I have the pleasure of having a Korean intern in my fifth grade class. She has taught us about Korean culture and some of the most fascinating things about Korea. She was unsure about how the students were receiving her lessons because they did not ask questions or respond to her. I felt they loved the lessons. I did tell her they might respond to things they can compare to what they know. So I asked her to talk about elementary school in Korea. This was very interesting.
She discussed what schools look like, how the classes look, and what the playgrounds were like. the students were interested that they have sand playgrounds instead of grass. They were amazed at the five story elementary schools and six or more classes per grade in one school. The time schedule was also interesting. It changes from day to day. In our school we have a similar schedule each day with few changes throughout the week. Everyday in our intern's school was different. They also went to school every other Saturday. The time schedule was the same with school starting at 9:00 and ending at 3:00. One diffence was the time of the classes. There were 50 minute classes with 10 minute of play in-between all classes. Lunch was eaten in the classrooms with a 30 minute break after eating.
The school classes and curriculum are very similar to my school. They do have music and art as full classes a couple times a week. We fit it in where we can. That is a big difference. Hey have a moral class where they teach about being a good member of society. This class is similar to our health education (not PE). One class that is very interesting to me is the practical class. In this class they teach students how to cook, sew, clean, and other day to day practical activities. They learn to sew on buttons, make small toys, and end up making a pillow. They also cook foods and the principal comes in to try the foods. These are the extra classes that fit into their schedule that we do not have. If we had these kids of classes full time, we would need to come on Saturdays also.
I do not think this is why we are behind their scores in education. It is what happens after school that makes the difference. In Korea, about 75% of school children attend after school Academies. These are classes that run about an hour and a half to two hours. Each academy is specialized to one subject. Some students have two to three academies to go to after school. This means they are in school about four hours each day after school. After academies they do their homework for school and academies. Students do not have a lot to time to play or do extracurricular activities. The other 25% have music or sports academies to go to after school.
The pressure is immense. Test scores are very important. Expectations are high. Stress of achieving is great. Parents spend upwards of $500 a month for academies. Students do not always have a way to be kids. They play when all their homework is done. If they have two academies and school, they are going to school from 9am until about 8 pm. They they do their homework for all classes, which is about two hours. They will finish about 10:00 and take little time to play and head to bead about 11 to 12. They get up the next morning to be at school about 8am to be ready for school. Sleep is important, but for an elementary school child in Korea, it is about 6 hours. With all the pressure and emphasis on test scores, there is suicide. Even in elementary school there is the chance of suicide. It is not uncommon. If a test does not go as planned or the score is not high enough, the child feels the stress.
Do we want this? Really? Do we want to pressure out students to get 100% all the time? They are kids, and they will fail from time to time. We need to be careful what we do with our children.
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