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Thursday, January 29, 2004

(Social categories / structure) School standardization and private tutoring

It may be a bit hasty to say by checking only two newspapers that the study on the social background of students admitted to SNU during the last 30 years (my earlier entry on the subject) has created a stir, but at least Hankyoreh and Chosun Ilbo have not spared commentary on the implications of the study, both from its own very differing points of view.

Chosun has done three editorials over a short period. "Wake up from the school standardization cult" (that standardization needs to be abolished since it doesn't contribute to more equal access to good universities and prevents good students to use their talents in full), "Standardization causing harm only to poor children" (that standardization lowers the standard of public education so that talented students without resources for private tutoring cannot learn well in school), "A country that punishes good students" (taking a strong stand against the Seoul school administration plan to control and restrict the a-priori (sônhaeng) learning of school subjects in hagwons).

Hankyoreh has written only one editorial "University adimission rates and improvement of the standardization system" (admitting the increasing inequality but blaming it on the dramatically increased private tutoring and demanding measures to correct that).

Today Hankyoreh has added a couple of articles to back its stand on the issue, that is standardization should not be abolished. This one is about the situation in Chuncheon (Ch'unch'ôn) in Kangwon-do, where the high-school entry has been "non-standardized" since 1991. (That means the school has not been determined according to the residential area.) Hankyoreh reports that the destandardization has meant a huge upsurge in private tutoring (kwaoe) expenses, and the ones given in the text seem horrible. This one family uses 2.5 million won (1600€) a month for their two middle-school daughters: society 500 000 W, math 400 000, English reading 200 000, English grammar 150 000, essay writing (nonsul) 95 000, computer 80 000, Chinese characters 25 000, Korean, science, sports... "All the subjects have a similar weight in the school record, so one cannot help but have this many kwaoes at the same time." The older daughter also got tutoring in basketball shooting from a university PE student for 20 000 W, as one part of the PE test is shooting the ball in the basket.

"In the destandardized areas, mother's knowledge and father's earning power are the decisive factors in children's success", it is said in the article; got to add that it's not that different in the standardized Seoul either.
학부모들 사이에 고등학교의 서열이 ㅊ여고, ㅅ고, ㅇ여고 순으로 서열이 매겨진 지 오래다. 서열 좋은 학교에 얼마나 많이 가느냐에 따라 중학교도 순서가 정해진다. 이씨는 “서열 1위 ㅊ여고는 다른 학교보다 늦게까지 야간자율학습을 하고, 이 학교를 나와야 사람대접을 받는다는 말까지 떠도는 상황”이라고 전했다. ㅇ양은 과외에도 불구하고 원하던 학교에 진학하지 못했다. 하지만 다시 선행학습을 하느라 바쁘다.
"If my children could only suffer the amount the children in standardization areas, I'd be happy" says this mother who uses 2.5 million won a month for her two daughters' private education.

Yearly private and public schooling expenses in the grammar, middle and high school level

Hankyoreh also reports about a discussion held on the topic, in which views differed as between Hankyoreh and Chosun.
이에 대해 김홍원 한국교육개발원 학교교육연구본부장은 “학력세습은 평준화 때문이 아니라 소득격차가 커짐에 따라 생기는 일반적 현상”이라고 주장했다. 이수일 교육인적자원부 학교정책연구실장도 “초·중등 교육이 서울대를 정점으로 한 입시교육으로 왜곡된 상황에서 평준화를 당장 해체하자는 주장은 무책임한 것”이라며 “교육부는 평준화 정책을 흔들림 없이 유지하면서 문제점을 보완하는 데 주력하겠다”고 밝혔다
After seeing an assistant professor in English literature getting private tutoring in English conversation from a Danish girl, there's very little that surprises me in Korean private tutoring. In the Korean language quote above it's said that as long as the goal of all schooling is to gain entry to SNU, destandardization would be irresponsible. But from the above we also saw that getting into SNU or at least to a university in Seoul remains the imperative irrespective of standardization. Hell, what can I say, I have no cure.

As the newly published Nancy Abelmann's Melodrama of Mobility is about Korean women's sense of social mobility and immobility, social strata (or classes), there is a lot about education, and this "standardization debate" fits well with the theme of the book; the routes for social mobility have narrowed, is the atmosphere in the book, and this sense is also conveyed by the SNU admittance study. One has to make better and better (run faster and faster) in school just in order to stay put and not to be left behind, and in a situation like that it's no wonder that the social distinction is created at all costs, if not in school then in private education. And this is not a question of condoning the situation.

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