Perhaps the strongest aspect of South Korean education is the performance of Korean 15 year olds according to OECD: Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). South Korean parents can be nothing but proud of their children's performance levels, especially according to the PISA 2009 Results. They put Korea at first place in two categories (Reading and Mathematics) among the OECD countries. The 2009 Results also put South Korean 15 year olds 3rd on the Science scale within the OECD.
According to the PISA rankings in 2006, Korean 15 year olds ranked 1st in reading (Korean), 4th in mathematics and 11th in science. On the whole, this level of achievement is worthy of praise.
This level of achievement of course comes, at least in part, from disciplined studying in cram schools, at the library and at home. All in all, Korean students are excellent at cramming (rote learning and retention).
As far as the public school system is concerned when it comes to the high ranks Korean 15 year olds reach in the subjects of reading, mathematics and science, these are essentially subjects that can be taught quite suitably in a teacher centered environment which the Korean public education system is for the most part built on.
However, the level of achievement, in English conversational abilities, by the same age group in Korea, falls well below average. This is because English communication is most effectively taught in a learner centered environment wherein students can actively engage in real communicative use of the target language.
“From 2004 to 2005, the TOEFL scores of Korean applicants ranked 93rd among 147 nations. ... [In] September [of 2006], when a speaking section replaced the grammar component in the TOEFL exams, Korea’s rank dropped to 111th. In the speaking section, Korea ranked almost rock bottom, at 134th.” (English Chosun, May 2, 2007)
This means that Korean students fell into the bottom 9% when it came to their conversational abilities.
Effectively, while some subjects can be taught efficiently in a teacher centered classroom environment, there are those subjects that are best taught in a learner centered one.Therefore, the overall conclusion is that Korean students are for the most part good in subjects which are successfully taught in teacher centered classrooms.
All things considered, Korean students are expected to do relatively well in all subjects that are productively taught in a teacher centered classroom setting.
Fundamentally, this is the area wherein Korean 15 year olds are most prominently successful as students, due to the long hours they spend cramming in a strict and disciplined educational environment which has a strong emphasis on rote learning. That is to say, it's the very area where Korean education simply outshines the competition by producing one of the the highest performing group of student in the world, at least when it comes to the restricted group of subjects which are successfully taught in a learner centered educational setting.
It may well even be argued that the most valuable asset of South Korean education is the students themselves. That is to say, when given the right direction and training, they are well able to shine due to their hard work ethics. However, until the state run entrance exam is to remain in effect, Korean education will suffer under the excessive burden of private education that caters to improving student's abilities to do well on the test.
English Chosun; ‘Does Korea Gain From Being a 'Republic of English'?’, May.2,2007 [Online] Available at: http://english.chosun.com/w21data/html/news/200705/200705020009.html
Selected South Korean High Schools Boast High Attendance Rates to Ivy League Universities
Daewon Foreign Language High School and the Minjok Leadership Academy boast the highest performing high school students in South Korea. The rates of success by both institutions is world renowned.
"All but a few of the 133 graduates from Daewon Foreign Language High School who applied to selective American universities won admission. ... Daewon has one major Korean rival, the Minjok Leadership Academy, three hours’ drive east of Seoul, which also has a spectacular record of admission to Ivy League colleges." (Dillon, 2009)
Essentially, the highest performing South Korean students are rounded up and funneled into the top 2 high schools, then their skills at cramming and memory retention are fine tuned in a strict and rigorous educational environment. Students have little free time, being taught by teachers, many of whom have PHDs in their respective fields. (Dillon, 2009)
The formula to success is little more than the selection of the best performing students from a nationwide education regime. It is those students that can bare the grit of studying long days and even nights that end up getting the highest scores and thus end up in the top two Korean high schools.
The countries that admire the success of South Korean high schools need to understand that it is not only the level and kind of education that is the key to their success, but more so the discipline and hard work that goes on within these high schools.
All things considered, only a selected few students worldwide ever experience such a strict educational setting, as that found in South Korea. For this reason, their hopes of beating out Korean students could come only if they outmatch them in the levels of disciplined cramming exhibited by South Korean students.
All things considered, the thing that could very well be held against the Korean students is that because the strict goal oriented education they take part in is so focused on improving student SAT scores, everything else simply gets little focus and attention. That is, as far as extracurricular student activities, debate and discussion skills, creative problem solving skills and independent studying techniques are concerned, just to name a few, these aspects of education simply end up on the back burner when it comes to South Korean education.
Nonetheless, it is admirable how some South Korean students outshine the competition in their abilities to cram and retain information and thus attain high SAT scores, but still, one must wonder whether such high school students make good university students when the aforementioned skills, neglected by Korean high school education, often take center stage importance at the university level in especially the United States.
Perhaps this is why 44.5% of all South Korean students fail to graduate at the top American Universities, as pointed out by Samuel Kim's dissertation (See Home Page).
Notwithstanding, Korean high school education on the whole must have one of the golden formulas since it has the highest proportion of the 25 to 34 year old population, having "attained at least upper secondary education" according to 'Education at a Glance 2008: OECD Indicators':
Education at a Glance 2008: OECD Indicators; Page 31
Dillon, S. (2008) 'Elite Korean Schools, Forging Ivy League Skills', New York Times, Asia Pacific, April 27, 2008 [Online] Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/27/world/asia/27seoul.html?_r=1 (Accessed in 2008)
Education at a Glance 2008: OECD Indicators [Online] Available at: http://books.google.com/books (Accessed Regularly)
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2) Jambor, Paul Z., 'Teaching Context: "Synthetic and Analytic Syllabuses" in a South Korean University Setting' Department of Education - The United States of America: Educational Resources Information Center, March 31, 2006
3) Jambor, Paul Z., 'The Changing Dynamics of PhDs and the Future of Higher Educational Development in Asia and the Rest of the World' Department of Education - The United States of America: Educational Resources Information Center, September 26, 2009
4) Jambor, Paul Z., 'Why South Korean Universities Have Low International Rankings - Part II: The Student Side of the Equation', Academic Leadership: Volume 7 - Issue 3, August 10, 2009
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12) Jambor, Paul Z., ‘Protectionism in South Korean Universities’, Academic Leadership, 2010 Spring Edition)
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