US President Barrack Obama says the American education system is lagging behind other nations. Obama recently pointed out that South Korean students spend much more time in the classroom than their American counterparts. But not everyone is so sure that the Korean model should be replicated.
South Korean school kids on an educational trip with their teacher
A recent speech by President Obama on America’s school systems has gotten a lot of attention in South Korea.
"Our children spend over a month less in school than children in South Korea - every year. That's no way to prepare them for a 21st century economy," Obama said.
Some South Korean media has portrayed President Obama’s statement as an endorsement of the Korean education system.
Most Korean students do take education very seriously and often spend the majority of their day in the classroom, sometimes all year long.
Etoos Academy model
Inside the library of the Etoos Academy, about an hour outside of Seoul, students sit silently in cubicles, engulfed by stacks of books. Etoos is a cram school. Students live here for 10 months and study everyday.
Eighteen-year old Gu Young Ju says her daily schedule doesn't leave much time for sleep.
Gu runs down her daily schedule, which begins at 6:30 in the morning and involves a mix of free study time and classes, with a few breaks to eat. She finally gets to bed around midnight.
There are some pretty strict rules at this cram school. Students will be expelled for talking on mobile phones or even listening to music.
Etoos's director, Lee Seung Ho says this has given the academy a boot camp-like image.
"Some people say this place is like Sparta, a jail or an army base," Lee says. "But we just create an atmosphere where students can focus on studying, and we are really quite liberal."
All of Etoss's 150 students did not score high enough on the national university entrance exam to enter their top choice college.
In South Korea, admission into a prestigious university is not only an accomplishment for the student, but also reflects on their family.
Lee says that's why Korean parents are willing to pay the 20,000 US dollars to enrol their children in his school.
But while Korean students are receiving a high quantity of education, according to reports, its quality is much lower.
International rankings of higher education by the World Economic Forum puts South Korea in 60th place.
Another survey conducted by the Swiss based International Institute of Management Development places South Korean education toward the bottom of the list in preparing graduates to work in a competitive economy.
Critics argue that problems with the education system here begin at the primary school level.
Tom Coyner, president of Soft Landing Consulting in Seoul, says tests that are heavily weighted on multiple choice, like the university entrance exam, have restricted Koreans' creativity and critical thinking skills
"There is this need to not waste time looking at other possible answers or issues, but to only focus on consistently choosing the one correct answer on the test and this mentality continues on into the university system."
Coyner adds that many Korean companies require university graduates to take more multiple answer exams when applying for positions.
This emphasis on standardized tests, in turn, has made Korea less competitive on the global stage.
Even though President Obama admires South Korea’s long school year, many Korean parents do not. Families spend thousands of dollars a year or even move overseas, so their children can receive what they believe is a better education abroad.