South Koreans Want Saturday Classes


In June, the South Korean government recommended that schools eliminate Saturday classes: Since the 1950s, students have had four-hour classes on two Saturdays a month. President Lee Myung Bak has said that he wants to “wean the school system off its obsession with standardized tests” and give South Koreans more “family time.” But a number of mothers have objected to the change, saying that, rather than allowing children more “playtime,” no more Saturday classes will mean that parents spend more on private tutoring at “cram school” operators with names like MegaStudy, says Business Week:

“If private institutions expand Saturday classes, I’ll definitely send my son,” says Kim Hyeran, who pays $2,800 per month for out-of-school classes for her 13-year-old, including as much as 20 hours of math. The Kim family, like the Chungs, live in Seoul’s Gangnam district, renowned in Korea for its specialized schools and private academies.

Three out of four South Korean parents send their children to cram schools or pay for private tutoring or online courses.

It’s all part of a drive to get ahead and stay on top that may have created the “least happy children in the developed world” as Al Jazeera puts it, but has produced results: Students from East Asia hold the top five slots in the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development’s assessment of reading, math and science skills. US students are ranked 30th in math, 23rd in science, and 17th in reading. Business Week points out that President Barack Obama has particularly noted “South Koreans’ zeal as an example of the need for American kids to study harder to compete.”

The South Korean mothers’ push for more having their children in class longer is in striking contrast to what’s going on now in the US.

In California, a number of public schools, including in my home town of Oakland, have started the school year on a nervous note, unsure of exactly how long the school year might be. Says InsideBayArea:

If the state’s wallet doesn’t fatten with enough tax revenues by December, automatic budget cuts could force some K-12 school districts to shorten the school year by one or two weeks — or more. And that would come on top of a teaching year already truncated in some districts.

Teachers could find themselves cramming more material into less time, students struggling harder to master the basics in fewer hours, and parents scrambling for day care in mid-May. The so-called state trigger cuts could force some school districts to negotiate with employee unions to shorten this school year.

Classes begin this week in 10 of Santa Clara County’s school districts, and next week in 17 more. Most districts in Alameda and Contra Costa counties start later this month. But in many districts, when classes end could come as a surprise.

“I’m going to try to get as much subject matter done by early May as possible,” said Santa Clara High math teacher Christine Drago.

An April article in California Watch described fears that school districts, trying to make ends meet in the state’s budget crisis, had been considering shrinking the school  year to 150 or 155 days from the current minimum of 175 days set by the state in 2009. Indeed, a California Watch survey of California’s 30 largest school districts last year revealed that 16 school districts intended to reduce their school year during the previous school year. However, as Michael Kirst, Stanford emeritus professor of education and president of the State Board of Education, points out, research shows  that a longer school year has a “demonstrable impact on academic achievement.”

South Koreans point to what happened in Japan after Saturday classes were eliminated there in 2002. Between 2000 and 2006, Japanese high school students went from 1st to 10th in math in OECD rankings, 2nd to 6th in science, and 8th to 15th in reading comprehension. Business Week notes that Japan has added 278 hours back to the elementary school year and 105 hours to junior high school. Meanwhile, it looks like the US is going in the reverse direction. As schools seek cost-cutting measures such as shortening the school year, how will US students fare in the OECD rankings and in the world marketplace this year and in years to come?

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Past Member
Past Member 4 years ago

asian kids and crammed kids r pushed too hard, we need to follow the kindergarten system more, which concentrates on prep 4 school til 6yrs old with social skills being v important and needing co operation of kids with each other-all inclusive education not only 4 the IQ gifted. we live in a multicultural society with many gifts...we should learn from the cradle to empathise with co operation is more crucial and valuable than competition...I am a teacher and mother in the UK.

Marshella S.
Marshella S.4 years ago

What about us? Our kids are very smart. Still most of them may fail Math tests conducted in Europe or in Asian countries. This is because of easy curriculum they are offered at school here. Parents need to take Math education in their hand, and offer curriculum like Saxon or Tutorteddy at an early age. Spread the word, and save America.

Dominic C.
Dominic C.4 years ago

America has one of the best education qualities in the world. Its system is fair and balanced to all who wanted to achieve something out of it. Many universities in Asia and Europe only allow smart and competitive students to have a college education and beyond. Many students even though are smart but are not innovative enough. Look at people are Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and many others...they do not finish college and yet look what they have achieve today. Another thing is that many parents and teachers want their children to think about Ivy League education but its not necessarily that Ivy League are good schools...there are many others who went to State universities and still able to achieve something out.

Edward W.
Edward W.4 years ago

(Sigh) More stupid comments glorifying education in Asia from uninformed Americans. Do you really want to be a student in Korea? You think the kids WANT to study from 8:30 AM to 11:30 PM? You think they LIKE having their imaginations usurped by the time they are seven? You think they enjoy having no playtime, hobbies, or social skills because their entire life consists of going to school and doing homework, just so they can go to a reputable university (where they completely can finally slack off cheat on exams with little or no repercussions)? If you want a mad education system that breeds automatons who will become alcoholic stress machines, you will first have to overpopulate the country then convince your children that farming and blue-collar jobs are bad, and that if they want to be successful they must be the next CEO for Samsung.

Emilia M.
Emilia M.4 years ago

n this is why our educational system is going down the drain. Kids from Asia and Europe are more willing to learn than the kids here. I guess they start teaching them algebra at age 2 n by the time they're 13 they know calculus!

Drusilla P.
Drusilla P.4 years ago

Very different culture and different philosophy about school and education.
I'm almost tempted to learn Korean and go there.

Thank you for the post.

Abner Anaya
Abner Anaya4 years ago

True, education is necessary, but having your children in schools for too long leads to burnout syndrome. I have some Japanese friends who attended cram schools and they all hated it. They were really pushed to the limit. School is necessary, but a lot of school can be very detrimental.

Ana R4 years ago

Very happy kids?! I don't think so...

Jennifer C.
Past Member 4 years ago

Thanks for posting.

Danuta W.
Danuta Watola4 years ago

Interesting! Thanks.