Korean education problem as seen by English native speakers in Korea

Yesterday, during the class, I found I was and has been a quiet person during the discussion. I am think about me after the class, and I found several reasons. For instance, I am not confident of my English speaking skill, I am not familiar with a discussion class and so on. Among these reasons, the major reason is from a different class style between Korean class and US class. In Korea, every class is a lecture class during my K-12 school. I never have a discussion class during that period. Even if students cannot ask any questions to teacher during the class hour because teachers do not want to any questions and other students blame on a student who asks a question during the class hour. Additionally, students have to always respect teachers and students cannot make teachers get into a mess in front of any students with their questions. Of course, teachers cannot always answer correctly for a question, but it is not allowed in Korea. This mood changes me to a passive person during the class hour. One English native speaker also felt this kind of situation from a Korean classroom. Please, see the attached post.


‘Korean education fails to foster critical thinking’

By  Jan 08, 2010 5:13AM UTC

That’s the title to this Hankyoreh article, which was published back in December, and spent too long buried in my bookmarks.

There has been controversy in our country over the picture drawn of an organization of native speakers teaching English. They are subject to criticism mainly for degrading Korea, doing drugs, forging diplomas, and chasing money. This reflects the negative attitude we have towards native speakers who come to Korea to teach English.

What do they think of Korea, Koreans, and Korean schools? We met wih 15 native speaker of English teachers from elementary, middle, and high schools in Korea.

Asked the weak point of Korean education, all of them replied, “students have no way to develop their own abilities.” A high school teacher from Canada said, “because they are not taught to think critically the students seem to wind up not knowing what their own strong and weak points are… Korean education focusses on preparing students for exams, so I think it has much effect on improving teenagers’ behavior.”

On the subject of Korean students’ English schoolwork, one teacher said, “the way I see it, Korean students have no self-confidence to think that they can be better at English… When you study English, of course you are going to make mistakes, but Korean students are afraid of mistakes and take a passive approach to speaking English. It hurts them.”

Asked whether their lessons help Korean students to develop their English abilities just five teachers said yes. “At first the students avoided me, but eventually they would try to come up and say something to me and were clearly working hard, and it seemed to be working,” one said. But the other ten were unhappy, saying things such as, “teaching with large class sizes of 40 students or more, you can’t really make a difference.” Another criticized the uncooperative attitude of co-teachers: “When  get almost no feedback from the head teacher about whether my lessons were good or bad, how am I supposed to know how to help the students?”

“Korean people seem to be taught how to deal with foreigners and foreign cultures,” some said. “There are people who decide they can’t speak English at all, so they don’t try to communicate… How can I deal with someone like that as a co-workers? It makes me feel like not learning Korean.”


  1. G

    Wow! Thanks for writing this post! It is a gripping read!
    It brings out wonderful issues of diversity in cultural norms and the difference that teacher’s perspective can bring in the class. (I am so glad that you wrote this.) I have been in a classroom (back in India) just liked the one you described and I still suffer the fear of asking a question, specially what if it is a bad question or puts teacher in awkward situation.
    The fact that this blogpost is here, to me signifies that things will change. Future educators (GEDIs) will foster a learning environment and not a mere lecturing one. I can totally envisage our education systems (specially in developing countries like India) waking up to the more ‘organic’ way of learning and interacting in class-rooms.

  2. lesliegm

    This reminds me of the experience I had when I was “TA”ing a graduate engineering course at Ga Tech. I had a very diverse class with students from China, India, Japan, Korea, and Latin America. Most of the class was doing well, but the students I had from both Japan and Korea were struggling and never asked questions during class. I knew they were smart, they both had industry experience, and had no problems with quantitative work, but they still falling behind on papers, projects, and presentations. I had just lived in Seoul for 18 months prior to coming to Ga Tech, so I actually understood the cultural differences that prevented them from asking questions and engaging in conversation during class. I met with them separately, outside of class, and we discussed issues and concerns in private and found ways to get them to engage in class step by step so they were more comfortable. The experience taught me to look for these kinds of cultural and social differences and to find ways to address them that work for the student (and for colleagues and employees). I found that silence sometimes masks the most important comments in the room – so it’s worth taking the risk and speaking up. It’s also worth looking for people who may feel this way and helping them to find a voice in the classroom.

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