Elwood 5566

Diary: Jack, 12

Posted in Images of Innocence, Korean children, Teaching by 노강호 on April 16, 2012

Every now and then I’m handed a piece of writing from a student that encapsulates not just the uniqueness of the Korean way of life but captures some universal element associated with childhood.

박민수 영어일기. Sunday I went to the Homeplus (Tesco) with my family. First I cut my hair. Next I bought bananas, Nintendo battery, soccer ball and we bought many things.

My hair is very bad because I say: ‘don’t cut short!’ cut small! But hair dresser make mistake he cut very many hair. Now I am ashamed and very very ugly. I want to wear cap and return time.

Jack (2010)

박믄수 영어일가. I was told off by my mom because I was late my academy because I playing soccer. I be beaten with broom. I cry because my mom is very stronger looks like bear. Maybe I had many bruis on my bum. It was my mistake. Sometime all people make mistake. So broom is unfair. Fortunately, today is very many academy so I not get beaten.

Jack (2012)

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Images of Innocence (6) Annie

Posted in Comparative, Education, Images of Innocence, vodcast by 노강호 on June 30, 2011

Annie, one of my students, is about to go to high school. She often finishes her evening studies at a study room (돗서실), at 1 or 2 am after which she walks home. Feeling unsafe, she has recently bought a whistle. I wouldn’t want to underplay the fears of Korean kids walking home late at night but the streets are far safer than in even the smallest UK towns. I wouldn’t let an unaccompanied girl, or boy,  into town on any evening of the week back in the UK and only an idiot parent would allow someone her age to be in town past 10 pm. You can read about my experiences of British streets in Scumland UK. Needless to say, even I feel unsafe on a British street at anything past 7 pm after which they rapidly degenerate.

It’s difficult explaining to those who have never experienced Korean life, how crucial and central education is in the Korean mindset. Streets are buzzing with students going from one place of study to another on everyday of the week, from the early hours until past midnight. Several years ago, the government made it illegal for private academies to teach students past 10 pm but it has changed little. Many schools still seem to operate and parents can always employ a tutor who can visit the home or have the student come to them. Wherever you are in Korea, ‘education’ in one form or another, is always apparent.

A Korean study room

A multitude of schools exists teaching every subject: maths, social studies, English,  Chinese, hanja, art; there are schools of music, taekwondo, kendo, hapkido, ballroom dancing, ballet; study rooms and places that offer student support. And all the time brightly coloured mini buses are ferrying kids between their homes and schools. Yes, there are flaws with the Korean system; kids sleep at their desk, they often look drained, they suffer stress and constantly face a barrage of exams by which they are ranked. There are many things I would change about the Korean system but, for all its flaws it is more effective than British education where around 50% of students don’t even achieve 5 A-C grades in core subjects. And I would argue that while British education largely provides kids a holiday in comparison with their Korean peers, it is British teachers who are stressed and abused. Korean teachers have their problems, but having to constantly battle bad students and worse, anti-intellectual attitudes, which are ingrained in British society, isn’t one of them.

Unlike Britain and the USA, there is a consensus in Korea about the importance of education and whether you are the lowest paid worker or a company CEO, the goals and expectations for your children, in terms of learning, are the same; good grades and entry to a good university. I have one friend in the UK who came from one of the worst housing estates in the country. When he gained a place at university in the 1970’s, his family disowned him. Education in the UK, and attitudes towards it are still influenced and articulated by class.

Yes, I know all about the flaws of Korean education, but I’ve also taught main stream in the UK for over ten years and it was a hideous experience. Every class in the UK is polluted by a couple of scum students, bred and conditioned by scum parents and their effect on the learning process has been catastrophic. (see, Scenes From the Battleground) Unless you are lucky enough to be in a top set or selective school, most British classrooms and schools have geared themselves to accommodate the scum and it is the decent kids, the majority, who suffer. Anyway, was I ranting???

Over to Annie…

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Images of Innocence (5) – James

Posted in Images of Innocence, video clips by 노강호 on June 19, 2011

James, is eight years old and my youngest student. He sleeps in a tent in his bedroom with three teddy bears, one named Aloo. Here’s his story.

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Images of Innocence (4) – Sam

Posted in Images of Innocence, video clips by 노강호 on January 31, 2011

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Images of Innocence (3) – Knives

Posted in Comparative, Education, Images of Innocence, Korean children by 노강호 on January 9, 2011

sole purpose – sharpening pencils and cutting paper

As I write, highly civilised human beings are stabbing each other. In the UK  stabbings are a regular occurrence and in 2010 19 youths were stabbed to death in London alone (Guardian UK). In 2007, 322 fatal stabbings (Guardian UK) were recorded marking the highest number of knife related deaths since records began in 1977. As the focus of media attention and political concern, definitions change and competing theories are forwarded, some related to the weather, others to disadvantage.  Anti-stabbing kitchen knives are now available as are stab proof school uniforms made from kevlar and one of my local schools has installed metal detectors through which students have to pass on their way into school.

Stanley blades - every student has one

an assortment of blades

While Britain is plagued with knife related crimes, one currently being covered by the media as I write, Korean kids of all ages carry the equivalent of a stanley knife in their pencil cases and do so not to protect themselves, look cool, or as part of gang defense plans, but simply to sharpen pencils and cut paper.

as harmless as its owner

and then there are the scissors...

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Images of Innocence (2) – Jack

Posted in Education, Images of Innocence, Korean children, video clips by 노강호 on December 26, 2010

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Images of Innocence (1)

Posted in Comparative, Education, Images of Innocence, Korean children, video clips by 노강호 on December 13, 2010

the hanja character for ‘purity’ (순수한)

In the prestigious boys high school in which I taught for a year, on sports day a class of first year students wore T-shirts on which was emblazoned the hanja character for ‘purity’ (순수한). Capturing the innocence of Korea students in writing is not only difficult, but contended; there will be many Koreans and westerns alike who see their proclaimed ‘purity and innocence’ as over rated or mistaken. But in Korea, I have never taught scum students, students who are vile human beings and whom if had to label, I would classify as violent, anti-intellectual, promiscuous, untrustworthy, grossly disrespectful, and foul-mouthed. Often they had parents who were equally as bad and in most of the UK schools in which I have taught have encountered boys and girls who basically epitomise what it is to be anti-social.

‘Pure’ – not a fashionable concept among British teenagers

Among most teenagers in Britain, ‘innocence and purity,’ which as usual we immediately associate with sexual conduct, but which I think Koreans would understand in a much broader context, is not something to be aspired to; indeed, I would suggest it is something to be shunned. I would absolutely agree that not all Korean students are angels and that there will exist some who could be classified ‘scum’ and I also agree that most British students are decent. I am suggesting, however,  that standards and expectations in Korea are higher than in the UK and that associated values are currently much more effective in providing social cohesion, especially across generations. It is the values of Korean society that put the nation in the top echelons in terms of educational achievement, despite the systems pressures and flaws, and those values which produce a society with one of the world’s lowest rates of teenage pregnant, sexual activity and infection by sexually transmitted diseases.

Yes! Bad things happen in Korea and under the surface there is more nastiness than is immediately apparent. But unlike Britain, I have never seen a Korean girl of 13 giving a boy oral sex in the bike sheds and I have never taught or seen girls of 14, 15 or 16 who are pregnant.   Instead of leaping to the defence of the moral and personal degeneracy of the west, which festers like an  open wound and is visible at every level, instead of raising reminders that Korea too has a bad side, which I do not doubt, we need to acknowledge that in some spheres, Korean society is  very successful and perhaps worthy of emulation.

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