[Viewpoint]Let it be Children’s Daya Not long ago, a high school in a posh Gangnam neighborhood in southern Seoul hung a placard over its main entrance. It read, “We Are Celebrating a Student who was Accepted at Both Yale and Stanford.” When I saw the placard, I was reminded of another one at a high school in rural Gapyeong County, Gyeonggi. The placard said, “Celebrating a Student’s Acceptance to Seoul National University’s Law Department.” While the two placards showed different information, they carried the same meaning.
The same psychology applies whether a Gangnam high school brags about having a student accepted by prestigious universities in the United States or a rural high school boasting about having a student accepted at Seoul National University.
The New York Times ran a cynical story in its April 27 issue about educational reality in Korea and the craaze parents have for sending students to prestigious schools in America. In the article, U.S. Ambassador to Korea Alexander Vershbow was quoted as saying, “Preparing to get to the best American universities has become something of a national obsession in Korea.”
The college entrance obsession has become globalized, so to speak. In the past, the ultimate goal was Seoul National University, and now, the aim has shifted abroad to top American schools.
And the obsession has spread systematically from high schools to middle schools, elementary schools and even kindergartens. Of course, not all obsessions are necessarily bad. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Republic of Korea has come this far from nothing thanks to an enthusiasm for education that borders on obsession. However, the educational environment created by this obsession became a matter of grave concern long ago.
Residents in Gangnam District and Mok-dong in Yangcheon District are noted for their educational craze, and the neighborhoods undergo a transformation during the season for midterm exams. Many parents stay home with their children to help them prepare for the tests, and since they refrain from going out, the markets in these neighborhoods experience sluggish business.
Because mothers spend less time grocery shopping, supermarkets suffer from decreased sales by as much as 10 percent. Ladies don’t have lunch meetings as frequently, and big restaurants complain about slow business.
On the other hand, restaurants delivering pizza, Chinese food and snacks enjoy brisk business. Not only are the students studying and competing, but the parents are as well. Something is seriously wrong. But who can stop this madness?
I had a daughter late in life, and she is now seven years old. Unlike many of her peers growing up in the Gangnam area, she is not fluent in English. In fact, she has barely mastered reading Korean.
However, I am not worried. She may not be at the top of her class, but she loves to blow away the seeds of the dandelion clock, envies the bamboo shoots for growing faster than she does and talks to a snail. I see reason for hope in my daughter.
There is nothing wrong with being educated at Seoul National University or Harvard University. However, such an educational background does not guarantee a person will have a good life. The world is a diverse and colorful place, and a life cannot be defined using a simple equation. IQ tests do not measure all aspects of human intelligence. American psychologist Howard Gardner has developed a theory of multiple intelligences. He identified verbal and linguistic intelligence, logical and mathematical intelligence, musical intelligence, visual and spatial intelligence, bodily and kinesthetic intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, intrapersonal intelligence and naturalist intelligence. You don’t have to be good at everything. As long as you excel in a certain area, you are intelligent.
It is May, and Children’s Day is today. However, I feel sorry for the children living in Korea. And their parents are pathetic, too. The students and parents have been caught in the trap of college admission and are confined by their obsession. A solution is nowhere to be found. Yet, one thing is certain — we are responsible for bringing up our children properly and must not limit their development by seeing everything through our own lens. Let’s not pressure our children to fulfill our dreams and obsessions. Instead of forcing children to see what we see, we should let them see with their own eyes. We should make efforts to see life from children’s points of view. After all, the children’s vision will become the future of the country.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Chung Jin-hong