Parents join protest;Briefing

26th June 1998 at 01:00
South Korea

Many politicians, business leaders and parents believe that major reform of the education system is the answer to South Korea's economic woes, according to a series of surveys.

"The extent of the country's economic difficulties has highlighted the inadequacies of South Korean education," says business leader Lee Chung Hwan. "There is a clear need for a completely new type of schooling which is capable of producing the original thinkers, entrepreneurs and self-starters the country requires."

The principal criticisms of the present education system is that it lacks diversity and there is still too much dependence on rote learning and other traditional methods.

A growing number of parents are backing change because the system puts too much pressure on young people. "The intense competition for places at top high schools and universities is denying young people their childhoods," says Suh Kwang Park, a parent of two high school pupils.

Many young people are also becoming disillusioned and are arguing via student associations that they are not being properly prepared for work in an advanced industrial society.

Yet the collapse of the South Korean economy, and the rise in unemployment, has intensified the competition to pass exams and win places at top schools. These pressures have been blamed for the high incidence of stress-related illnesses and psychological disorders among teenagers.

The ministry of education has ordered changes to the high school curriculum including more time for information technology and "hands-on" practical science lessons. It is also encouraging teachers to adopt new teaching styles including more group work and less whole-class teaching.

Strategies for easing the pressure of "Exam Hells" include reducing the reliance on written entrance exams for university and giving more credence to high-school records of achievements as well as involvement in extra-curricular activities.

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