Monday, September 3, 2012

Korea vs Finland: Stark differences in education system

I grew up in South Korea.  I spent my first 17 years in Seoul, completing up to my high school junior year in intense South Korean education system.  Students are expected to put in 16 hour day 5 days a week to study.  School curriculum work ends in late afternoon, but immediately following students head to after-school academies called 'hak-won' to continue studying.  All these studying is driven by parents' zeal to see their children advance to prestigious universities in and out of country.

It's a system motivated by intense competition and fear of falling behind.  Competition to get ahead gotten so bad that South Korea government had to institute a policy to outlaw hak-wons to close its door after 10 PM.



Compare that with Finnish education system.  It's an education system built around collaborative team learning.  There is no winner and loser.  Everyone gets individualized attention by highly empowered teachers.  Students in Finland put in the least amount of hours among the industrialized countries, but their students often get the highest mark in academic ranking.

Finland and South Korea have been ranking
among the most successful education system in the world;
but their approach could not be any more different.



I believe that primary reason for education is to introduce the joy of learning and how to think for themselves to all students.  In the age of smartphones and Google, it's not meaningful to teach students how to recite historical facts and do quick multiplication in their heads.  These are part of tools, but cannot be the goal of education by which we measure our students.  What we have to measure is how successful each of our students can be in whatever area that they are interested in.  Education system should teach them how to solve their own problems and create their own opportunities.

Korean and Finnish system have their own strengths and weaknesses.  But as a former South Korean student, I see greater merits in Finnish system because of its focus on individual students.  Life is not about getting top ranking.  Life is about finding something that's meaningful to you and working to get better at it.  Not everyone needs to have top paying jobs, nor can our economic system support everyone vying to become doctors and lawyers.

South Korea has wonderful advantage when it comes to human resources.  Education is highly valued and parents are genuinely concerned with their children's academic success.  It's time to channel that energy in educating the next generation to be more creative and collaborative, not to compete for the same jobs.

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  3. I have known some Korean students also who spend time in school from 7am in the morning up to 11pm in the evening. And at first it wasn't believable. They go to college at age 20, when in fact students from other countries are looking for jobs already with that age. I just noticed one thing from them: they are thirsty to play. Thirsty enough to sneak playing soccer in my school which accepts study abroad programs for Koreans. But I do understand why they implemented such strict rules in studying. I just do.

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    1. I remember during the recess (I think the recess was 10 minutes inbetween 50-min long classes) going out to the school playground to kick some soccer balls or play basketball... Classroom must have smelled like a locker room with bunch of sweaty students (classroom size was 60 students back then).

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