It’s Winter Break for South Korea’s school students right now, but don’t let me give you the wrong impression.
The fact is that it’s not a break at all.
I teach at an English language academy in Seoul, and this is one of that sector’s busiest times. Though the public schools have closed for a few weeks, academies ramp up their class offerings to give Korean students something to do while they’re not in school.
Instead of letting their kids relax, goof off and play with friends, Korean parents enroll their children into EXTRA hours of academy study — languages, math, music, etc. One of my students tells me that he’s spending six hours at a math academy several times a week during the winter break.
To top it off, the public schools assign students an abundance of homework to keep them busy during the “break.”
The academy system emerged because South Korea’s public education system doesn’t educate children as well as it should. The country’s president is trying to improve the system and is making it one of his priorities.
But there’s another thing. I’ve picked up from several of my students that a dominant attitude among Koreans is that a good education is the best way to ensure prosperity. As a small country with limited natural resources — not to mention being sandwiched between China and Japan — many Koreans see education as the path toward global advancement.
It’s working, at least for my kids. They are some of the sharpest young minds I’ve had the privilege to teach.