Homework hikes standards

6th March 1998 at 00:00
SOUTH KOREA. When l5-year-old Yi Kyung Cho returns home from school, he eats and relaxes for two hours - before settling down to another five hours of school-work.

For three of the five hours, he receives help from private tutors while his other two "study hours" are devoted to homework from his daytime teachers. The private tutors provide specialist help with maths and science, which he wants to study at university. These are also the two subjects with the greatest status in the country's technology-based society.

Maths and science are also, of course, the subjects at which South Korean pupils excel in successive rounds of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study.

After-school education enables Yi Kyung Cho and his peers to do well in the annual round of so-called "Examination Hells" determining admission to university. With almost all South Korean teenagers staying at school until the age of 18, and with around two-thirds of all 18-year-olds attending university or college, the competition for places at top universities is severe.

A survey by an education magazine found that South Korean students spent 15 per cent more time on homework and private tuition than their workaholic counterparts in Japan.

In addition, many South Korean parents attend courses to learn how to help with schoolwork. Parental keenness to assist with education has helped to make the educational resource and service industry into a billion-pound annual business.

"Most high school students are taught in large classes of between 35 and 50 pupils where individual help is minimal," said Chang Kyuha, a secondary school teacher from Seoul. "After-school tuition is a time for individual help from private tutors."

With most high-school students now receiving extra tuition, educational expenses now consume as much as a quarter of the income of the average family.

While schools in the West are looking at ways of increasing pupils' workload, teachers and politicians in South Korea are more concerned about the detrimental effect of excessive academic pressures on young peoples' mental and physical health.

"Young people are spending too much time with school work and not enough time learning how to relax and socialise," said Mr Chang.

A panel of leading educators has recommended ways of reducing exam pressures and the role of private tuition. The panel has also called for more diversity in education, with less reliance on rote learning and memory work.

But the economic collapse is forcing students to work harder than ever to win the university places which offer the best route to high-status employment.

Even cuts in family incomes are not expected to lessen demand for private tuition. "Most families won't threaten their children's future by cutting back on education expenses," said Mr Chang "Many parents would starve first."

John Greenlees

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