Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Afternoon rush hour

My co-teacher was a little slow returning some workbooks this afternoon as the last bell sounded. The result was a bit like withholding lattes from a dozen high-strung commuters who were already running late. "I'm late!" screamed one tiny mass of navy blue uniform and permed hair. "Piano! My piano! I'm late!" screamed another. "I have to go to another school! I'm late!" came still other voices.

A straw poll of those who somehow got left behind, and those who were trying to leave in spite of my questions, revealed that pretty much all of the eleven students in what's already an after-school English class go to private lessons for a variety of topics. I heard swimming, taekwondo and math on this particular afternoon. I'd like to hate it, but I've given this system of soul-grinding over-education my implicit consent just by being here.

About two percent of the Korean economy consists of private after-school lessons (compared with four percent for prostitution, but that's another story). The sixteen-hour days and six-day weeks that high school students put in probably suck, but the same hyper-competition keeps me employed and housed.

Another informal poll revealed that about a third of these grade 1 students (grade 2 in Canada) spend their lunch hour (actually it's 40 minutes) in the library reading, so I shudder to think of what my grade 5 students do in their lunch break. Actually, I found out today that they're preparing for some sort of super-important jump rope competition on their lunch break, both boys and girls.

The results of the private school grinder are guaranteed to be impressive if nothing else. I have students that speak a remarkably different and difficult foreign language with near-fluency at a young age, but I also have students that complain that they're too busy to do my homework or to wait another second for me to give them their workbooks. That also explains why a third of all high school students sleep in class. I'm inclined to believe that students could achieve almost exactly what they achieve (if not more) by spending more time, say, sleeping, but overall the system works as well as any other.


Seadog said...

And soon the little kiddies will be successful businessmen. From http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7114661.stm, the fine art of inemuri, or napping during meetings:

"It's called inemuri, which literally means 'to be asleep while present.'

"The custom is partly a result of how commitment to a job is judged in Japan, says Dr Brigitte Steger. Inemuri is viewed as exhaustion from working hard and sacrificing sleep at night. Many people fake it to look committed to their job."

Alex said...

Thank you for arming me with a fantatsic excuse for when I fall asleep in this morning's staff meeting. I'm committed to my job!