New Western Style Schools in South Korea: Competition for American & British Boarding Schools?

Western Style Education in South KoreaIf you’ve been sending your children abroad because a particular educational system teaches and instills traits you seek, why not create that kind of education home?  With its educational, cultural, and economic, dimensions, South Korea is addressing precisely this question.

This kind of question can keep a political economist and cultural anthropologist busy for years. It’s a great melding of cultural and economic priorities and interests.

Over the past 20 years, Korean students (paying) have become staples in American and British boarding schools and universities. Korean families sought, creativity, openness, and English proficiency that would gain their children a leg up in a competitive world. South Korea’s ability to deliver is a high stakes games for the American schools and universities that host more than 113,000 South Korean students annually as paying customers.

However, as with any structural change, education abroad came a downside as covered in The New York Times (Western Schools Sprout in South Korea). Families fractured and students, sometimes accompanied by mothers, spend the academic year abroad disconnected from family. Some students choose to stay abroad upon completing their studies producing a ‘brain drain.’ In some cases, students returning to live and work at home find returning to its language and customs difficult.

“…Lee Kyung-min, 42, a pharmacist in Seoul whose 12-year-old daughter, Jeong Min-joo, attended a private school in Canada for a year and a half, said she knew why families were willing to make sacrifices to send their children away.

‘In South Korea, it’s all rote learning for college entrance exams,’ Ms. Lee said. “A student’s worth is determined solely by what grades she gets.’ She added that competition among parents forced their children to sign up for extracurricular cram sessions that left them with little free time to develop their creativity. ‘Children wither in our education system,’ she said.

So Min-joo’s parents believed that exposing her to a Western school system was worth the $5,000 they paid each month for her tuition and board, 10 times what they would have spent had she studied at home.

But Ms. Lee said her heart sank when Min-joo began forgetting her Korean grammar and stopped calling home. Still, she did not want to leave her husband behind to join her daughter, because she had witnessed in her own neighborhood how often the loneliness of “goose” fathers led to broken marriages.

‘Our family was losing its bonds, becoming just a shell,’ she said.”

Enter the idea of providing an American/Western style education inside South Korea.

“…By 2015, if all goes according to plan, 12 prestigious Western schools will have opened branch campuses in a government-financed, 940-acre Jeju Global Education City, a self-contained community within Seogwipo, where everyone — students, teachers, administrators, doctors, store clerks — will speak only English. The first school, North London Collegiate, broke ground for its campus this month…”

“…By inviting leading Western schools, the government is hoping to address one of the notorious stress points in South Korean society. Many parents want to send children abroad so they can learn English and avoid the crushing pressure and narrow focus of the Korean educational system…”

Chris DeMarino, business development director at Dulwich College Management International told The New York Times, “‘When we explain to Korean parents what we try to do in the classroom, we see their eyes light up.’”

Competing Realities

Certainly, I see the advantages in providing a western type education within the bounds of your own country.

Economics, number one. If you can provide an equivalent education at home for less money and available to all qualified students, that’s a great benefit. Cheaper, and just as good, always wins.

Families stay intact. That’s good on so many levels explanation would take more space than I have room.

Educational- movement from rote to thinking and creativity keeps a culture and economy continually renewing.

In a 2008 survey by South Korea’s National Statistical Office, 48.3 percent of South Korean parents said they wanted to send their children abroad to “develop global perspectives,” avoid the rigid domestic school system or learn English. More than 12 percent wanted it for their children as early as elementary school.”

But, where the priorities lie is unclear. Western education at home is cheaper. But can a government, really and truly, import the educational pedagogies, cultural teaching and values, and deliver them to a population without that population becoming at least somewhat western? What happens to the ideas that challenge cultural mores,values, and beliefs?

Bringing education to the homeland is almost a form of nativism. “We can do what happens abroad here and preserve/leave unchallenged our way of life.”

Koreans desire English proficiency and the creativity that comes with an American education while wanting to keep students connected to the home land. It’s like saying, ‘we want and value western education but we don’t want it challenging or modernizing too many of our cultural traditions.’

Something’s gotta give.

  • dr.mrs.m.jakhar

    hello i am a physician in chandigarh (india) i will like to know if indians may also send their children to you 

Brian Fisher

A product of both private and public education, Brian Fisher served as a teacher, coach, dorm parent, and administrator at three different boarding schools. Brian also fills the role of Director of Development at Wolfeboro, The Summer Boarding School, in NH along with being a partner at AdmissionsQuest.

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