Thursday, August 8, 2013

Korea # 21 Korea's Advantage through Tutors

How have Korean students advanced so quickly compared to other countries?  The answer starts with the aspirations of Korean parents and the country but the more precise answer seems to be “Tutors.”

While I was there, I I heard about Koreans going to school and then going to school again, after-school.  I'd seen private schools vying for students in India, where I could read all the signs but in Korea there are even more, I just couldn't read them.

 But I had to come home to the August 3-4 edition of the Wall Street Journal to realize how widespread tutoring has become and how critical it is to Korea’s success.  Get this:  three out of four Korean students receives tutoring of some kind, at a price.  Korean parents spent $17 billion on tutoring last year, more than the $15 billion Americans spent on video games, according to the Journal article by Amanda Ripley. Her book, “The Smartest Kids in the World—and How They Got That Way” will be published on August 13.

The superstar of Korean tutoring and of the Journal story is Kim Ki-hoon.  He makes $4 million a year, most of it by selling videos with accompanying lesson plans for $4 per recorded hour to 150,000 students.  Just 120 students are seated in his three hours of classes a week.

The company he works for, Megastudy, is listed on the South Korean stock exchange and Ripley tells us that firms like Goldman Sachs invest heavily in Korean private education.  What, exactly, is Goldman Sachs investing in?  In teachers:  carefully chosen and highly prized teachers.  The private firms—called “hagwons,” kind of like Hogwarts—sift parental evaluations and videos to find Korea’s best teachers and privatize them. Riley says there are now more private tutors than public teachers in Korea.  Inevitably, this means those with the most household income rise to the top.

“How passionate is the teacher?” “How well prepared is the teacher?”  The answers given by parents and students play heavily in which teachers get selected and how much they make subsequently.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation found that the answers to these questions were equally predictive of successful instruction in the United States but are still seldom used.

Schools imbed themselves in the lives of student’s families with constant reporting and personal contact, writes Ripley. “In South Korea, if parents aren’t engaged, that is considered a failure of the educators, not the family.”

The result is that 93 percent of Korean students graduate high school on time compared to 77 percent in the United States.  While they excel at math and science, as the stereotype would tell us, 15 year-old Korean students are number two in the world in reading, behind Shanghai.

Hagwon tutors get higher approval ratings from students than the public school teachers, particularly when it came to “treating all students fairly.”

As you would expect, there is a price paid for the sheer quantity of education Korean students are expected to undergo.  They are regarded as lacking in creativity and some are burned out by the time they get to college, which some say accounts for the widespread abuse of alcohol.  How so many parents pay for this is hard to imagine.  The sacrifice must be immense and 8 out of 10 complain about it.

This also has to be hard on the students themselves but, to cite a favorite quote from Paul Claudel, “Youth was made not for pleasure but for heroism.”   They are making Korea a world leader.



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