School Life in South Korea and Finland

South Korea and Finland – what a stark contrast in school life.

Student life in South Korea: cram school till midnight, four hours of sleep are the norm, school attendance in high school till 10pm, high cost of cram school education, study for exams only, pressure to get into a top-notch university, etc.

Finnish students have a 20-work school week. This allows them to spend this extra time outside of school to do practical things:  meeting friends, spending time with family, having time to earn some money on the side, reading for pleasure, etc.

Increase of A.P. Test Takers

Today’s article Expansion of A.P. Tests Also Brings More Failures, written by Tamar Lewin for the New York Times, points out, more high school students have enrolled in Advance Placement courses (A.P.) than ever before.

This does not come as a surprise. The article states various reasons for increased A.P. enrollment such as giving students a head start on college credit, and to help them impress college admissions offices. Reasons for the A.P. test taker increase also stems from high school expanding their A.P. curriculum to raise their reputation as well as, generally speaking, parents pushing more towards advanced education.

The Japanese have a term for mothers who drive their kids from one cram school to the next. They are called Education Mamas and I believe this trend is very slowly creeping into our western education. Many Asian parents rely on their first-born son to carry the responsibility to insure their retirement care.

In the 1980s of U.S.America, it was sufficient to have a Bachelor in Business Administration to secure a plush job on Wall Street. By the 1990s, it would take a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) to land a well paying position in the financial sector. To meet today’s job market’s requirements in 2010, one has to raise one’s education goal even a few more notches.

The market is getting more and more competitive. This is another trend similar to Asia, where e.g. Korea can boost its spending on education as the second highest gross national income (GNI).

So let’s look at our population then and today.

U.S.A.   250,132 million in 1990       310,233  million in 2010

Korea   42,869 million in 1990       48,636 million in 2010

Germany   79,380 million in 1990       82,283 million in 2010

Keep track of the U.S. and World Population

Current status 11 February 2011 at noon (WET)

U.S. 308,661,986
World 6,802,066,437

In Germany, for example, entering Gymnasium (college prep school) used to be reserved only for elite students (10% in our class) and we had to pass a difficult entrance examination at the young age of 10. These days, close to 60% enter the Gymnasium and flood the 5th grades. Beyond that, the students themselves will have to prove if that spot is rightfully theirs. The able ones stay and the not so able ones switch to Hauptschule or Realschule.

Back in the 1960s, a couple of friends of my older siblings were able to secure a banker’s job after graduating from 8th grade Hauptschule. At the sweet age of 14, they started their vocational training to become a banker.

Nowadays, it requires the Abitur (diploma from German secondary school qualifying for university admission or matriculation) with a 12-year education.

The world population has risen and so have the job market’s requirements and standards. More children enter the German Gymnasium, Asian moms drive their kids to even more cram school classes, and more American high school students cram for A.P. classes.

The educational sector promises a healthy future for us educators worldwide.