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Private Academy Tutors

Posted February. 16, 2010 09:01,   


Wada Junior High School in Tokyo invited lecturers of Safix, a professional cram school dedicated to helping children enter prestigious high schools, in 2008 to offer its students “extra classes” in a surprise move. The lecturers provided classes of English, math and Japanese as well as those on advanced learning. Wada’s experiment with the lecturers drew attention from Japanese students, parents and media. At that time, Japan was highly interested in improving academic performance after it was found to have deteriorated in a comparative assessment conducted in 2006.

Japan has more private tutors and cram schools than other advanced economies, but still trails Korea in that department. In Korea, the “hagwon,” or private academy, flourishes more than in any other country due to the public’s strong desire to move up the social and economic ladders through education, the side effects of the nation’s equalitarian education system, and the low competitiveness of public schools. Housing prices in certain areas, including those in Seoul’s southern district of Gangnam, have soared largely because of private academies on top of economic factors. Many students say they prefer private academy lecturers and tutors to school teachers.

According to the Korea Educational Development Institute, most college graduates who studied humanities, natural science, education, art and sports ended up working as lecturers and tutors at private academies last year. The portion of students who became private academy teachers was 11.8 percent among those who studied humanities and social studies, 6.1 percent for natural science and engineering majors, 16.6 percent among arts and sports majors, and 17.4 percent among those who studied education. Since many elementary students take several classes at a hagwon per week in Korea, private academies have become the biggest employer of college graduates, who suffer from high unemployment.

Though “star lecturers” at private academies can earn millions of dollars per year, many in the field feel distressed because of poor working conditions, including low wages and lack of job security. Private education is helping to prevent a surge in youth unemployment, which is called “the paradox of private education.” But for college graduates and the country, this phenomenon is not healthy. A fundamental solution to this problem is to rekindle the nation’s economic growth engines and increase the number of stable jobs at private companies. The number of student quotas for colleges and departments at universities should also be rationally adjusted by considering supply and demand of labor.

Editorial Writer Kwon Sun-hwal (shkwon@donga.com)