Teaching in Korea

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My little student sat next to me, her white face and glasses in common with almost every other Korean I was teaching. She was asking me to describe the life of a South African child, how they live and spend their time. And so I told her about the average day: of how our kids go to school, probably get involved in some kind of extra-mural, spend time with their families and play with friends.

She looked a little disappointed, and covered up with a smile. Then she said simply: ‘I wish I wasn’t Korean.’

The reason for this is that her workload allows for no sunshine, play or simple baking with Mom. If you’re passing this off as rumour I don’t blame you; I did too. How difficult it is to imagine a child of 10 working the hours of a general manager of a large company.

The girls in my class then explained the hours of an average day. School begins at 7.30am until around 2-3pm, followed by the hagwan (private academy) until 7pm, a quick dinner with the family, homework until 10pm, possibly a little exercise and then bed at 12pm. I had to clarify this last bit though, were they sure about that? Both girls nodded, ‘most Korean children go to bed at 12pm’.   

The common belief among learners… that if you sleep one hour a night, you’ll get into a good university, two hours an average one, and three hours you may just crack the invite.

This July I taught at a summer camp organised for the duration of the school holidays. Straight from this camp, one of my 10-year-olds was going to an international environmental conference.

My encounter with these youths left me with one question: where does this obsession with learning come from? And I realised that to a large extent a child is simply the product of his/her parents.

Parents were the ones driving their youngsters into the arms of success and promotion, complaining (literally) that their offspring were not being given enough homework. Next day: we all but piled it on! In the average family, it’s common for the mom to stay at home to work with her children late into the night, and for the dad to generate majority of the income.

Of course, how a child can rebel when their entire identity is wrapped up in a hard-cover version of ‘Science Today’?

Do you think South African children should work a bit harder?
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