[Campus commentary]Competitive slavesRecently, I spent two weeks of my winter under the strong sunlight of the Australian summer. I won’t ever forget the magnificent scenery and the beautiful aquamarine sea. But more than anything else, I got a deeper impression about that country’s education system and the Australians’ way of approaching life. I envied them their system and deplored the reality of our education system in Korea.
Above all, competition is probably the most important tenet of the educational system in Korea. One who gets good grades is considered a “good person.” Most people are evaluated by their grades, because scores are thought to be the most objective measure by which to judge a person. Many Koreans strongly believe that receiving good grades in school leads to happiness in life. Those who get excellent grades go on to good universities. After that, they are able to get jobs in major corporations and companies that pay high salaries. They enjoy life and spend the rest of it doing whatever they want to do.
Such a simple road map to life makes students slaves of grades. But not all can get good grades, so they compete against each other. Your friend in class is also your rival. Other values, such as humanism or sociability, are considered mere subsidiary qualities compared to the ability to earn good academic grades. The Korean educational system regards competition as all-important. This phenomenon permeates most aspects of life in Korea.
In Australia, I noticed students are not regarded as competitors but as companions to each other. The educational system in Australia works on this basic idea. If there is a student who is far behind in class, a teacher assigns roles to other students as helpers and buddies. With that, the lagging student catches up with the rest of the class. In addition, students learn about cooperation from this activity. There are no winners or losers in school. All of them help each other and move up to higher grades together. Thus, through education they learn to be considerate and how to cooperate.
For 12 years, I went to elementary, middle and high school in Korea. However, I have never experienced a similar level of cooperation while studying here.
Korea has been through many wars throughout its history and suffered heavily from prolonged conflict. The entire society persevered in massive efforts for reconstruction and growth. Such a background may have affected our education system, and competition was emphasized in the education of Koreans. It seems that people cannot afford to help each other when going after good grades. Our people have gradually become selfish and individualistic.
Education is the essential pillar of a nation. A proverb says, “What is learned in the cradle is carried to the tomb.” A child becomes a member of society upon entering school. And people create their society based upon what they learn from education. Competition is not always negative; it also has some positive sides. Nevertheless, when we take the time to reconsider the ambitious educational system of Korea, we have to ask ourselves: What is the most important thing in life and in education?
*The writer is a reporter for The Sookmyung Times at Sookmyung Women’s University.
by Hwang Jeon Seo-kyung