Encouragement vs. punishment
I hear students moaning about grades-are-everything competition in a society riddled with crude materialism. Both the government and society need to scrap the competition-oriented culture and initiate measures so that children live with dignity and nurture their potential. They should not be subject to evaluation by test scores.
I have spent about one third of my 23 years in New Zealand where everything is quite different from Korea. It is a country where “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy was filmed. Korea, especially Seoul, is a country where everything is fast and never sleeps. On the other hand, New Zealand boasts peace and quiet with scenery that seems as if everything is almost in slow motion.
On the first day of school in New Zealand, I had a vocabulary test that checked only 10 out of 30 words. I got full marks without even studying, simply because I learnt most of the words in Korea. I still remember how my teacher over-complimented my score.
Honestly, I was so embarrassed and even questioned why she said, “good girl”, “excellent”, while I thought it no big deal. Although her response made me intentionally write one or two wrong answers during the tests, the comments did not stop, even when I had poor test results. “You did well. However, you deserve better marks. Come and see me whenever you are stuck.”
I was raised by typical Korean parents who were willing to make sacrifices in their own lives to help me study overseas.
Once I had been an unwelcomed student in a Korean school since I never enjoyed studying but rather thought how I could sleep comfortably without being spotted during class.
I indeed showed distinct competence on where I received praise most. Compliments and encouragement had been a solid foundation for a young Asian girl to settle in a foreign country.
Many people believe the current Korean educational system is the main factor causing dilemmas for teenagers.
However, as far as I am concerned, the role of the person in charge of caring for teenagers needs to change promptly. Parents and teachers should eventually change the educational and social atmosphere.
Unless teachers and parents protect kids and teach them how to overcome their limits, who will teach or guide them when they get lost?
Students who bully their peers are most likely children of double-income parents. These parents tend to spend more time on acquiring professional skills and knowledge, rather than spending meaningful time with children.
I hope parents remember when they last encouraged their young children. They show keen interest in them when they begin to walk and enter elementary school.
Sadly, as soon as a child enters middle school, they forget the past. Instead, parents push their children toward getting high scores and enrolling at a high-ranking university, while overlooking most other problems.
Most New Zealand parents and teachers support children’s individual interest and efforts. It is certainly true that their kids have more chance to use their time elsewhere than school and study in a much more relaxed environment.
I do not mean we have to raise children exactly the same way as New Zealanders. I believe that Korea is a distinctive example of how the power of education can transform a nation.
Korea quickly recovered from the currency crisis in 1997 and regained its pride. The nation has become a global industrial powerhouse.
On the other hand, New Zealand parents embrace and support individual identity and interests, putting comparably less pressure on children’s’ study. This attitude has created a lack of an urgent need for study and increases the number of homeless who live on unemployment benefits. New Zealand lacks in competitiveness and efficiency.
Sadly, contemporary Korean society tends to reflect materialism. Many people believe that the ability to buy the latest mobile phones, cars and bigger houses are the yardstick of true success. This belief may blur what the most valuable things in life are, such as family, friends and dreams.
If parents want their children to be happy, education has to begin at home. Family happiness should be the ultimate priority. I believe troublesome teenagers will change if they learn to be loved, to love others and to express themselves in the right way. I think that would be one of the most effective steps to resolve the problems of teenage violence and suicides.
Ko Tae-young is a senior majoring in linguistics and language teaching at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.