Elwood 5566

The Death of Nolto – When Less Equals More

Posted in Education, Korean children by 노강호 on April 27, 2012

a study room (공부방)

So many Koreans and students like to utter the phrase ‘TGIF’ but generally do so without any emotional content. My boss actually uses the phrase ‘thank God it’s Monday,’ and she’s not joking! The use of ‘TGIM’ suggest a lack of cultural understanding and is a little like uttering ‘phew’ when you’re about to run up a hill rather than when you’ve reached its summit. But such lack of emotion is understandable, after all, for many Koreans Saturday is simply another working day and hence ‘TGIF’ or ‘TGIM’ are pretty much the same.  ‘Thank God it’s Friday,’ (TGIF) is even the name of a Korean restaurant franchise whose mantra, ‘it’s always Friday,’ couldn’t be more depressing for customers who have to work on a Saturday and for the staff it’s probably their most hated day of the week.

For middle and elementary school students, nol-to (놀토), ‘play Saturday,’ is dead. Now, every Saturday is a ‘play day.’ Of course, like so many things Korean, all isn’t what it seems! Holidays are never really holidays, family vacations never really vacations – at least by Western standards, and exams are only ever final if you’re in your last year of university. In the demise of the ‘nol-to’ lurks a wolf in disguise whose emergence should come as no surprise.

some of my students now spend every Saturday morning in a 'library' (돈서실) and for a treat, go to academies in the afternoon!

The new Monday-Friday study week came into effect at the beginning of this academic year, in March, and resulted in the termination of state school Saturday study for all but high-school students. However, the changes seem to offer little real benefit to students as classroom contact time was increased and in some cases, vacation time reduced.

The reaction to the death of the elementary and middle school ‘nol-to,’ by my students was mixed and if anything, slightly more students seemed to prefer the old system where  daily study consisted of six lessons instead of seven. And to cloud the issue and perhaps weaken opposition, it seems that schools have some individual leeway in allotting the extra hours they must now incorporate into their timetable.

While ‘nol-to’ was universal for school students, I used to sense they were special days. The bathhouses for example, were always busy with children especially in mid morning and afternoons, in the streets and downtown there always seemed to be a buzz in the air and the batting cages and trampolines were occupied.

Was it the case that the ‘nol’to,’ because there were only two a month, were sacrosanct? Yes, some children studied on them but they generally seemed relaxed and were imbued with a sense of holiday. I very much suspect that now Saturday school has been banished, students will gradually be compelled to academies, study rooms, and tutors on every Saturday and worse, on Saturday mornings. Indeed, I already have students who now study in either ‘study rooms’ (공부방), or ‘reading rooms’ (독서실) from early Saturday morning until after lunch – on every Saturday.

academies, academies, everywhere - plus study rooms and 'libraries'

And so it would seem, that many students have been hit with a double whammy; not only have their weekly school hours been increased and in some cases holidays lost, but every Saturday is either at risk of becoming simply another day of study, or is so already!

Creative Commons License
©Bathhouse Ballads –  努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.
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