Saturday, June 2, 2012

Illegal Tutoring in Korea

 A quick bit of background before we start:
While rebuilding their country after Japan's oppression, Korean's had to work very hard to be a unified force.  The good of the group and the bond of the family was prized over individuality and, for one to be part of the group, it is vital to not fall behind.  These days, to fall behind in school is to miss out on being in that highest percentile that gets into the right university.  This could lead to falling behind in networking which is to miss out on the good job that pays well.  To not have a nice job is to not make money which is to not have plastic surgery, to not have beauty, to not have connections, and to not be powerful or popular.  Therefore, competition is a solid post in Korea's ideas of how things work.

Given my work position and foreigner status, where I best see competition is in education.  I see how most of the parents' mid-life work and effort goes into doing everything they can to get their kids into the right universities.  Even the grandparents, when I see them praying to Buddha statues, most of them are praying for their grandchildren to be accepted into university.  After all, education becomes status, and status is life.

English hagwons (or, acadamies) are extremely popular here as English tests are usually part of the university entrance exams.  Also, English speaking Koreans have a better chance of getting a better job.  With all of these native English speakers hanging out in Korea these days, many Korean parents have gotten the good idea to ask them to help out their kids in exchange for a nice second income. This also means that the poorer families have a higher chance of falling behind their richer classmates.
I'm not sure who the decision makers were, but to help even out the playing field and to help save face for the poorer folk, restrictions were put on tutoring for the good of the group.  Now, foreign English teachers who are in the country on an E-2 visa are, by law, not permitted to be employed outside of their school job. No extra tutoring, no matter how lucrative it is, or you'll be fined and most likely deported.

A similar thing happened when, upon noticing that the richer kids were bringing better quality rice for their school lunches and that the poorer kids were feeling bad, the schools started to mix in poor quality rice with the nice rice.  How interesting is that?

There are hagwons for everything else you can pay to learn besides English: science, math, robotics, art, shoe designetc.  These, too, have been under a lot of scrutiny for their long hours and intense work load, at least the ones for school students.  The big guys are hoping that cutting down on studying will cut down on the idea that grade scores are so important and cut down on the suicidal stress associated with them while hopefully building up appreciation for creativity.  To bring about their plan, they instated a 10 pm curfew in 2009.  They have officials searching for non-compliant hagwons to shut down.

This doesn't keep the Korean mothers and grandmothers from trying to get as much educational help for their kids as possible.  In another post coming soon, I'll share some stories I've heard and some stories I've been in.

I hate that these kiddos will most likely fall victim to the fallen system.

By the way, there are a lot of foreigners here who find the restrictions on their employment options and on tutoring to be racist against them.  That's ignorant and selfish, and the people who hold to that crap aren't looking outside themselves enough to see how the real push behind these measures are an effort to bring the country's priorities to healthier places.  I mean, seriously, kids kill themselves over the philosophy that's in place now.  Kids.  And if this relatively small and simple step can help change the edge these kids are put on, then I'm a full supporter.  Granted, there's a lot of work to be done in Korean education, but starting with visiting foreign teachers who already have hefty paychecks and who can also register to tutor if they wish makes a lot of sense.


  1. I heard recently that in Egypt the teachers are paid hardly anything, so to support themselves all the real teaching (stuff the kids need to know for exams) is done in their homes which parents pay to send their kids to. This means that if the children are too poor to afford this they are literally not being educated, or just getting the bare minimum and have little chance of getting out of poverty.
    Anyway, interesting idea Korea had. I like it.

  2. Wow, that is brutal! I assume these are all teachers, even the standard ones in public school? Gosh, what a sad system!

  3. As a Korean myself, I guess higher population on smaller land is one of primary causes of making competition-everywhere society. But if that is true or not, I'm sad my children would not grow playing around as much as then can. I think they are like fed in a big closed cage.

    I agree with your comment. "I hate that these kiddos will most likely fall victim to the fallen system"

    1. I bet you're right about how being a smaller country makes the competition stronger. I'm surprised I didn't think about that, too!

      I also know that the pressure put on the kids also comes from their parents, but I hope that the society and peer pressure they get at school will diminish.


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