Thursday, July 10, 2008

Reaching for the SKY ... and beyond

Many sources--from the education ministry to the media--deplore the rigid orthodoxy of Korea's college boards, but none seem willing to do anything about it. Here is father Chung Il Wook, a 50 year old accountant, explaining his decision to send daughter Min Ju, 19, to a "cram school" to improve her scores, in an article at IHT:
Sending Min Ju here was not an ideal, but an inevitable choice. In our country, college entrance exams determine 70 to 80 percent of a person's future. It's a sad reality. But you have to acknowledge it; otherwise you hurt your children's future.

How so? The top tier of most any business is occupied by folks who attended Korea's top tier universities, a trio called SKY, for Seoul National, Korea University, and Yonsei. While the media seems to be in agreement with the unfairness of it all--and the toll it takes on the nation's young--they still laboriously report what college was attended by anyone in the news, new CEO, incoming minister, outgoing minister, whatever.

The NYT examined an emerging trend a few months ago, of Korean students aiming for top American schools, like Princeton, Yale and Stanford--Harvard has 37 Korean undergrads, according to the article, more than any country besides Canada and the UK. Most of these are graduates of a handful of expensive private schools (the article examines two of them) who undertake a regimen similar to the cram school students. They are highly motivated:
[Kim Soo-yeon’s] highest aspiration was to attend a top Korean university, until she read a book by a Korean student at Harvard about American universities. Immediately she put up a sign in her bedroom: “I’m going to an Ivy League!” [She was accepted by Princeton in March.]

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