Studying takes toll on young bodiesEvery November we are reminded how much we care about our young people.
On the day the college entrance exam is given, the whole nation comes to a standstill. Even office workers report to work one hour late to help ensure students get to their test sites on time. They have more time to sleep off a hangover, more time to read the paper, more time for facials. On this particular day, we all get paid the same but work less ― on government’s order. That is how much we care.
We are famous for our cram schools. Our parents are known the world over for making enormous sacrifices when it comes to education. As proof of this dedication, Korea tops all other OECD countries in education spending per household. Private tutors wring every penny from desperate parents. Parents will sell the house, move into a smaller one to get the money for school. A 20-year investment suddenly shrinks. But they say the sacrifice is worth it. Thanks to this passion for education our labor force is viewed by many as among the most competent. Sadly, the quest for knowledge is also why we have young students doing something stupid -- committing suicide. It is also the No. 1 reason people are leaving the country, using immigration packages hawked on home shopping TV channels. With so much passion and investment, we should be turning out Nobel laureates at factory speed. Yet, Koreans have received only a single Nobel prize, and it’s one that I’m not particularly proud of it.
Education is supposed to groom mind and body. But it is not as if Korean students get a healthy dose of sports. A typical high school junior or senior has to complete 78 units in two semesters. Now consider this: Unless the student opts to be a sports major or is aiming for a specialized college that grooms athletes, he does not have to take classes in physical fitness. Not many volunteer to sweat.
We groom our medal-winners separately through elite athletic programs that downplay academics. These programs have allowed Korea to shine on the world sports stage. At the Summer Olympics, Koreans have proven to be hardnosed competitors who have placed in the top ten for gold medals over the last six years, breaking into the top five on more than one occasion.
It seems that one of the few times parents bother to endorse anything but memorizing formulas is when the school’s physical education boss comes up with some test like doing a layup. But even for this, private tutors are hired. For Christ sake! We are talking about a simple layup here! This is madness.
Consider this advertising slogan for a soccer camp: “Learn English while kicking the ball!” This makes no sense but let me tell you it is a good way to make money. People are lining up for that kind of stuff.
When you have a disgusted marine instructor on TV barking, “We’ve got kids coming in here who can’t do ten lousy push-ups! That’s not even air force material!” You know something isn’t right in the land of the weak.
Fish need water. Our kids need exercise. It is that simple. Yet with only 8.3 percent of all schools containing a gym, Korean children are facing more years toting around flabby underdeveloped bodies. We know what we need, but we will not get it anytime soon.
by Brian Lee
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