Remember when sports were fun?South Korea’s economic prosperity is partly due to the country’s hyper education drive. Here, going to college is just a prerequisite to enter society. Housing prices south of the Han River are the most expensive because the educational environment there is supposedly the best in the country. In other words, the best hagwon ― private cram schools ― are located in that area.
For a Korean to survive in this cutthroat competitive society, a diploma from a prestigious college is a must. Cram schools have come up with new schemes to charge parents, offering sports lessons in anything from soccer to golf. Private tutors, formerly available in more traditional subjects such as math, have now jumped to this new bonanza. Some of the sports classes are being taught in English: More reasons to charge parents more money. Say “pass,” and you can charge whatever you want.
To be honest, I am still having trouble grasping the whole idea. I learned playing hoops from watching players on TV and trying to copy them on the court. Pick-up games on the weekend in the neighborhood gave me a chance to watch the better kids. That is how I learned baseball, basketball and other sports.
Kids are sent to physical education instructors not to learn how to play the game but mainly to prepare for physical tests at schools. For instance, high schools here test kids on layups and jump shots. So, a kid takes private sports classes and learns from a private instructor how to do the shots mechanically. Yes, that’s how I would describe this process. Mechanical learning. Where is the fun? Where are your friends that share your admiration for Michael Jordan? There is no connection with the sport. No feeling of attachment. Whoever is taking such lessons will forget ― or should I say despise? ― the sports as soon as the school test is over.
There are classes in high school set aside for physical education, but once a student enters his senior year those few hours are only on paper. Instead, they are used for extra study hours.
It’s sad and it’s an old story, but the extent to which studying is put at the forefront in a student’s life is extreme.
Virtually, every education minister has failed in bringing change to the education system here. Students here have a saying that three hours of sleep a day will get you into college and five hours of sleep will make you a failure. The peer pressure and pressure from parents are immense.
And for what? The country is still awaiting its first earned Nobel Prize. Not the Nobel Peace Prize former President Kim Dae-jung won for his role in making the inter-Korean summit in 2000 happen. We all know how that turned out (the cash for summit scandal). Will it ever come? I don’t know, but I would not bet on it. Not as long as teenagers have to think that sleeping is a luxury.
Child obesity is becoming a problem, granted. The changing food culture is part of the reason, too, but slim hours spent on practicing sports are another reason. If this goes on any longer, casual sports here will have to be put on the endangered species list. When I was in high school I didn’t have a Playstation Portable or a cell phone, but I always had friends who wanted to shoot some hoops. But more importantly, I had the time and parents who understood that letting me have the occasional pick-up game was keeping me from going insane.
by Brian Lee