[OUTLOOK]Families split by poor schools

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[OUTLOOK]Families split by poor schools

A Korean man, “L,” sent his wife and two children to a small city in the United States three months ago. The reason? He wanted his children to learn to speak English.
At first he was worried that they would be discriminated against because of their race and stressed out because their English was not good enough. As it turns out, he had no reason to worry: The children are enjoying school there.
Mr. L calls his family once every couple of days. According to the stories that the children have told him, the school is very strict.
It handed out a booklet of 30 pages that has hundreds of regulations in fine print. Some of the rules are that students cannot wear the same clothes for two days in a row and that students can go to the toilet during class up to four times a month, no more.
During breaks, teachers stand in the hallways so that students cannot run. If a student is even a few minutes late for class, the student receives a warning card. The curriculum is also packed. Each break lasts only 4 minutes and the lunch break is only 20 minutes. In Korea, each break is 10 minutes and the lunch break 45 minutes.
Students take two times as many regular tests as their counterparts in Korea. Surprise quizzes take place three or four times a week.
Why do children say they enjoy life there, despite the strict rules and tight curriculum? There are a lot of nice teachers in Korea too, they say, but teachers in America teach more eagerly and treat kids more like human beings.
The children also said Korean teachers sometimes act emotionally, but American teachers handle problems and children calmly even when the teachers have a reason to be angry. In Korea, teachers say hello to students only when students say hello to teachers first. But American teachers say hello first to students.
In Korea, if students talk during class, the teacher makes the student come up in front of class. American teachers approach students who chat in class and scold them in a low voice so that other students cannot hear. American teachers give clear explanations and more details about how homework should be done.
Mr. L’s children study in a very remote area of the United States. These days, as rumors spread in Korea of the high quality of the public education system in that region, Korean students have poured into the district. There is even a Korean residential area. In the morning, one student out of three or four waiting for a school bus is Korean, Mr. L was told.
If a country develops to a certain level, the numbers of students who study in the United States tends to decrease. The number of students from Taiwan and India who went to the United States started to fall in the mid-1990s.
But this is not the case for Korea. The number keeps growing. Korea, with a population of 48 million, is sending the same or even greater numbers of students to the United States than Japan, whose population is 130 million, and China, whose population is 1.3 billion.
To study in an advanced nation benefits both individuals and their country. The problem is that the social pressure that forces even little children to line up in front of customs officers is the result of our poor educational environment.
Our educational environment is okay, though not very good. Even still, many people say the public education system couldn’t be worse.
A major U.S. newspaper had an article about Korean fathers who have sent their families to the United States while they stayed at home. The article pointed out that Korea still uses an antiquated educational system.
It is not right to blame only schools and teachers for our pre-modern educational environment. Parents, the authorities and the media should feel responsible and try to find solutions. But if somebody has to step up and set up a model, that should be schools and teachers who are responsible for education.
Mr. L is having a tough time because his children hint that they want to stay in the United States. They have realized that the education methods of American schools and teachers are much better, so much so that they can put up with the language barrier. What decision will Mr. L make a year from now?

* The writer is the investigative news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Lee Kyu-youn

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