Wednesday, January 10, 2007

hagwons and school in general in Korea

Most of the English schools that foreigners teach at in Korea are actually hagwons (private academies). Many have an English kindergarten in the mornings and then have other students in the afternoons. It seems to be a rule that Korean kids have to spend their afternoons and evenings studying either at a hagwon or at home studying with a teacher/instructor.
All of my students go to at least one other hagwon, and most also have teachers or instructors going to their homes for other things. There are hagwons for almost anything here. The most common are the English hagwons, but you can find hagwons for everything from math, to piano, to Tae-Kwon-Do to ping pong/table tennis (yes, they even have hagwons for that). After the students finish their regular school, their entire evening is filled with hagwons and private lessons. I know that some hagwons are open quite late. Some English hagwons are open until after 10 pm. A math etc. hagwon across the street from where I used to live was open until 1 AM. I think it was mostly middle school students going there. They all then get up very early to be at school at around 7:30 or so. I cannot imagine.
One of my students is going to hagwons for English, Math and Baduk (Korean chess), and has an English teacher and a piano teacher going to her home to give lessons.
Another student, Lia, is my student at both the kindy (Korean kindy, not English hagwon kindy) and at LCC (English hagwon). She is 6 years old and carries 2 bags that combined weigh more than my university backpack weighed (I carried several text books with me). She has English books, piano books, and I'm not even sure what else, but she carries them all every day. She is such a sweet girl and one of the smartest in the class (and she is at least a year younger than the others in the class).
In addition to their school homework, many students also get homework from their hagwons. For the younger kids it isn't so bad, as they aren't loaded with homework yet, but every year, their load gets bigger. When they get to middle school is when the pressure really starts to build. Then they reach high school. I have been told by many Koreans that high school is harder than university. High school is where you have to have the top marks in order to get into the top universities. Which university you go to is VERY important. Those that graduated from the better universities are the ones that get the jobs. And, or some reason, a doctor graduating from a lower university is not as important (makes less? or ... or I'm not really sure exactly what it is) as a nurse graduating from one of the best universities (or so I've been told).
One student told me that some high schools have mandatory study hall after school, sometimes until quite late. Then they have to go to hagwons to study some more. High school is all study, sometimes eat and sometimes sleep.
Oh, and they also go to school on Saturdays (starting in elementary). I am starting to hear now that some schools only require them to go every other Saturday, and some don't have Saturday classes. I think they are starting to get out of the Saturday classes. I hope so.
I always make a point to tell my students that I've never gone to school on a Saturday in my life... and I didn't take any lessons after regular school. Usually I just went home and watched TV. I love seeing their eyes pop out and their jaws hit the floor. :P
Poor kids.

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