Wednesday, May 06, 2009


Educational Standards: Korean vs. American

My son will be born in late-June 2009. In retrospect, the best time for I and his mother to have started saving for his college fund was probably in June 2006.

Since we didn’t, it’s going to be of critical importance that he receives the best primary and secondary education he can get. Receiving the best possible education will increase his chances for scholarships, thus minimizing the amount of debt he’ll take on as a college student. Keeping his amount of debt at a minimum would then prevent him from needing federal student loans, thus absolving him of responsibility for any future government bailouts.

These are all common desires for parents, but my son’s situation is unique in that he will have two very distinct educational systems to choose from. Should I and my family elect to return to the United States, he can receive public education there; if we decide to stay here in Korea, he can receive the same kind of schooling his mother did.

So, let’s compare the advantages and disadvantages of the two.

Educational Advantages of Korean Public Schools

Schooling is taken very seriously in Korea, as students are required to study a variety of subjects, including two foreign languages. When classes end in the afternoon, the students supplement their knowledge at hagwon, or private institutes, sometimes studying past 10 p.m.

Educational Advantages of American Public Schools

Americans generally consider attending classes after 10 p.m. to be insane, and their public school system reflects this view.

Educational Disadvantages of Korean Public Schools

Job placement in Korea depends heavily upon which university accepts the student. Which university accepts the student depends largely on how well said student does on the college entrance exam. How well the student does on the college entrance exam depends greatly on whether he/she can immaculately remember esoteric, trivial facts about the subjects he/she has studied, even if said facts have no practical value.

Educational Disadvantages of American Public Schools

Job placement in American depends heavily upon which university accepts the student. Which university accepts the student depends largely on high school grades and the subjects studied. How well the student does in high school subjects depends greatly on his/her ability to concentrate while his/her classmates are throwing pre-chewed pieces of bubble gum at him/her while their teacher threatens to make the entire student body write “I will be quiet in the classroom” 500 times.

The Keys to Success in Korean Public Schools

1. Self-discipline.
2. A long memory.
3. Caffeine.

The Keys to Success in American Public Schools

1. Have a dad who went to Yale.

Of course, since my son will be half-Korean and half-Caucasian, he’ll be in an unusual position no matter which school system he attends. As we all remember, there is much more to primary and secondary education than just the subjects one studies.

In fact, high school often determines whether one grows into a charismatic leader of men or the guy whose voice cracks every time he has to ask the office secretary for help in working the fax machine.

When it comes to socialization, both Korean and American schools have their advantages and their backdraws.

The Social Advantages of Korean Public Schools

If my son takes after me, he’s likely to be seen by his classmates as that really tall kid who speaks English pretty well. This should therefore reduce the amount of hours he must spend in hagwon studying the language, and his size should limit the amount of wedgies he receives.

The Social Advantages of American Public Schools

His friends won’t all be attending hagwon until 10 p.m. at night, so he might get to see them once in awhile.

The Social Disadvantages of Korean Public Schools

For the foreigners who come to Korea to teach English to high school students, one of the great work-related struggles is getting those children to say anything. Then again, none of us would probably have much to say if our lives revolved around studying for a college entrance exam.

The Social Disadvantages of American Public Schools

If word about my son’s ethnicity gets out, he may have to endure a lot of jokes about rice and Jackie Chan. Furthermore, the ability to speak multiple languages (or even proper English) will be, if anything, a disadvantage, and being taller than average won’t prevent wedgies.

No matter which of these systems we choose to enroll him in, it’s clear that my son will have a lot of work to do, as will we in preparing him. But, by looking at the criteria discussed here, the route we should take becomes clear:



I lived in Seoul many years ago and I am trying to locate someone. Need advice.
Do you know the standard age to start school in Korea, standard class size, and curriculum used? I am working on a Masters Program project and need some assistance! PLEASE
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