[Letters] Cram vs. public schools

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[Letters] Cram vs. public schools

In the editorial section of the Feb. 18 JoongAng Daily is an article which once again slams teachers in Korean public schools. It never ceases to amaze me how teachers in Korea become the scapegoats for a troubled education system. I have taught English in Korea at public middle schools, universities and private cram schools for over thirteen years. I have also been honored to teach many teacher training programs. The blame for educational shortcomings falling on the teachers is so biased and unfair.

Almost every teacher that has come into the teacher training classes are dedicated to improving the lives of their students. They care about the emotional and educational development of their charges. The most glaring problem in comparing public schools with private cram schools is class size. Naturally students will rate private school teachers as more effective than public school teachers. Private cram schools limit the size of the classes to about 12 or less. The Korean Public Schools fill class sizes up to 50 students. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out which class the students will receive more attention therefore creating better results.

As a teacher trainer, I have seen the coursework that public teachers must use in class. The textbooks are unorganized, cover massive amounts of grammatical constructs and are about as boring for students as any I have seen. The teachers in public school must cover all the material in order to meet provincial and national tests. Therefore, they have no time to interact with students but must “teach to the book.” In the private cram schools, the students use a colorful, interesting book. There are no exams to write, the teacher can teach at a pace that is slow and ensures that material taught is understood. As a private cram school teacher, our activities included making grilled cheese sandwiches in class, going to an ice cream shop and ordering ice cream in English, playing games along with sitting in a circle discussing and practicing English. Is it any wonder that students rate cram school teachers higher than public school teachers?

Having the Korean Educational Development Institute blame public school teachers in Korea is akin to having a prison warden handcuff a prisoner to a chair, and then blaming the prisoner for not getting enough exercise.

To use an English idiom appropriate to compare the public school teachers’ responsibilities to those of private cram school teachers: it is like comparing apples to oranges.

David Woelke, Busan, Korea

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