Schools in Korea

Chapters three and nine of The Smartest Kids in the World talk about schools in Korea.  I think we have some things to learn from them.  Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Korean students do not use calculators in their math classes.  At all. In fact, they hardly have any technology in their classes.
  • Korean schools rank their students and everyone knows everyone else’s scores and standing.  As a side note here, I think we concern ourselves too much with self-esteem here in the U.S. We overanalyze it a bit too much.  I’m not a big fan of making a huge stink over ranking students, or permanently labeling anyone ‘smart’ or ‘stupid’ but posting scores is a necessary evil sometimes, and it creates accountability, especially when the effort is acknowledged as the deciding factor in success. I think this should be explicitly addressed in the classroom.  In a healthy classroom, students should feel they can improve their outcome, based on their efforts.  We don’t need to coddle anyone and protect them from the reality of consequences.
  • Korean students clean their own schools.  They mop the floors, take out the trash, clean the chalkboards and for a punishment, clean the bathrooms.
  •  Korean students have school until four, then cleaning, then test prep after cleaning time, then dinner at school, and then a study hall, before they go to hagwons which are private tutoring academies.  Hagwon curfew is at 11 pm.
  • In other words, Korean students study from the wee hours of dawn, until about 11 or 12 at night.  Koreans study their lives away.
  • Korean students sleep through most of their morning classes.

Why is Korea this way?

After the Korean War, Korean government re-evaluated their priorities.  Korea didn’t have any resources, so they poured their efforts into the human capital, education.  In so doing, they created an extreme meritocracy.  They attracted the best and brightest to the classroom and created their  version of the SAT after high school.  In Korea, it is a test that determines their lives.  Students with the top scores go to top universities, go on to successful careers with lucrative salaries.  So it creates a brutal system– a pressure cooker.

I like how pure of a meritocracy Korea seems.  A poor person can rise to enjoy a much higher status in society, solely based on their studies.  I wish that happened in America.  But Korean students waste their entire lives (and an enormous amount of money) studying for this test– no hobbies, no travels, no fun. I don’t like that.

I’d be interested to see how this translates to their workforce and economy.  My brother mentions how technologically savvy and advanced the Koreans are in his recap of his trip there, but they’re certainly not ahead of America.  I’m not sure where to find the best evaluation for comparing the two.

Anyway, that’s my Korea recap, at least until I get to chapter nine.

In other news, I found this list of words every high school graduate should know.  I’m embarrassed to admit I need to look up a few!

I also devoured this article  about East Palo Alto (where I used to live).  I loved learning the local history, but in all honesty, it was a little upsetting.   Now it looks like the long time minorities are about to be forced out of EPA, because all the tech companies are vying for the property.  I hope that is not the case.  Real estate in Palo Alto is insanely expensive, and it’s affecting the culture in bizarre ways.

I also googled how much money exists in the entire world , because why not?  And because I get annoyed with people trying to impress and control each other with money. Somehow this bit of information alleviates that annoyance for me.  It can’t be particularly accurate, because internet, but the good people from this website seem to have taken a decent stab at it.

Next week I head to Boston for a conference about ed tech at Harvard.  I’m excited but I get cold just thinking about it!

Thanks for reading.

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