Education for Our Children
From Joong Ang
Aug 15, 2003

By Jong Ho Lee

A, in his 30s, has been in the United States for 2 years. His family—a wife and two children in 2nd and 4th grades—entered the country with a travelers’ visa and decided to stay. He managed to buy a house, using a friend’s name. Limited by his uncertain status, he paid a large amount of money for a sponsor and applied for residency. Even though A had been a designer at a famous advertising company back in Korea, the job market in the United States did not welcome him.

B, in his late 40s, was able to immigrate to the United States on his wife’s working visa. Though driven by the promise of a better education for his 3 children, B's new life is still unstable. The job his wife had been offered through a Korean private educational institution turned out to be unavailable, and B could not legally pursue a job. On top of that, he decided to reside in a neighborhood where prestigious schools are located and not many Koreans live - for their children’s English - so it is not easy to run errands and live.

C came with two teen-aged children, and left her husband in Korea. With her traveler’s visa, she managed to rent a place in a decent neighborhood and get her children to attend public school. But she always feels uncomfortable because of her family separation and sorry for her husband who sends living expenses every month. Because of her status, she cannot even get a driver’s license.

In the Korean community, education-driven immigrants are not negligible. All of them are having a tough time, but trying to bear it for their children. At this point, it is necessary to reconsider whether the education in Korea is really disastrous enough for many people to leave the country, and also whether the U.S. education is worth bringing children here at the expense of inconvenience and suffering.

I am not in a position to judge the educational problem, because I myself left Korea and am not an expert on education. However, it is clear that the Korean educational system went untreated in the face of harsh competition for college entrance and the immense cost for private institutions and lessons. For this reason, American education can be a relatively attractive choice for parents.

The problem is that just coming to the United States does not offer a solution. Living in the United States is not easy for parents—aside from just their childrens' education, they have a lot of concerns about living in the United States. Also, even though the American system and educational environment is great, as long as parents apply their attitude to the new system, the problem still remains.

Here, the competition for college admission is not less than in Korea and extra cost for education can reach up to several tens of thousands of dollars. Many children get private tutoring in English and Math, piano, violin or cello lessons. They put in a lot of effort to excel in football, baseball, swimming, etc. To gain admission into prestigious schools, parents have heard, one has to excel not only at academics, but at everything.

However, not many parents can afford all these expenses. If one cannot afford this, the feeling of helplessness and inferiority is worse than that in Korea. Furthermore, while parents believe firmly in their children’s preference to American education, it is questionable that they do, considering the cultural and language barriers they have to suffer. Thus, the education that will benefit the children in the future is unknown.

Looking back at Korea until the 60s and 70s, children were educated just fine in a much worse educational environment. And those students were central contributors to raising living standards and establishing a new Korea. If we look at the result of education, environment is not the only consideration.

Once in the United States, it is wise to make the most of the American system and environment. An excessive fever for education is the last thing with which we approach education. Once moving here to avoid unnecessary competition and an inflexible school system based solely on grades, we shouldn’t make such an effort to make here like Korea. Ironically, many parents tend to blame the Korean system for excessive education fever and take that same attitude in the U.S. for granted.

Getting an education is a process of learning how to live together in a society. The environment has to be not zero-sum, but a win-win situation, which has been missing from education in Korea.

A best student and other “unimportant” students, priority on academic achievement based only on grades, parents forcing children to compete and be better than anyone else - these were attributed the failure of the Korean system. If we came here for better education, those attitudes should be avoided.

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Translated from Korean by Joo Yeon Lee

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