North’s rocket launch and China
These days, the Korean government tries hard to rebrand the country to fit its ``pedigree.”
While Korea has done a near miraculous job to build its economy from the ashes into one of the most vibrant systems, there is still a long way to go to mature its democracy and cultivate a much-needed welfare state so that the system can serve the entire population rather than the handful of ``ruling” class.
Things look very grim with many figures gruesomely painting the Korean society such as one of the highest rates of divorce, suicide and teens’ suicide among the OECD countries.
The high teenage suicide rate epitomizes what’s wrong with the Korean education system, which is what dooms Korea’s future.
Korea lacks severely in terms of natural resources and therefore focuses heavily on nurturing ``human capital.” However, it does so in a wrong way and results in excessive ``degree inflation.”
A psychological drive of herd behavior, which stems from a Confucian and community-oriented social structure, fuels this hyper-inflation of degree.
Nowadays, even pre-elementary students, who are supposed to have fun outside, have to hit multiple hagwon or private learning institutes to be fully prepared for the battles in the offing.
Most of them don’t learn how to think by themselves or have chances to find out where their interests truly lie, while most parents feel forced to push their little ones on the ‘stable track’ to future success.
The whole systems are so conformist, wasteful and expensively rigged in favor of the haves, which renders social upward mobility increasingly a pie in the sky.
The spending on education is soaring through the roof, which is one of the primary reasons behind the precipitous dip in the Korean household’s savings’ rate. But the quality of Korean education both private and public doesn’t serve these sacrifices right.
Korean public education depends heavily on remembering a myriad of things with little emphasis on why and how. Teachers do the talking while students do the memorizing. Good scores on tests ― usually multiple choice ― trump almost everything.
In all fairness, the system had worked like a charm until the late 90s when we needed to mass-produce workers for a factory-based economy. Linear thinking sufficed.
However, now the world is so complicated and intertwined where the creative-minded prevail, and in that vein our educational structure is too didactic and inflexible to nurture independent thinkers. If this game continues, we won’t have games to play on the global stage soon.
The current dysfunctional educational system bears a deep resemblance to that of the fictional Mica Area High School (MAHS) in a novel titled ``Stargirl” written by Jerry Spinelli where conformists survive, winners take it all and the school’s pride comes first over individuality.
At Mica High, the students live in a rut and stay normal with few shots at carving their true identity. Then, unique, free-spirited Susan Stargirl Caraway joins the school after years of homeschooling. She draws a gradual attention from listless students thanks to her eccentricities and goes on to be their shining star. But her popularity is short lived also due to her very eccentricities that threaten the conformity held dearest in the school.
Her boyfriend who is being shunned together pressures her to be the last thing she wants to be: normal. She changes herself for him to no avail and only winds up losing her identity. So, she becomes her true self again and eventually leaves a lot of positive changes in the school for years to come.
The Korean education ― by extension the Korean society ―is too conformist, monolithic and vertically wired to go well with a knowledge-based world.
We already witness ample signs that we are losing out in the global competition in search of next-generation growth engines. The inefficient and ineffective educational system costs parents an arm and a leg and drives children to extreme stress for no good reason.
We need a brand-new system where someone like Stargirl belongs and triumphs to make it genuinely right for everyone. Our future rides on it.
The writer is a former banker and now an English teacher at a private language school. Contact him at email@example.com.