[Letters] Questioning education
A plan to prohibit hagwon (private institutes) from remaining open after 10 p.m. was discarded by the Presidential Council on National Future and Vision, little more than a month after its disclosure. Ministry officials opposing the proposition claimed that it went against President Lee Myung-bak’s policy of self-management. Meanwhile, the Lee administration’s inability to produce an effective policy restricting Korea’s bloated hagwon industry is victimizing ordinary students, as can easily be seen in my school. Teachers often ask us students about our opinions on what we have learned, or the answer to a certain question. The room is normally filled with silence every time this happens.
Undoubtedly, students have opinions, but prefer to remain silent rather than risk being caught supporting an incorrect answer. In this way, the current system of education deters students from asking questions. This can be attributed to the proliferation of private education and the tense rivalry among students.
To begin with, widespread private education makes students hesitant to reveal their lack of knowledge. Nine out of 10 students go to cram schools or receive tutoring, according to a poll done by the Korean government. As a result, they supposedly have a more thorough understanding of the subjects they are to study. Schoolteachers take this for granted. For instance, my schoolteachers frequently give tests on material not covered in class, and our math teacher rarely explains basic formulas. Instead, she skips immediately over to elaborate problem solving. This class atmosphere gives students the false impression that admitting to having uncertainties is degrading, and makes them seem incompetent.
Moreover, the competition provoked by the present educational system discourages owning up to what we cannot comprehend. The increased importance of GPAs in high school and college entrance exams induces classmates to be wary of one another. Open rivalry exists, especially among students of similar ranking. Likewise, questioning even things that are unclear is rare; people fear it will be interpreted as a sign of weakness, and that they will be looked down upon by their competitors. For example, just yesterday our class was learning about the structure of the government. We unanimously replied that we understood what the teacher was saying, but a test taken moments later showed contrary results.
All in all, the present-day educational system dissuades students from confessing what they do not know. The prevalence of private education and competition amid fellow students are the main factors leading to this result. We must uproot these causes if we are to improve the current situation. Eradicating out-of-school education from Korean society is next to impossible, but it is feasible for schools to offer after-school programs in the form of academies. For example, my school offers a wide range of after-school programs: language, math, social studies, science, English conversation and even high school preparatory classes. One may assume parents will refrain from sending their kids to school programs instead of academies, but according to a poll done by our school, the number of students involved in private education decreased by more than half after the courses were offered. For this to happen, schools must select its after-school program teachers carefully. They should handpick only the best educators, who are filled with willingness and enthusiasm. It is crucial that these teachers then follow a tight schedule, giving frequent tests and lots of homework, thus creating an environment resembling cram school which keeps parents happy. The government, in turn, should encourage such programs and provide them with sponsorship.
If schools offer all these conditions, students will gravitate towards school programs over private education, for its advantages in location and price.
Naturally, these students will feel less burdened to understand material not yet covered, and be emboldened to ask more questions in class. It is equally important to get rid of irrational forms of rivalry. Positive rivalry, which motivates both sides to work harder, is needed, but rivalry that hinders active learning should be stopped.
As Confucius once said, “Knowing is clearly admitting what you know and do not know.” Therefore, students should actively participate in class, regardless of whether their answers are right or wrong, and never refrain from questioning points they are unsure of.
Byun Bo-kyung, student
at Duksung Girl’s Middle School