Is South Korea’s Hyper-Education System The Future?

Memo #2

Julian Dierkes

A recent workshop at the University of Waterloo concluded that hyper-education will spread globally in the future. Currently, South Korea’s education system seems to be the most extreme. It is increasingly structured around tutoring in “hagwon” (supplemental education institutions). Korea has taken on even more extreme forms of examination “hell” than Japan.

In Korea, there are reports of students sleeping less than 4 hours per night to prepare for entrance exams to special high schools. An education system embodied in high-stakes standardized exams resulted in this pressure-cooker environment. In a rigidly hierarchal higher education sector, knowledge is emphasized over understanding. The government’s ongoing efforts to combat supplementary education and its excesses are not effective.

The Japanese supplementary education system originated in the early 1970s during the “juku-boom” (when many small supplementary education institutions, or ‘jukus’, were founded). In Japan, a hierarchal education system caused examination “hell” in the context of expanding household income and declining birth rates.

Japan now appears to be following in Korea’s footsteps. In Korea, ‘mom n’ pop’ “hagwon” have been replaced by corporate behemoths of 50,000 students or more. Similarly in Japan, this development began in the 1990s and continues as operators of small, independent “juku” retire without successors. In Japan’s future, declining birth rates may lead to a decline in competition for higher education. However, in the immediate coming years, there will be further economic concentration of businesses active in the supplementary education industry.

On the other hand, China presents the “perfect storm” of conditions for an education system even more extreme than Korea. Single children are far removed from their extended families and are raised by ambitious and increasingly affluent parents. It is becoming a capitalist pressure-cooker as competition for entry into an expanding higher education system increases.

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Links:

  • 2-day international workshop on the supplementary education sector (June 5-6, 2010) at the University of Waterloo

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