Friday, October 22, 2010

The American Envy of the Korean Education System (Part 1): "수학 잘 공부했어요?" "응?"

Korea has returned to the spotlight of the international community as a result the upcoming G20 Summit in Seoul.  As usual, there is the press release about President Obama's envy of the Korean educational system.  These comments, which have been made a number of times, are not useful to Americans who are trying to figure out how to close the gap between the US and the remainder of the world.  The American president has pointed out the obvious facts, but does not address how to fix the fundamental differences between the Korean and American educational systems.  Either President Obama is intentionally avoiding the most important differences, or he just doesn't know.

Here is the link to the most recent comments:

The differences are too great to list.  In the future, The Lost Seoul will most likely write a book aim at both Koreans and Americans to describe the most important of these differences. 

Here is a glaring example of the most important of the differences:  attitude.
I have asked many Koreans in Korea the following question:  "수학 잘 공부했어요?"  In the US, this is an actual question.  According to the way that Americans think, and believe, "being good at math" is a natural-born ability.  There are people, according to Americans, that are good at math, and there are others who are not.  Those that do not believe that they are "good" at math essentially stop studying math early during secondary school. 
When I have asked this question, the response has been universal.  "Huh?"  "What does that mean?"  "응?"  This question doesn't exist in Korea.  In Korea, students just practice math and solve problems.  That is it. A Korean student doesn't think whether or not he is "good" at math, he/she just continues forward without the attitudinal barrier that exists in American students.

With this as a starting point, is there any way for an average American student to compete with an Korean student?  The answer should be obvious.  Nope.  American students have received this attitude from their parents.  So before the US can even think about trying to narrow the difference in the most important subject in education, there is a desperate need for change,  in the American attitude.  Until then, different policies and other efforts will surely fail.


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