A sour future for our childrenAs a parent, your baby always seems extraordinary - even genius-like. No matter what anyone says, your kid seems special. So to start things off, you choose the Einstein brand of milk for him.
You hate to admit it, but by the time he becomes a toddler, you come to accept that he may not have been born with the intelligence of the celebrated physicist. But it’s too soon to give up. So you switch to a brand that takes its name from Louis Pasteur, the famous French chemist and founder of microbiology.
As the child grows up, we realize that a great inventor may be too high a standard. The kid may not be cut out to become a historic figure, but he at least should be able to get into the country’s top school. So the milk becomes Seoul Milk, a brand that takes its name from Seoul National University.
After he finishes middle school, he shows little hope of getting into the top school. The next milk you buy is Yonsei, produced by Yonsei University, one of the country’s three best schools. During the first half of his senior year at high school, the Yonsei Milk also disappears from the refrigerator.
With a heavy heart, mothers finally end up buying low fat milk when their kids come back home after writing the college entrance exam. In Korean, “low fat” is jeojibang, a term that can also refer to a faraway provincial college that would be far down the wish list for Korea’s education-obsessed parents who put a heavy burden of expectation on their children.
Every time I pass a street that teems with signs for cram schools and institutes pitching “self-led and self-motivated study,” I shake my head at the irony of tutoring someone to study on their own. Demand has also led to a new type of “licensed” private tutor that will visit your home to help your kid draw up a study plan and guide them toward their target university with a strict schedule.
President Park Geun-hye has pledged that she will “simplify” the process of getting into college. She plans to establish a special law on revitalizing the public education system. Her good intentions are admirable, but whether any change will result remains doubtful.
At this stage, nothing could do any good. In our society, education is no longer simply about teaching and learning. A friend of mine who teaches at high school said that as long as we have such intense university entrance competition, no new system, “self-motivated” or otherwise, will be of any use. The private tutoring industry will immediately come up with better and more competitive programs that beat public education.
“Self-led” study has already become “institution-led” or “parent-administered” study. Korea’s youth depends on private institutions and parents for their education until they’re in their 20s. They will enter middle age without their own motivation or the power of independent thought. What meaning can they find in their lives?
But then again, I may just be an old worrywart.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Noh Jae-hyun