Mouse clicks to a brighter futureLike most South Korean students, Lee Ji-Hyun’s child attends extracurricular classes after her regular school day is done. But a few months ago, Ms. Lee took her daughter out of the institute she had been attending and enrolled her in an online school. “I think her progress has been just as good as when she attended classes at the other institute,” Ms. Lee says. “There is a teacher in charge of my child, and he checks her progress every day.”
In Korea, most students, from elementary school to high school, attend extra classes after school at private institutes. It isn’t cheap: the government estimates that an average family with two school-age children spends just over 1 million won ($845) a month on extracurricular education. Online classes offer a less expensive alternative, most allowing a student to study the same subjects as an offline institute for less than half the cost.
And with ample broadband Internet connections in Korea, online education is poised to put a dent in the offline schools’ bottom lines. The industry predicts that the online education market will expand to 1 trillion won ($845 million) this year from 860 billion won last year.
Most owners of the online schools have experience managing publishing companies or private educational institutes, known as hagwon in Korean. Lately, the largest-growing area of emphasis is classes aimed at helping students prepare to enter foreign-language or science high schools.
Some see the growth of online education as a permutation of the much-maligned hagwon system, which is often blamed for exacerbating the gaps between Korea’s haves and have-nots. Others see it as a way to bring private extracurricular education to a larger audience.
One Web site, www.mbest.co.kr, which bills itself as a specialist in educating middle schoolers, offers classes to prepare students to enter foreign-language and science high schools. Students have to pass a qualification exam before they can register for the online sessions. The course costs 100,000 won per month, compared to 250,000 won for similar courses at offline schools. A spokesman for Mbest says that 10,000 fee-paying students have registered since the site began offering the courses three months ago. Even some elementary school students have registered for the classes. One parent, who asked to remain anonymous, says, “If your child wants to go to a prestigious high school, a high TOEFL score and top marks in school are necessary. It is best to start preparing early.”
The Web site is scheduled to introduce an “Online Comprehensive Class” soon. Each student will receive personal education counseling as part of the course.
Another site, www.ybmtmk.com, a subsidiary of offline hagwon giant YBM Sisa, specializes in English education for elementary school students. A spokesman says that the online courses are effective ― both in terms of education and cost ― and even offer advantages over traditional classes, such as convenience.
One online educator, www.yjschool.co.kr, is so confident in the effectiveness of its classes for middle-school students trying to get into foreign-language high schools that it offers a full refund if a student fails the foreign-language high school entrance exam.
The Internet education surge has also affected publishers of monthly study guides, which used to survive on subscriptions. One Web site, www.wisecamp.com, a subsidiary of Samsung Publishing Corp., organizes each online class of about 10 students according to ability. Then students can check their progress and ask questions by exchanging e-mails with their online teacher. At the end of each month, the teacher e-mails a progress report.
Many educators, both online and offline, agree that the trend is a natural evolution of the industry. The Internet, rather than books or magazines, has become the communication medium of choice for today’s youth. Education is just keeping up.
by Kim Hae-young
SITES OFFERING WEB COURSES
Instruction in languages, mathematics and science according to students’ skill levels.
Specializes in English education for students hoping to enter foreign-language high schools or study abroad.
Focused on middle-school education.
Active group study in a variety of fields for kindergarten through high school.
Specializing in preparing students to enter foreign-language high schools.
Provides students with solutions to frequently asked exam questions.