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!

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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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Because a Thrashing Always Improves Grades…

Posted in Education, Teaching by 노강호 on July 7, 2011

Jack’s thrashed palm

One of my students didn’t do well in his Korean language exams and so his teacher, a woman, gave him five thrashes across his palm with a large stick. Jack is a friendly student with a mild manner and despite not being the quickest academically, he always tries hard. I’m not against the stick but I am against using it either excessively or for punishing students because they didn’t perform well.

bruises can clearly be seen at the base of his thumb and left-center palm

I suppose he was quite proud of his bruises and told me that though he didn’t cry, it hurt so much afterwards he had to go to the nurse’s office for some ice. I am aware how situations and events can be wrongly reported by students but part of me wants to confront teachers who so viciously beat kids simply because they did not do well in an exam. Meanwhile, plenty of other punishments exist for ‘naughty’ students.

Students in my school being punished for lack of homework

First and second year high school students being punished en-masse. I would imagine this punishment particularly painful

A high school student waiting to be beaten. I’ve seen teachers in this school use golf clubs for this purpose

Two of the most common forms of punishment

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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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Paper Flowers

Posted in Korean children, Photo diary, Uncategorized by 노강호 on May 20, 2011

A few weeks ago, one of my younger students presented me with some flowers he’d made. The leaves were scented so it acts as an air freshener.

cute

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Mid Term Treat

Posted in Education by 노강호 on May 14, 2011

end of mid-term treat

Occasionally, my boss, Cherie, gives me her credit card and I’ll take some students for a coffee or ddeokpoki (spicy rice cake stew). Most Korean kids love this snack. However, the cash is flowing and the destination of their choice is usually Mr Big where they can eat fusion food, burgers or pasta. When some older students finished their mid-terms, cash card in hand we headed off to Mr Big.

Korean kids are excellent at both knowing how to behave in a restaurant and how to socialise with adults in their company. Many kids in UK would probably develop these social skills if ‘eating out,’ especially with a knife and fork, weren’t so expensive and more of a social custom.

 

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Books are Bad for Your Back

Posted in Comparative, Education, Technology by 노강호 on May 8, 2011

one of my student’s bags

Student’s bags stuffed full of books seem to  be a concern globally. Of course, it seems only to be books that are bad as often the heaviest and bulkiest bags are ones crammed full of sporting equipment. In the UK, I live near a sports college , a euphemism I’ll refrain from exploring, and kids carry bags stuffed with football, cricket and sporting equipment. And what about kids who deliver newspapers?

Of course, the solution is simple, more online resources (which are not just credible but free) and reading materials produced in CD form. Unfortunately, in the dumbed down world, we’ve had to wait for several generations of software toys to be produced for the worlds cretons while the e-book and palm readers and a myriad of other intellectual potentials dawdle in the backwater. I still can’t effectively read a musical score in anything but book form and haven’t been that impressed with palm readers (though I haven’t tried a Kindle). You can realistically bludgeon someone to death in Grand Theft Auto yet the technology for reading a book is in its infancy.

This year, in an effort to reduce the strain on Korean students backs, many reading resources are being produced in CD format.

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Baseball, Boners and Mid Term Exams

Posted in Bathhouse, Diary notes by 노강호 on April 23, 2011

a little like this but with ten raucous kids and a television

Even though I’ve been in the busiest bathhouses, this weekend really wasn’t enjoyable. For many students, the midterm exams are over but for others another week of cramming into the early hours of the morning can be expected. Migwang wasn’t the busiest I’ve known it but it was certainly the nosiest. Samsung Lions, the Daegu  home team were playing one of the first games of the season and a small crowd of men and boys sat in pool nearest the large television. Naturally, there was an air of excited anticipation frequently vented by loud cheers or despondent sighs and as usual, it was friendly and relaxed rather as one might expect with English cricket or tennis and nothing like the revolting displays of tribal machoism associated with British football.

but what I really needed was this…

My favourite pool is probably the cold pool (냉탕), even in winter and unless it’s the peak of summer, it’s usually the quietest; today however, it was packed, ‘packed’ meaning about 12 occupants. Unfortunately, they were mostly older students intent on messing about. With my elbows resting on the pool ledge, I was constantly splashed and on two occasions had to ask boys to move away. And for the first time ever, the choppiness of the water annoyed me as there was a wave that regularly lifted my knees off the pool floor. Then there was the noise! Yes, I tried to console myself that they had probably finished exams and were letting off steam but it I really wanted to relax.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen boners in the bathhouse but today three boys had them and what was funny was they didn’t even try to hide them. If I got one I’d have to hide myself in the water, preferably cold, until safe to come out but they weren’t the least embarrassed.

My relaxation was interrupted on numerous occasions first by a teenage boy who was sat with his father and wanted to talk.  I tried to chat to his dad but he wasn’t in the least interested. Then a boy of nine introduced himself to me and shook my hand. His name was Pete and his dialogue consisted of; ‘Hello, my name is Pete, Nice to meet you. How is your family?’ After this he started firing random words, ‘notebook,’  ‘desk,’ etc. Eventually, he got bored and disappeared but not before four other boys, all aged around 13, began asking where I was from and if I liked Manchester United. Then I had to arm wrestle each of them in turn during which they scrutinised the hair on my arms. One actually started tweaking some hairs on my back.  And of course, as this is happening all the occupants of the pools around me are staring though it is not in the least unfriendly. I was subsequently rescued by a friend whose wife owns a coffee shop.  Whilst we were talking I noticed another foreigner and we acknowledged each other. He sat the pool opposite me but left very quickly. Usually the bathhouse numbers dwindle after 6 pm but today it simply got busier and even by 9 pm it was still crowded.

 

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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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