The Korean education system is vastly different from the American one that I grew up in. Granted, my only personal experience is in a private school teaching young children, but from what I can gather form the personal experiences of other foreign teachers, it’s not much different in public school or in the upper levels of school.
I was told in training “The parents pay a lot of money for the books so they want to see the workbooks done. It is really important that you always get the workbooks done in class.” It was disconcerting.
When I was in kindergarten, I remember recess two times a day, learning to tie my shoes, story time, coloring, putting on plays, and activities like deciding which we liked better–green or black olives. We had some writing and a little bit of math, but I have no recollection of sitting at a desk as long as these kids do a day. And we learned a lot.
Sometimes I really worry that I’m not teaching the kids anything because of the system we’re under, a sentiment shared by almost all the foreign teachers I’ve talked with about it. With the morning and afternoon kindergarten classes, they can recall vocabulary and make simple sentences. We do arts & crafts and science once a week, and cooking once a month. We do sing songs and play games but with the pressure to complete the workbooks, it sometimes feels like I’m rushing the kids through to do fill-in-the-blanks when they can barely read. I had one of the Korean teachers ask me if it was too much work for me to do the workbooks and the student books per 40 minute block. It’s not that it’s too much work, it’s an issue of morals for me. If the kids don’t understand what’s going on and I’m just filling in the blanks for them, it feels like a sham to please the parents and not an actual education. I’d rather take the time to teach them and do a selection of the workbook exercise, instead of filling in each section so a Korean mom won’t call and bitch out the school.
Needless to say, critical thinking skills are seriously lacking. This is more apparent in the older kids where they are reading short stories and being asked to write essays. They’re also exhausted from waking up at 7 am, going to elementary school all day, then coming to ECC for classes as late as 8 pm. They also take dance lessons, play sports, music, and often learning other languages (primarily Chinese) in addition to English. Then they go home and do homework. That’s a grueling schedule for any adult, much less a nine year old. In the afternoons, the kids are like zombies, just wanting to do the workbook and be left alone.
The other thing that blows my mind is that the parents send their kids to school really sick. In America, if you have a fever, you stay at home or the school calls the parents to come pick you up. If you get put on antibiotics, you stay at home for 24 hours until you’re no longer contagious. Here, you go to school no matter what. In the 2 weeks that I’ve been here I’ve had a child with a fever two days in a row in my class constantly sneezing, two students on antibiotics, and one student so sick I was told she was hospitalized. But she came to school every day up until the night she was taken to the ER. Naturally, I’m sick now too and so are two of the other teachers. I’ve got the same symptoms as the sneezer with the fever–sore throat, sneezing, tiredness. It really makes me angry the price these kids have to pay so their parents can brag to each other.
And how could you not care so much about the well-being of faces like these? I really love the kids and when I’m in the class with them, I’m my happiest here in Korea.