[Letters] Is Korea plagued by private education?

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[Letters] Is Korea plagued by private education?

I live in Bundang, a primary center of private education in Korea. Growing up, I rarely saw students who did not attend at least one private institution. Only about one student out of 40 received no extra lessons at all. Since I attended math institutions regularly and learned English from my mother, I did not quite understand why some students refused private education. Many of us believed that private institutes were useful because they helped increase our test scores.

One day I asked a classmate why he did not attend any institutions. He was very hardworking but his test scores were not proportionate to his efforts. In retort, he answered, “Lack of money, of course.”

I hadn’t expected that answer. To clarify, I asked another question: “Would you attend a private institution if you could?”

“Of course, Clara. Who wouldn’t?” he replied.

This is the reality. Everyone wants private education, and no one is satisfied with public school.

Korea suffers from this issue. Every policy attempt to alleviate the problem seems to backfire or enhance the problem. The cost of education has become the No. 1 expenditure in most families with children. Obviously parents want to stop spending money on ridiculously expensive institutes, but they cannot find a different path.

I thought long and hard, and my first explanation for the prevalence of private education in Korea was the low quality of public education. Public school teachers are terribly dispassionate (my middle school teachers spent most of their office hours shopping online, not preparing for classes). But they are not to be held solely responsible for the private education issue since many students do not pay attention in class.

Many students, as dispassionate as their teachers, sleep or work on homework totally unrelated to the class they are currently in. These students are often bright and diligent at their private institutions, but dull and lazy in contrast at school. Students distrust their teachers, and educators find themselves enervated by disrespectful pupils.

So who are to be blamed: students or teachers? I blame neither. They are only reacting to the reality in which the rank of one’s college is the single measurement of success in society and in which one’s high school transcript is the only key to a good college. Therefore, I lay the blame on a lack of variety of standards for determining students’ excellence. Korean students are abnormally obsessed with academics because only test scores will substantiate their capacities. Students are magnetically compelled to attend institutes known to effectively raise test scores.

In order to resolve the issue of private education, our society should discard stereotypes and the prejudice that only scores or colleges determine one’s character. We should establish other criteria regarding personality, passion, integrity and persistence along with academic excellence.

Clara Park, student,

CheongShim International Academy
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