By Sarah Wright
Extra Education in South Korea
An October 2011 article in The Wall Street Journal highlights a trend in South Korean education that's raising concerns over excessive studying and inequality. As the paper notes, South Korea's a nation that places a high value on social equality but is also structured hierarchically. This creates something of a conflict that's visible in criticisms of 'hagwons,' or after-school education centers.
These centers offer students the opportunity to supplement their education, which can give those with the means to attend an advantage over others who can't afford the schooling. Tuition at hagwons can cost as much as $1,000 a month, making it prohibitively expensive for some South Koreans. This creates a disparity wherein the most financially privileged families have the ability to set their children on a better path to success than those who can't afford supplemental education. And while this may sound like a far-away concern, the controversy in South Korea has some parallels here in the U.S.
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Though supplemental education exists in the U.S., it's difficult to pin down whether most people think it's a good or bad idea. Questions of financial inequality are dealt with in a variety of ways in the U.S., as evidenced by the 'Occupy Wall Street' protests of late 2011, which have drawn mixed reactions. Though social mobility is theoretically important in this country, it seems that U.S. citizens have different ideas of what that might mean.
There's a fairly well-known example of criticism for educational inequality in the U.S. - SAT education. Studies have shown that students from economically well-off families tend to perform the best on the SAT, and the conclusion is that these students are the ones able to take advantage of tutoring for the test. SAT test prep can be quite expensive, preventing many from enjoying the resource.
Is More Better?
All questions of inequality aside, it's possible that expensive supplemental education is wasteful. There's only so much knowledge one can hold on to, and while extra help can make difficult concepts easier to grasp, ultimately no amount of money is likely to change intellectual potential. Devoting time to studying and going above and beyond on schoolwork is a good idea - but that's different from spending time and money paying an instructor to help you reach the next level.
If you're already doing all you can on your own, and you're still not doing well, it seems reasonable at that point to get a tutor or some kind of supplemental instruction. But if you're working as hard as you can and you're excelling, it seems like adding additional education on top of that would be unnecessarily stressful, even if the cost isn't that big of a deal. Hard work deserves the reward of relaxation.
If you have to spend your after-school hours working, it may seem unfair that other kids can pay to get academic benefits. But a listing part-time job on your college application won't hurt your admission chances.