[Viewpoint] Don’t let cram schools kill creativity

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[Viewpoint] Don’t let cram schools kill creativity

Finally, Korean children can enjoy five-day school weeks. When I was a student, I always wanted to take Saturdays off, and I am happy that the five-day school week has finally arrived. But students and parents do not seem to be happy.

A mother of a middle school student said she was finding it a real headache trying to plan her kid’s Saturday schedule so that the day won’t go to waste. Luckily for her, the boy agreed without any reservation to go to a cram school. Meanwhile, mothers in Seoul’s southern Gangnam District are already busy making plans for Saturday tutoring.

Korea’s cram schools have once again proven just how competitive they are. Before the truncated school week began this month, people expressed concern that the schools and local communities would be ready for the change, but the cram schools appeared to have completed their preparations on time.

In fact, the boarding school versions have already begun operating so that students can enter on Friday night and go home at Sunday night. Once students join, they cannot leave the program freely, and the cram schools promote a rigorous study regime under which kids are not allowed to sleep before midnight.

Some parents have complained that the schools have poor extra curricular programs on Saturday. They decry the low level of student participation and poorly prepared classes. While some schools just played movies, others let children spend their time in libraries. Critics, justifiably in many cases, saw this as a waste of the day.

Meanwhile, other parents are looking for fun and productive ways to spend Saturdays with their children, and many are turning to amusement parks. On March 3, the first Saturday of the new five-day school week, Everland saw a 30 percent increase in visitors compared to last year.

Of course, it’s not always easy to drag kids away from their computer games and friends. One father of a middle school boy proposed they climb major mountains across the country every Saturday, but the son responded lukewarmly by asking him “Do we really have to do this?”

These days, many parents are focusing on how their kids’ can spend their Saturdays beneficially, rather than just wasting the day.

High school students are still forced to go to cram schools as they do not want to fall behind in terms of preparing for their college admission tests. And elementary school students are not getting off lightly, either. Parents want to make sure they keep learning rather than idling the day away, which is in part related to Korean parents’ need to “keep up with Joneses.”

But let’s think about this. Do we really have to spend the holiday so effectively? It is a day off, after all, so we can just relax and enjoy the time. There is no need for children to have to learn something or be with their parents.

Come to think of it, we did not play with our parents when we were elementary school students. And it often seemed bothersome when our parents asked us to join them.

During the Chun Doo Hwan administration, private tutoring was banned, so I never had private tutors or attended cram schools.

During my free time, I played with my friends or just relaxed in my room. During those hours, I fantasized about many things, doodled, read novels and wrote. I think that time was my biggest asset. Of course, there was no Internet back then.

Solitude is one of the keys to creativity, said American author Susan Cain last week at the TED Conference, an annual event for the world’s leading thinkers. Although the world forces you to be sociable and have an outgoing personality, the people who changed the world and accomplished major creative achievements were those who enjoyed solitude, she said.

Endless teaching won’t make a child possess all the knowledge in the world. Just letting our children enjoy their freedom and allowing them to play without any instruction can help foster their innate creativity.

Of course, children must be kept, whether at playgrounds, parks or libraries, and this is the responsibility of adults. However, from time to time, it would be nice to see Korean kids enjoying their lives free of their parents’ intervention and the flood of information available on the Internet, and maybe just running around without a care in the world on a Saturday.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Sunny Yang

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