"In South Korea teachers are known as "nation builders." Here in America, it's time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect. We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones. And over the next ten years, with so many Baby Boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math." -
US President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address today
I am unfamiliar with the Korean root of this phrase "nation builders". Any insights?
I agree. There was a speech by Bill Gates about the same topic.
Also, I came across a recent article relating to English teachers in Seoul..
The statement is true in a sense because Koreans are crazy about education in general, and they must have a certain level of English scores on the TOEIC Exam to get a job in the top Korean Companies, but the problem with that statement is that the Korean educational system is full of corruption at the administrative levels. I have been told that this is the Korean way..accept it! For the foreign teacher their is no legal protection against fraudulent Employers. Sure the Government has rules and regulations in place to govern, but it is generally accepted for administrators to steal money... using many loopholes. I'm afraid I must agree with the comments posted by Laura Tosh, because I have experienced this abuse first hand. I love teaching my Korean University Students, but I cannot not continue to teach for a mafia style , Bully run University system that rewards those who bow to the system and discredits those who stand up and question the "powers that be." It has NOTHING to do with the TEACHER or TEACHING, this is a political statement.
Last Year the President of my Korean University along with 4 other administrative executives were forced to resign after they were caught stealing Government funds that were suppose to go to student scholarships...I personally taught three semesters without pay in a government sponsored city wide project to train volunteers while other University professors I know were paid by their Universities for teaching those classes. I was lied to over and over and then harshly mistreated, because, I inquired about this money. Legally, I was supposed to be paid. I was simply told that they gave the money back to the city. Yeah Right!!! Somebody had a nice vacation as the expense of 3 foreign professors.
Many of my students comments about the former President..."he was just an unlucky guy who got caught....everybody takes the money in Korea." This is not about just educational systems in Korea... according to Koreans this behavior is not acceptable, but the way of life here.
So if this is the kind of "nation builders" system Obama is talking about.....God Help America....Time to Wake Up... I constantly heard even from Korean Teachers that they spend more time doing paper work and reports than they spend teaching.
...you've nailed the reason I don't teach univerity here anymore ...am open to it, but have yet to interview a place that DOESN'T adhere to the system you described above, Meshelle.
Ok, I'm going to touch on several points made in this discussion and give my 2 cents on each of them, so please bear with me:
Maybe President Obama was using the term loosely, meaning that while teachers in Korea may not be literally called "nation builders," they're still regarded as people who contribute a lot to Korea's past, present, and future progress? Or if not, well, I wouldn't be surprised if President Obama was fed that information by a member of President Lee's administration, or even by President Lee himself. After all, President Lee has shown himself to be very concerned about how Korea is viewed by outsiders and declared "upgrading Korea's image" as one of his foremost priorities when he became the ROK president (of course, he created that whole nation-branding campaign too).
I've always thought that teachers and professors in Korea have been generally regarded with much respect in Korean society. Corporal punishment used to be quite common in Korean schools--kids could get paddled by the teacher for not doing their homework, or slapped on the back of their heads for falling asleep or not paying attention in class. Sitting on your knees while holding up a chair over your head for hours was also very common. Male students who did something really bad might even get their butts literally beaten with a baseball bat. Teachers were viewed as being like a third parent to the kids--parents who disciplined the students in the classroom when their actual parents were busy at work or whatever. And parents would actually thank the teachers for physically punishing their kids b/c they thought that instilled more discipline in them. But much of that has changed in recent years, and you even have parents who get really angry at the slightest sign of corporal punishment in the classroom and threaten to sue the teacher who's responsible. You have kids chewing gum during classes and putting their feet up on their desks--all this would've been unthinkable years ago. Some Koreans (esp. older Koreans) find these changes to be rather appalling and blame it on the influx of American culture. But I think overall teachers still get quite a lot of respect from students and parents, esp. compared to teachers in the US.
Many Koreans still think that putting more hours into studying naturally means you'll learn more, and they often emphasize quantity over quality (it's about studying longer, not necessarily studying smarter). And that same thinking is shared by many Korean parents who are living in the US. When I was attending high school here in the States, my parents always rebuked me for not studying "until my nose bled." Apparently, even though I was doing well in all of my classes, I wasn't studying hard enough if my nose didn't bleed (it never bled--but I blame it on good nutrition and lots of sleep ;) ).
There's even a saying in Korea that "if you sleep 4 hours a night, you'll get into a good college, but if you sleep 5, you won't." And many people (students and parents alike) still seem to believe that, unfortunately. But many Korean parents also realize their kids are suffering under the harsh Korean educational system, yet they're unsure what to do about it b/c they don't want their kids to get left behind either when everyone else's kids are attending hagwons and have private tutors helping them. So it's a constant dilemma for them. Some of them choose to send their kids abroad for primary and secondary education for that reason--b/c they don't want their kids to face that kind of pressure.
The sad thing is, even though almost everyone in Korea realizes the dangers and downsides of the crazy hagwon culture, many still feed into it for their own selfish, greedy interests. Running a hagwon in Korea is one of the best and easiest ways to make lots of money, and many Koreans and Korean Americans I know have established or are about to establish hagwons there for that reason, even though they fully realize they may end up doing more harm than good (but then again, the demand is always there, so why refuse the money when these parents are willing to shell it out? And isn't it partly the parents' fault for creating such high demand in the first place?). Of course, I'm not saying that all hagwon founders are like that, but unfortunately, most of them are.
When I was in Korea back in 2007, corruption was pretty rampant in the educational system. I'm not sure if some of it has been cleaned up since then (I hope it has). Historically, Korean parents gave teachers small gifts to encourage them to pay attention to their child, but when I was in Korea, that practice had gotten to the point where many teachers actually came to expect such gifts (I even had a Korean kid tell me once that one of her teachers refused to accept a gift from one of her students b/c it wasn't cash--which is what all of the other students gave her--so she asked him to come back the next day and give her some cash instead!). All this said though, there's a lot of corruption going on in American schools too, so we shouldn't think that corruption doesn't exist in the American educational system (I suspect it's a lot more than we may think, but unlike Korea, we don't have a ridiculously powerful and relentless prosecution system that pounces on every chance to expose a corruption scandal). For instance, in recent years some Atlanta area public school teachers and administrators were caught fudging their students' test scores--it was a huge scandal here b/c apparently a lot of education officials were involved and had tried to cover it up. And every year tons of under-qualified students get admitted to top US universities b/c their rich parents made donations to the school--it's something you always hear about from other students but never gets reported in the press. That's a form of corruption too, no?
Regina - Thanks for the insights, which are clearly based on first-hand experience. I think you've shared a balanced perspective and that Korean education deserves a more nuanced understanding than the caricatures we get from comments like Obama's "nation builders" or from expats in Korea who think the system is rotten beyond repair.
And then, there is the other side of the coin. Teachers and parents who are so stupid that they end up killing their students:
And then, the other problem of learning. The other problem of learning is to be able to see the details from the forest. Or, put another way, using your learning to analyse the system so as to ponder on it so as to improve upon it:
They invite us here and then complain like hell...
Personally, I see how Korea has many good things going for it but... it isn't a transferable model...
maybe 'nation building' echoed the recent firing of all Foreign teachers in public schools
Here's a link to the news report: http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2011/12/117_100415.html
My wife had heard a rumor that all foreign teachers in Korea were being fired; when she told me that, I didn't believe it. Come to find it out it's only that they aren't rehiring the foreign teachers at the high schools in Seoul. Thanks for setting the record straight for me, Vince.