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School CP - June 2001

Korea Times, Seoul, 4 June 2001

Thoughts of The Times

Private Teaching Institutes

By Yoon Woo-taek

It became common that private teaching institutes (hagwon) expand supervision of their enrolled students to the extent that they give out question papers to students in preparation for the mid-term or final exams of each high school or even give wake-up calls.

Corporal punishment, gradually disappearing throughout school classrooms nationwide, is thriving again at teaching institutes.

The teaching institutes in Seoul's Kangnam area are adopting the system in order to conform to the revised 2002 university entrance exam system.

Their proclaimed motto is "We guide students from the moment they wake up until they go to bed.'' As the student's academic record is going to be a major factor in the new entrance examination, private institutes are experiencing unprecedented business prosperity. Parents are busy visiting hagwon instructors in charge of students with their child's student records following mid-term exams.

Take the case of K, a high school sophomore in the Kangnam area. He begins his day with a wake-up call from the institute he attends, a prelude to the daily routine of this student.

The institute recently introduced this service for effective exam-management of the students. The dawn lecture is set for discourse tests or interview tests, and is also focused on the student's weaker subjects.

K goes to the institute after school at 5:30 p.m. He should sometimes run so as not to be late. If he is late, the hagwon gives an instant phone call to his parents. If he misses class three times, he should leave the institute. This shows the strict control that the institutes exert over the students.

K even had to pass a special written test to get admission to the special class, in spite of his attending the institute for two years since he became a freshman. The policy of most institutes is to screen students whose scholastic abilities should be higher than a certain level.

After classes in three main subject areas _ Korean language, English, and mathematics _ which end at 9 p.m., voluntary study sessions continues until 11 p.m. at a reading room.

Negligence of homework means a slap in the cheek as punishment. If he fails to pass slip paper exams, which are given every hour, he should take an intensive guided study course.

Private teaching institutes assert that they will eventually be responsible for public education. They, in the first place, regroup students into classes according to the schools they attend, three or four weeks earlier than mid-term or final exams.

The hagwon gives students data in which the hagwon analyzed the questions each school has given for the past five years. And students continue to solve expected problems in the exam every week. It is natural that students attending institutes get higher marks at school than those who don't.

Institutes also make students inform them of their exam results at school and hold counseling sessions with students' parents at least once a week, reporting the results of the institutes' weekly and monthly regular tests.

If students fail to do their homework, they get spanked. This is a stern rule that each institute observes. K also said that "My teacher at school doesn't even know my name, but my instructor at my institute knows everything about me.''

Students and parents are willing to pay high tuition in spite of such physical and mental abuse. This explains why private educational expenses have gradually been increasing.

As the admission criteria differs greatly from university to university, each institute guides and manages students in accordance with their hoped-for university's criteria. Sometimes it even entrusts subjects that are out of its handling to other institutes.

Educational experts opined that it is the parents themselves who hold the key to solving the problem surrounding the celestial amount of money spent on extracurricular education, amounting to an annual 7 trillion won.

The following statement was made by the director of a teaching institute who has been running it for five years after ending his 16-year teaching career at a high school. He alludes to a stern reality that public education is slowly collapsing and that private education is flourishing day by day.

"Parents who would call the police if a teacher hit their children at school have no qualms about an institute instructor administering a whipping. The more students are pressured with their studying, the more they come to rely on us. The reality is that private teaching institutes are taking over the prestigious schools' fame for their good results in the past, despite all the numerous changes in the educational system.''

The writer is a retired teacher living in Masan, South Kyongsang Province.

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Colin Farrell 2002
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