education, life in korea

Would You Like to be a Child in South Korea?

A Korea Times article dated yesterday reads “Obama Lauds Korea’s Education for Children“. I clicked on another article… then… wahaaat? I clicked THE article again. 

Picture this: 7am in school, home by 9pm (lucky child) or home by 10pm (normal child) or home by 11pm (are you still a child?). For a normal competitive Korean family, the day does not end yet. There’s study time! Have a good and restful night at 12 midnight, lucky child. If you want to be a perfect citizen, sleep at 2am and you’re such a blessed child. Wake up at 5am or 6am and start your day right.

As early as 8 months old, babies are being enrolled in different kinds of programs here in Seoul. There’s music class or physical class (for physical development) or class for brain development :-)… Do I know these things from reading about them? Sadly, nah… I am a mom of a toddler who mingles with Korean moms with their own toddlers. Only recently did I mingle with Filipino friends so for the most part of my stay here in Korea I talked with Korean moms.

During one of my conversations with my Korean friend, she exclaimed “I’m at a loss!” referring to the long hours Korean children spend for studying and the different programs they have to engage in. “But we have to remain competitive”. And there’s the magic word used by Obama. As early as childhood, children are pushed to have a competitive spirit. Not bad, don’t you think so? Spirit of competition is good to prevent satisfaction in mediocrity. But infusion of too much competition could be self-destructive. And Korean society is watching… Moms should enrol their kids to piano class because other moms send their kids to piano class. There’s art class, then the English hagwons. Don’t forget Math class because Koreans have superior Math classes! “That’s why we are a successful country” is the favorite expression of one Korean lady I know. She’s the very same lady who recently came back from a 3-country Asian trip looking for a suitable place for her daughter’s education:-).

Which brings me to think about women who have travelled and lived outside of Korea. They noticeably have one thing in common: ample playtime for the young one’s well-being. Does that make them less responsible as mothers and citizens of South Korea? A Korean mom who studied in the US and who is currently practicing international law here in Seoul does not enrol her daughter in an English hagwon. No pressure, my child. A Korean mom who teaches Japanese in a university firmly said “No” on sending her daughter to various programs around. An English Major graduate who lived for a number of years in Indonesia was happy to tell me how her son loves spending time in the playroom. I pointed this out to a very “concerned” Vietnamese friend and she quickly exclaimed “But that’s not very good. That’s not the Korean way”. Huh? What is the Korean way? Now, her toddler is into English class, art class, brain development class… the works. All because they live in Korea and they have to be competitive in Korea.

The child becomes a teenager. Take a look at November when the College Entrance exam is conducted.  Have a glimpse of Korea’s Suicide Season and that’s how the emotional quotient (EQ) of the child is tested. I did write about this suicidal tendencies of frustrated students in a previous post. At least, some Koreans do stand up against this system. And many are calling for the re-evaluation of the educational system. Another Korea Times article wrote about the rise of suicide in March as this is the peak of stress for “students in their teens and 20s”. I personally think that this is the result of too much focus on being competitive that the emotional growth is being put on the sideline, until considered unimportant. And then, BOOM! Gone are the millions of won spent to create the perfect citizen of a superior country. Gone is the proud member of a proud race!

Was Obama well-informed, I wonder? Beyond the number of hours in school, was he informed of the emotional and social repercussions on this children?

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4 thoughts on “Would You Like to be a Child in South Korea?

  1. Being a mom of a 1st-grader in Korea, i really feel for those Korean students. Most of her classmates, schoolmates would go to diff classes- there’s piano, cello, taekwondo, math and of course english. One student in her class who recently came back from the US has only piano lessons and taekwondo, but those are her own choices. The parents dont let her have that ‘korean way’.
    We also don’t want our daughter to be stressed out, so right now she only takes her much-needed Korean class and we’re thinking of sending her to art school, but that’s bcoz she really wants to. ^^

  2. Ate I wanna share a story about a close friend. He’s not Korean but he was raised with that same kind of stress because his parents are expecting him to run their business. Then, he met this other guy who’s happy-go-lucky kind of person. They’ve been friends but they’ve also been good competitors academically and non-academically. But my friend told me one time,”Nakakainis nga si ****. Sobrang aral ko, siya mas madalas gumimik sa akin pero mas mataas pa grade.” My friend is taking his med course in the Phils and his friend is here in the US running a business.

    Eden´s last blog post..Tent Cities in LA

  3. i have no plans of raising my son “the korean way”, i think it’s too much stress for them…..just like jehan i used to teach english in a hagwon…..and kids there are really stressed out, i had one student who goes to swimming classes, chinese classes, japanese classes, art classes all on the same day. she barely even had time to sleep….to think she’s only 7 years old! i don’t agree with korean moms when they say the more classes their children attend, the more intelligent they will be(actually the more classes they attend the more suicidal they can be!). if that’s true then all korean kids will end up in the best univeristies but they don’t right? children needs to have fun and enjoy being kids because the moment they become adults the reality of life will finally hit them….and that’s BIG TIME STRESS!

    cher´s last blog post..A Criminal’s Face Part 2

  4. as a special foreign teacher, i’m assigned in reading and checking the diaries of our students. i can say this is their version of our “formal theme” writing (when i was in elementary). children would express their desire to get more playtime or fun time. and their hate for having to go to several hagwons… most even say “they hate their moms”… most claim they get hit by their moms when they relax a little…

    almost all students also attend the math and tae kwon do hagwons in the same building. others would rush off after the lesson so they won’t be late for their piano lesson or “hanja” lesson at nearby bldgs.

    the students like my card-games (still lesson related) so far. i make it a point they get to enjoy the class. i strongly tell them to at least remember something from the activity if they cant from the lesson…

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