Friday, March 18, 2011

Education News

1) This week's education news roundup opens with the headliner, "More 'fat schools' north of Han River", detailing the increase in overweight and obesity among Korea's youth. Welcome to the First World, Taehan Minguk!

According to data obtained by a member of the National Assembly’s Education, Science and Technology Committee and reported in the Joongang Daily, 64 of 1,276 Seoul schools were "fat", meaning 20 percent or more of the schools' students were overweight by BMI measurement.

The article tried to make sense of the data by purely geographic means: north of the river, "nine out of the top 10 schools with the lowest obesity rates were found in Songpa," eight "fat schools" in Gangseo (my district, but certainly not my school), etc. Random pins in a map, really. I suspect a more meaningful breakdown might be accomplished by a socioeconomic rubric...

Education, Science and Technology Committee member Rep. Park Young-ah commented: "There is a need for schools and also the government to provide measures for physical education, health programs and education on right eating habits."

No one mentioned the report I blogged about last year that 60 percent of Seoul high schools plan to cut P.E. classes for 3rd graders.

2) Students cry foul over soaring fees
According to a governmental report, Korea’s college fees ranked second-highest among OECD members following the U.S. in 2007 when it marked $8,519 a year for private schools.
In a separate report by the National Assembly, the annual university fee reached 7.5 million won in 2010 for private schools and 5 million won for public schools. The amount exceeds 10 million won for medical schools. Adding costs for class materials and lodgings, the money easily surpasses 10 million. The sum amounts to about 23 percent of the average Korean’s income of 32 million won.
Debate and discussion of soaring higher education costs promise to monopolize the policy chat forums for some time to come, since the problem seems as intractable as it is in the US. University costs are rising faster than private sector incomes. For instance, the article says that 189 private universities had 7,353 buildings in their campus in 2008 ― up 279 from the previous year ― suggesting that 1.5 buildings per school have been built within a year.

Detractors suggest that new buildings are just another way for universities to increase slush funds, pointing out that:
As of 2009, Ewha Womans University, Yonsei University and Hongik University have been piling up 738 billion won, 511 billion won and 485 billion won, respectively. Korea University, which has recently announced a 5.1 percent tuition hike, has also set 230 billion won aside. The amount of reserves for these prestigious schools has risen by double digits over the past three years, despite their complaints.
Interesting stat:
[U]niversities have been stingy about investing to enhance students’ and professors’ capacity and aptitude. The KHERI found the private universities spent only 0.9 percent of their budgets on books for their libraries. The portion has risen only 0.04 percent over 10 years. On average, the number of books per student is 58.5, a far cry from Stanford’s 703 and MIT’s 259 in the United States.
Well, okay, but I wonder what that ratio is at, say, University of West Georgia. Ah, 47.

During the 2008 election cycle, the Lee Myung-bak campaign promoted a "half-tuition" policy, whereby the government would fund half of a student's tuition costs. However, it seems to have gone nowhere, and is currently "at the forefront" of the main opposition Democratic Party's platform for next year's elections.

3) Story K Research Center of Youth Intellectuals Forum (whatever the hell that may be) has released a report touted in yesterday's Dong-A Ilbo about pro-North Korea bias in Korean history textbooks. Before venturing any further, it must be said that the DongA is the "rightest" of Korea's right wing dominated media. And they are very poor about labeling opinion pieces as such. For instance:
On North Korean leader Kim Jong Il handing over power to his youngest son Jong Un, five of the six textbooks surveyed used the term "inheritance" or "formation of inheritance structure" instead of "succession." In a father-to-son power succession, something which is hard to find in a civilized society, use of the term "inheritance" to describe the event is inaccurate.
Possibly there's a translation issue, but I don't see the huge difference, since succession means "the right of a person or line" to take over. That North Korea has reverted to a feudal power structure seems obvious, and both terms seem to me adequate for relaying the fact.
The five textbooks also turned a blind eye to the human rights of North Koreans, who are suffering under dictatorship and suppression. One of the textbooks that mentions human rights also blurs the subject by saying, "An issue more important than human rights, including political prisoner camps in North Korea, is the defection of North Koreans who are suffering from hunger."
Well, if the textbook mentions human rights, it clearly didn't turn a blind eye, though it may have given them short shrift. I don't know, I would need to read the text. However, it could be argued that the starvation deaths of 3 million people is more important than maybe 200,000 people in political or re-education prison camps, at least from a purely humanitarian perspective. No one is arguing that things north of the 38th are going well.

The article is correct that it is wrong to say NK is "suspected" of developing nuclear weapons, when it has detonated two such bombs; however, it's rather simplistic to deny the role of antagonistic foreign powers in spurring the regime on. While the Clinton administration had effectively reined in Pyongyang's nuke program, the swaggering, tough-(non)talking Bush approach clearly raised tensions and whipped up Kim's paranoia. Rightist oversimplifications of history are no less dangerous than simpering lefties'.
The new textbooks have been published after undergoing a string of obstacles and struggle, including legal battles, amid social consensus that left-leaning history textbooks should be corrected following the inauguration of the Lee Myung-bak administration. Nevertheless, textbooks meant to view the North as an "immanent being" and to overlook objectivity and historical facts have not been corrected. This is believed to be closely related to the structural problem of South Korea’s history sector. Amid an overly nationalistic perspective over history, the environment of a certain school of South Korea’s history community that accepts and justifies everything on North Korean history is apparently worsening this problem.
The Korean culture wars, like those of America, are so often fought in the classroom. To quote T. Jefferson: "Educate and inform the whole mass of the people...they are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty."


Chris said...

I just finished a book detailing the legal and public "battle" over who was the inventor(s) of the first digital computer. Here is an event which happened in modern history, is extremely well documented, was studied ad-nauseum in a lengthy legal trial, and people STILL can't agree on the truth. It makes me wonder about the veracity of stories further removed in time and/or place.

When I started typing this comment, I thought I had something to say relevant to your post, now I can't remmber. I will stop rambling now, and go internet shopping for memory enhancing vitamins (if I can remember to do it).

조안나 said...

It's no wonder they're having obesity problems. What do these kids do all day? Sit in their desks and study for 10+ hours a day! In high school they're not playing sports and exercising like a lot of american kids (but I bet americans are still more overweight oveall), they just study and probably eat snacks all day because they don't have time to sit down for proper meals between attending hagwons and all the after school study that is required by high school. When my elementary kids come in to school between 4-7pm, what do they bring with them? cookies, candies, ddeokbokki, soda, sugar water etc. I don't see many kids bringing in healthy snacks and they're clearly not eating meals at healthy times.

George Bailey Sees The World! said...

Good reminder to do more activities that get my kids out of their desks.