Sunday, July 19, 2015

Striking a Balance: South Korea and Education

Max Malcomb
Striking a Balance: South Korea and Education
Synthesis Project for
ED 507 Children Around the World
July 2015


I chose to more deeply explore South Korean early childhood education because of the nation’s high rankings in student performance compared to other nations. I am particularly interested in discovering what it is about their education system, their culture, their values, that helps their students yield such high academic success. Korea has a public education system that accepts students as early as the time right after birth and the majority of those students are going to higher education institutes. I hope to find out what is influencing Koreans to institute and participate in such an education system, starting with Korean preschools and kindergartens.


In the 1950’s, Korea was one of the most impoverished regions. The effects Japanese colonialism and the Korean War left the country poverty stricken and looking for a handle on their economy. Koreans worked through this and created a major shift for themselves through the next few decades. Now, South Korea has seen major industrial advancements and they have made major moves to modernize their country. Now Korea has one of the top 20 economies, and they have become an information technology powerhouse on a global scale. Koreans point to their education system as their number one reason for their success.

Korea has one of the largest education budgets in the world and they do this because they believe that investing in education is investing in a strong labor force. Where some countries build universities that exclusively serve the elite, Korea focuses on primary and secondary education because the general public is the work force that turned their economy around. This comes from their deeply rooted Confucian beliefs that education is the path to success and bettering one’s self. Korean leaders intentionally made strategic economic decisions to put education first and they stuck with it. Today Korea is a major global economic player.

All this positive gain doesn’t come without some side effects. Korean secondary and higher education institutions are highly competitive. Students spend most of their time studying in preparation for high stakes tests that could mean their acceptance into a good college. This pressure to perform comes from the institutions and their parents. This makes for some unhappy school settings that cause low self image and antisocial behavior in students. Extra schooling is common, but private tutoring is a financial burden for parents, but it is necessary to give their children a better chance to get into university. A broader issue that comes from this is an oversupply of academic degrees that means too many highly qualified workers, effectively lowering the value of a degree. As a result, unemployment is up in Korean youth.

But the pendulum swings back and the government, schools, and teachers have began to adjust. There is a shift to move to better practices, reduce class sizes, and focus on the individual student. They have increased teacher pay to ensure quality in their programs. They put more funding towards rural areas and provide after school support for the disadvantaged. There are also new programs for lifelong learner and there is a push to admit more foreign students. On a national level, the government is decentralizing by delegating responsibilities to local governments and institutions. Korea have been able to obtain high quality education and high equity where most other countries have one or the other.

Information retrieved from video:


Students are starting in preschool at an earlier age and they are staying in school longer hours during the day. This is due to parents work schedules and the parents choice to enroll their students in extra private academic enrichment programs. This stems from the societal pressures that have developed with highly competitive secondary schools. Parents want their students to get a head start. However, this becomes a financial burden for parents and it puts extra stress on the children.

The main challenge that I want to highlight with this research is Korea’s struggle to balance academic and intellectual discipline with healthy social and emotional development. The social construct is the main influence on the education system and the students. A dichotomy has developed in that private preschool programs are providing the academics that the public schools lack, but the public schools are focused on the child and play based learning.

Integration of these two ideas is the step for public preschools. So they extended their hours till 10pm and provide more academic material for their students while maintaining a mainly play based, child centered instruction style.

The problems that come out of this is paying for teachers to stay those long hours. The parents expectations are still very high. Preschools try educate parents by explaining their practices and inviting them into observe their children in class. Preschools also try to individualize instruction more, so that if a parent wants extra instruction for their child, the school can do it on an individual basis rather than trying to accelerate the whole class. The government has tried to standardize these practices and unify all their educational institutions.

Information retrieved from videos:


In conclusion, Korea’s rapid ascension and strong economic grip come from their core beliefs on education. Education is held in high regard and this is pretty uniformly agreed upon as one of the most important things to be successful. I think it also comes from decades of adjusting and shifting to meet the challenges and issues that are inherent in such extreme educational practices. Korean’s hard work shows and they continue to adapt and shift when necessary. I think this blend of strong core values and ability to adapt is key to Korea’s success.



Elicker, J., McCullin, M., & Wang, J. (2005). Comparing beliefs about appropriate practice among
   early childhood education and care professionals from the U.S., China, Taiwan, Korea and
   Turkey. In EARLY CHILDHOOD RESEARCH QUARTERLY (Vol. 20). Bloomington, IN:
   Indiana State School of Education.

Republic of Korea Programs. (2006). Geneva: UNESCO International Bureau of Education

South Korea Overview. (n.d.). In South Korea. Washington DC: Center for International
   Education Benchmarking. Retrieved from:

Taguma, M., Litjens, E., & Kim, J. (2012). Korea. In Republic of Korea Programmes. (2006).
  Geneva: UNESCO International Bureau of Education (IBE). OECD Publications.


Friday, January 31, 2014

Scratching at some comic book ideas

Here are some ideas I have been sketching on. The Infinity Legends is a graphic novel that my friend Dillon and I am developing over the phone and internet because he is in San Diago right now. Bear Armed Baby is one of his ideas too. I threw in a couple of story boards and studies that I liked too. I have a couple of other ideas that have been eating at me too. The Daily Werner Dog has set up camp on the back burner catching all my misplaced ideas. If I had any super power, it would be to be in more place than once so I could work on all this crap.

Sketch Book Attack 2013!