Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Is This The System We Want To Emulate?

President Obama likes to point to South Korea as one of the countries we should emulate when it comes to education policy.

Here is the NY Times tonight on one disturbing trend in South Korea education - suicide:

DAEJEON, South Korea — It has been a sad and gruesome semester at South Korea’s most prestigious university, and with final exams beginning Monday the school is still reeling from the recent suicides of four students and a popular professor.

Academic pressures can be ferocious at the university, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, formally known as Kaist, and anxious school psychologists have expanded their counseling services since the suicides. The school president also rescinded a controversial policy that humiliated many students by charging them extra tuition if their grades dipped.

After the last of the student deaths, on April 7, the Kaist student council issued an impassioned statement that said “a purple gust of wind” had blown through campus.

“Day after day we are cornered into an unrelenting competition that smothers and suffocates us,” the council said. “We couldn’t even spare 30 minutes for our troubled classmates because of all our homework.

“We no longer have the ability to laugh freely.”

And just in case you think the unhappiness is isolated to just one university campus, here is more from the Times:

Young people in South Korea are a chronically unhappy group. A recent survey found them to be — for the third year in a row — the unhappiest subset among countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The Education Ministry in Seoul said 146 students committed suicide last year, including 53 in junior high and 3 in elementary school.

South Korea as a whole ranks first among O.E.C.D. nations in suicide and is routinely among the leaders in developed nations. Subway stations in Seoul have barriers to prevent people from jumping in front of arriving trains, and eight bridges in the capital have installed closed-circuit suicide-watch cameras.

Suicides of singers, models, beloved actors, athletes, millionaire heiresses and other prominent figures have become almost routine in South Korea. A former president, Roh Moo-hyun, threw himself off a cliff in 2009 after losing face with his countrymen.

But the suicides of the four Kaist undergraduates — three jumped to their deaths and a 19-year-old freshman overdosed on pills — have stunned the nation in a profound and poignant way. (The professor, a biologist who was reportedly being audited for the misuse of research funds, hanged himself on April 10.)

The competition for a place in a leading university begins in middle school for most South Korean students. More than 80 percent of Korean young people go to college, and parents here spend more money per child on extra classes and outside tutoring — including military-style “cram schools” — than any other country in the O.E.C.D.

The pressure builds to a single day in November, when a national college entrance exam is held. Some mothers pray at churches or temples throughout the day as their children take the test, which is given only once a year and lasts nine hours. The South Korean Air Force even adjusts its flight schedule so as not to disturb the test takers.

The ultimate goal for most students is acceptance at one of the so-called SKY schools — Seoul National, Korea or Yonsei universities. In South Korea’s status-conscious society, a degree from a SKY school is nearly a guarantee of a big career and lifelong prosperity. Pedigree is everything.

Oh, yeah - that sounds like a country we ought to emulate when it comes to education policy and competition.

Oh, wait - that is exactly what our education reformers and policy makers want to do.

Everything comes down to the test.

Nothing else matters.

Score high on the test or be considered a "failure".

Add "value" to your students test scores or be publicly humiliated in the newspapers as a "bad teacher" and then summarily fired.

Increase test scores every year in every category of students or the school is shut down.

Competition is good, they tell us.

It brings out the best in all of us.

Uh, huh.


  1. Tiger mom Rhee and South Korean education - her brother is involved in a tutoring company.

    Last year the Education Ministry decided that 70 percent of questions on the national college entrance exam would be based on lessons carried on the government-funded Educational Broadcasting System, providing a strong incentive for students to tune in.

    One of EBS’s on-air personalities is Brian Rhee, whose sister, Michelle Rhee, the former D.C. schools chancellor, became the face of U.S. education reform.

  2. Global Competition, Race to the Top, "we're academically falling behind other nations" - NO, we're lacking creativity and diverse ideas on how to help kids become happy, productive, successful, conscientious citizens.

    Obama, Duncan, Gates, Broad, Tilson, Bloomberg, Rhee, et al?...Selfish, profit-mongering morons.

    The greedy "philanthropists" are being given carte blanche on ruining a generation of children in the U.S.