Korean Education: Student Perspectives

January 17th, 2016

Written by Matt Walters (ETA 2015-16)

The challenges of Korean high school are well-known by anyone who is familiar with the country’s education system. The years prior to high school, however, do not receive as much publicity. Four middle school students from Gakri Middle School in Korea’s North Chungcheong province shared their typical school day schedule, their plans for the future, and their thoughts on the Korean education system as they prepare to move on to high school. All four students—Da Yeong, Hyeong Seok, Su Hyeon, and Yu Rim—have previously studied abroad in primarily English-speaking countries, contributing to their perspectives on their education.

All four students reported different daily schedules. Middle school in Korea typically begins at 8:30 a.m. and ends at 4:30 p.m. Su Hyeon, who lives very close to Gakri Middle School, noted that she wakes up less than an hour before school starts. Yu Rim, however, wakes up as early as 6:00 in the morning.

“I come to school really early. I’m always the first in my class,” Yu Rim said. “It’s just become a sort of habit.”

All of the students except for Yu Rim attend hagwon, or extra academy classes, after school. Each student’s day ends after 10:00 p.m, sometimes not until midnight or later.

Even in middle school, students feel the looming pressure of the suneung, or the College Scholastic Ability Test that all students take in their third year of high school.

Regarding the Korean education system, Hyeong Seok commented, “Students are all just studying for one test. We’re just memorizing things—not things that will be helpful in real life.”

The other students echoed Hyeong Seok’s sentiments, but Da Yeong also noted a positive aspect of the Korean education system.

“I think the Korean education system is very organized,” she said. “Students can study in a passionate learning environment.”

As in many Korean schools, classes at the co-ed Gakri Middle School are gender-segregated. Yu Rim and Su Hyeon were quick to express their fondness of gender-segregated classes. Yu Rim said that without any boys in the classroom, girls feel that they can be “crazier.”

Su Hyeon remarked, “I feel like I’m class with my sisters. But it doesn’t make sense to have boys and girls in a school and split up the classes. They should have only all-girls and all-boys [schools].”

Looking ahead, all four students expressed a mix of nerves and excitement in preparation for high school. While the prospect of a fresh start has given the students something to look forward to, the academic rigor of high school may take some adjustment. In the future, Da Yeong and Su Hyeon would like to attend universities in Korea, while Hyeong Seok and Yu Rim hope to attend college abroad.

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