By David Thiessen
There are rumors flying around that the Korean education ministry is thinking of shortening the school week to five days and eliminating the mandatory study periods that many students participate in after regular school hours.
This is a big mistake. It is not that we want to make students suffer but we are doing them a great disservice by robbing them of formal learning opportunities. In Korea’s history their ancestors felt that Korea had little to offer the world in terms of natural resources, food, and other material objects. Thus they decided to contribute to the world community via education.
This decision has worked well for the Korean people. Not only were their children being educated but they were also able to avoid the many teen problems that afflict so many students in Western nations. In the West, because students have so much free time, there have always been severe problems as they were allowed to wander off from the path of morality and explore the temptations of life with little supervision.
Teen pregnancies, alcoholism, drug use and crime are but a few of the anti-social behaviors that permeate Western school life, making education difficult. Korea needs to be rewarded for its efforts in focusing on education and making it work when it has failed in so many countries around the world. Newspapers are full of the horror stories taking place in Western countries and this is mainly because of the lack of concern for proper education.
Part of the problem here and around the world is the lack of respect given to teachers. In the West, teachers are usually the scapegoat when a student fails to meet the government’s or their parent’s expectations. Teachers are routinely demeaned and embarrassed and made responsible for consequences which are beyond their control.
Korea still maintains high respect for its teachers but if rumors are true, that respect is diminishing and this is not right. Teachers cannot do their jobs if they are treated badly by their students who take their cue from their parents and government officials. If the government authorities and parents treat teachers badly then of course the students will do the same and it is unfair of those groups to make teachers suffer as they are always caught in the middle.
For example, every few years there is a new education minister making new rules and new demands. Then there are principals and local education authorities doing the same thing plus about 40 sets of parents in each class who all have their own ideas on how education should be implemented.
It is unrealistic to expect teachers to achieve anything with their students with conflicting demands being made upon them. It is doubly difficult when students look down upon their teachers and abuse them, especially the women.
These men and women who stand in front of classrooms deserve a lot more than they are credited for. Yes, there are bad teachers but those few do not represent the whole group. If Korea wants to be a world leader, then they need to continue to maintain high quality in the classroom. That quality starts with respecting teachers, allowing them to teach within a comprehensive set of rules and guidelines that do not change every time there is a change in the central government or demands from Western countries or their people.
Is this a demand for higher salaries or more benefits for teachers? No. It is a demand to let teachers teach and give them as much opportunity to do so as possible. Korea does not need the illiteracy or other social problems that infect the West.
Is educating students all there is to Korean life? Of course not but it does bring peace of mind that future generations will not be illiterate and incapable of teaching future generations. To have a strong nation one must have educated people who know what is right and wrong and know how to avoid the latter. Then they can pass it on to their descendents.
The writer has been an English teacher in Korea for 10 years. He can be reached at archaeologist@fastmail.