Striking a balance in education

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Striking a balance in education


Benson Kamary

Early this year, Pearson, an education and publishing firm, placed Korea at the top of global academic ranking. My Korean friend, a high school teacher, was not amused. In her words, the ranking was “shallow and simplistic.” She is convinced that evaluating countries’ educational competency based upon an amalgamation of international tests is constricted because education is not all about exams which, unfortunately, Korea’s educational system has become.

Not long after Pearson’s report, Koo Se-woong, a former fellow and lecturer in Korean studies at Yale University, wrote in The New York Times that Korea’s is an education that assaults children. Like my teacher friend, Koo points out that many students fall ill due to school-related stress. The domination of Tiger Moms, highly controlling teachers and for-profit cram academies are other destructive elements.

No doubt Korea has positioned itself as a model nation particularly to the developing countries. Indeed, there are several things that Koreans do extremely well and are worth emulating. I have taught some of the most brilliant, techno-savvy students and also have worked with keen and diligent colleagues here in Korea.

During my exploration of worldviews embedded in East Asian education systems, two viewpoints stand out in the Korean context. First, the Confucianism view of education profoundly appeals to academic excellence. This may explain the existence of extreme avoidance to making mistakes among learners.

The second dominant perspective of education is what I call “economic rationalism” - the notion that economy prosperity is the goal of life. For example, securing admission to top universities like Seoul, Korea and Yonsei (SKY) guarantees a good job and a decent life. Economic rationalists view education simply as a commercial cogwheel for prosperity.

While there is nothing wrong with the pursuit for excellence and seeking a path to socioeconomic success, education should not be narrowed down to these goals alone. Such a reductionist view can only propagate unhealthy competition that denies children their childhood.

I have argued before that education is more than score-making. It is also more than filling heads with information. Unless a culture deeply defines from whom, through whom and to whom educational activities are undertaken, there will always be unmet desires which C.S. Lewis, a profound scholar and prolific writer, calls “the inconsolable longing” of the human heart. Hopefully, Korean educational stakeholders will begin engaging one another in a bid to strike a balance across all levels of educational framework.

BY Benson Kamary, Professor of education and worldview at Kosin University, Busan

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