Saturday, April 26, 2008

Harder than hard core

It is 10:30 p.m. and students at the elite Daewon prep school here are cramming in a study hall that ends a 15-hour school day. A window is propped open so the evening chill can keep them awake. One teenager studies standing upright at his desk to keep from dozing. ...

This spring, as in previous years, all but a few of the 133 graduates from Daewon Foreign Language High School who applied to selective American universities won admission. ...

Daewon has one major Korean rival, the Minjok Leadership Academy, three hours’ drive east of Seoul, which also has a spectacular record of admission to Ivy League colleges. ...

Both schools appear to be rethinking their grueling regimen, at least a bit. Minjok, a boarding school, has turned off dormitory surveillance cameras previously used to ensure that students do not doze in late-night study sessions. ...

Both schools suppress teenage romance as a waste of time.

“What are you doing holding hands?” a Daewon administrator scolded one adolescent couple recently, according to his aides. “You should be studying!”

Students do not seem to complain. Park Yeshong, one of Kim Hyun-kyung’s classmates, said attractions tended to fade as students gritted their way through hundreds of hours of close-quarters study. “We know each other too well to fall in love,” Ms. Park said. Many American educators would kill to have such disciplined pupils. ...

Some 103,000 Korean students study at American schools of all levels, more than from any other country, according to American government statistics. In higher education, only India and China, with populations more than 20 times as large, send more students than South Korea.

“Preparing to get to the best American universities has become something of a national obsession in Korea,” said Alexander Vershbow, the American ambassador to South Korea. ...

The schedule at the Minjok academy, on a rural campus of tile-roofed buildings in forested hills, appears even more daunting. Students rise at 6 for martial arts, and thereafter, wearing full-sleeved, gray-and-black robes, plunge into a day of relentless study that ends just before midnight, when they may sleep.

But most keep cramming until 2 a.m., when dorm lights are switched off, said Gang Min-ho, a senior. Even then some students turn on lanterns and keep going, Mr. Gang said. “Basically we lead very tired lives,” he said. ...

A banner once hung on a Minjok building. “This school is a paradise for those who want to study and a hell for those who do not,” it read. But it was taken down after faculty members deemed it too harsh, said Son Eun-ju, director of counseling.
--Sam Dillon, NYT, on Korean academic obsessions gone amok

1 comment:

Ray C. said...

Totally. Not. Worth. It.