Our family was losing its bonds, becoming just a shell,” she said.

Brain drain, cram schools, multi-tier school system, and all just to avoid the real problems in the school system? At some point, perhaps the first post war decade, the current system helped South Korea boost literacy. But, now it needs to adjust to the trends these parents have identified, not by milking them for cash, but by reforming its methodologies, addressing the labor situation, and giving parents and students more of a voice in the administration. I’m sure – I work with at least one unscrupulous bastard – there are foreign teachers salivating at the perceived opportunities this scam might produce for soulless expats. I want no part of it.

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Filed under: Education, Korea, Population Tagged: cram schools, english, jeju island, rok, South Korea



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