Japanese learn math in cram schools

Japanese teachers teach math for understanding, while U.S. teachers drill students on procedures, writes Elizabeth Green in “Why Do Americans Stink at Math?” in the New York Times Magazine.

Increasingly dissatisfied with their schools, Japanese parents are turning to “shadow education” known as juku in Japanese or “cram school” in English, responds Watanabe Manabu on the Juko blog.

Forty percent of elementary students and more than 70 percent of junior high students use jukus, reports the Japan Times in Cram schools cash in on failure of public schools.

Asian parents pay for ‘shadow’ education

“Shadow education” — not schools — is responsible for students acing international exams in Korea, Japan, China, Hong Kong and Singapore, writes Manabu Watanbe. Parents supplement their children’s schooling by paying for tutors, cram schools or distance learning, according to Watanbe.

Maybe it’s not the shadow schools either. It’s the parents who care so much about their children’s education.

South Korea: Kids, stop studying so hard!

South Korea is enforcing a cram-school curfew, writes Time’s Amanda Ripley, who embeds with government inspectors on a hagwon raid. Tutoring sessions are supposed to end by 10 pm.

South Korea’s hagwon crackdown is one part of a larger quest to tame the country’s culture of educational masochism. At the national and local levels, politicians are changing school testing and university admissions policies to reduce student stress and reward softer qualities like creativity.

In 2010, 74 percent of students received private after-school instruction at an average cost of $2,600 per year.  There are more tutors than teachers in South Korea.

South Korean students are the best in the world on international reading and math tests. (Mellow Finland does well too.)

But the country’s leaders worry that unless its rigid, hierarchical system starts to nurture more innovation, economic growth will stall – and fertility rates will continue to decline as families feel the pressure of paying for all that tutoring. “You Americans see a bright side of the Korean system,” Education Minister Lee Ju-ho tells me, “but Koreans are not happy with it.”

South Korean students are encouraged to stay up late studying and sleep in class, Ripley writes. “The typical academic schedule begins at 8 a.m. and ends sometime from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., depending on the ambition of the student.”

When I visited some schools, I saw classrooms in which a third of the students slept while the teacher continued lecturing, seemingly unfazed. Gift stores sell special pillows that slip over your forearm to make desktop napping more comfortable.

Success in South Korea requires winning a spot in a top university.  To reduce the incentives to cram, “500 admissions officers have been appointed to the country’s universities, to judge applicants not only on their test scores and grades but also other abilities,” Ripley writes.

Still hagwons are responding to the curfew by putting lessons online so students can study late at home. Other hagwons claim to be “self-study” libraries to evade the 10 pm curfew. Accompanying government inspectors, Ripley sees 40 teenagers sitting in carrels in “a warren of small study rooms with low ceilings and fluorescent lights.” The air is stale. “It is a disturbing scene, sort of like a sweatshop for children’s brains,” she writes.


Korea’s school secrets

Korean students ranked first in the world in reading, third in math and fifth in science on the PISA exams. In South Korea for five months on a fellowship, Washington Post reporter Michael Alison Chandler is blogging about the Korean education system on Confucian Times.

Anthony Jackson, vice president for education at the Asia Society, explained why he thought Korea and other East Asian countries scored so well. The top-scoring countries have some things in common:

*An emphasis on teacher quality – Hiring teachers from the top of their class, and training them well

*An emphasis on equity — Making sure that all schools have access to quality teachers

*Longer school days and/or longer school years — By the time they are ready for college some of these students have logged an extra year in the classroom (And were are talking about public schools, not private tutoring here.)

*Greater coordination of academic standards and higher standards for all students (In the US, it’s traditionally been every locality and state for himself).

In addition, as many as three-quarters of Korean students attend cram schools or tutoring, Chandler writes. korean culture makes success in school very, very important.

By the way, some commenters have suggested PISA tests the top students in foreign countries but tests a wide range of U.S. students. That’s not true. A lot of effort goes into testing a representative sample of students in each participating country.

Thanks to Alexander Russo for pointing out Chandler’s blog.