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Attitude in Class

Posted April. 10, 2010 05:41,   


“Dilapidated, the chapel hall is packed with children as if bean sprouts were being cultivated in a pot. It is so crowded, the teacher has little space to step in and out of. Unable to stretch their legs in the overcrowded lower classroom, children open and shut their mouths in unison like bird bills as they watch the blackboard in an upright position. Then students in the upper classroom shout “Wake up, you sleeping person; open up your eyes, you blind person; let’s work hard and find ways to survive and thrive” in reading the Famers’ Guidebook. This is a scene at a school as described in the novel “Evergreen Tree” by novelist Shim Hoon, which tells of a rural village enlightenment campaign. It describes the scene of students studying hard in their quest for a better education in droves after the heroine Chae Yeong-shin opens a rural village school by renting a church building.

The fever inside the classroom, full of twinkling eyes, symbolized a strong education fever in Korea that persisted even after liberation from Japanese colonial rule in 1945. The number of students per class at certain schools exceeded 100 from the 1960s, when baby boomers born soon after the Korean War entered elementary school. Such classes earned the nickname “classroom of jam-packed sprouts.” Students had a feverish aspiration for education even in such heavily crowded classrooms. It often took an hour or more for students to commute from home to school in rural areas. Still, those who could not afford to attend schools of a higher grade burst into tears on graduation day due to deep regret.

A think tank under the Japanese Education Ministry has announced the results of a survey of learning attitudes in class among high school students in four countries -- Korea, Japan, the U.S. and China. On what act they “handily” or “commonly conduct,” 33.2 percent of Korean students said “dozing off.” Korea had the lowest portion of students who answered, “I carefully write what is taught in class” with 68.1 percent in the survey. The data suggests Korean students’ concentration lags behind that of their counterparts in the other three countries. Have better economic conditions instilled them with a sense of complacency?

Korean students are dozing off due in large part to the reality of private education exceeding public education in competitiveness and teachers’ lack of accountability. Another reason is that students whose academic performance significantly varies are being taught at the same level in the same class. Classes that satisfy nobody cause students to doze off. The Korean Education Ministry suggested a plan Thursday on providing different levels of teaching in classes to gifted students and those with poor performance even at general high schools. This is a promising measure. Though critics blast the excessive attention to education in Korea, the country faces a dark future if this educational fever fizzles.

Chief Editorial Writer Hong Chan-sik (chansik@donga.com)