Showing posts with label education. Show all posts
Showing posts with label education. Show all posts

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Education Is King In South Korea

The education systems of East and West are like chalk and cheese. Mohammad Lone outlines the South Korean attitude to education.


Exams. The bane of the student, yet the very thing that actually makes us 'students'. Having five exams in the space of 7 days this month, I'm in a bit of a pickle with regards to preparation and revision. It's a hard act of committing enough time to study and succeed in the exam, while committing enough rest time to maintain your sanity. And in one of these rare periods of rest I had, I flicked on a documentary on iPlayer, called 'School Swap'- in which 3 Welsh teenagers were taken out of Pembrokeshire and plopped into the wealthy district of Gangnam (yes, that Gangnam) in Seoul, South Korea, where they were immersed into the life of a high performing Korean student the same age as them.

The fascinating thing that the documentary highlighted was the stark contrast between not just the education systems, but the entire cultures of South Korea and the UK (and, to an extent, the West as a whole).

Korean parents praying en masse for their children's grades
Education is king in South Korea. For parents, it is the highest priority for their child, to the extent that there are mass congregations of parents in temples, all praying for their childrens' grades, there are night schools that dominate many of the large streets in Seoul (called 'Hagwons'), and a Maths tutor can become a celebrity figure earning around $4m a year.

All this is in preparation for a single exam- the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT). This is the test that plays a deciding role in which university a student will attend, and it is believed by many to hold the key to a student's whole career. The day of the CSAT is almost like a national event- whole schools of younger students line the streets to cheer on those taking the exam, government employees are allowed to come to work an hour later so students aren't hampered by traffic congestion, even flights are rescheduled on that morning to minimise noise or disturbance to students. The CSAT is a massive deal in South Korea; after all, it is pretty much the focus of a student's life for 17 years or so.
Students gather to cheer on their seniors taking the CSAT

Clearly, South Korea is reaping its rewards from the high emphasis on education. In the 2015 PISA tests (from which a world academic is produced), South Korea came 7th in Maths, 10th in Science and 7th in Reading- as opposed to the UK, who came 27th, 14th and 22nd in those tests respectively. Such a gap in academic ability was demonstrated in the BBC documentary when a Welsh GCSE Maths paper was handed to a Korean class, who, with no previous experience of the format or style, devoured the paper like they had written the thing themselves.

And this contrast is not just exclusive to these two countries- it is just a single part of the massive gap between East Asian and Western education systems. The 'leader of the free world', the USA, performed even worse than the UK in PISA 2015, coming a pitiful 40th in Maths, 24th in Science and 24th in Reading. This does beg the question of how many of the world's most highly held universities (Harvard, Oxford and the like) are in these two countries that seem to have weaker education systems than in Asia. One could argue that the Western education systems, while not as rigorous in perhaps mathematics or sciences, provides strength in other areas such as humanities and arts- but this is all for another piece.

Samsung, the world's second largest tech company,
 is one of the major success stories of S. Korea's
explosive growth in recent decades.
Academic success has been a clear factor in the economic success of a lot of East Asia- South Korea is a great example of this. Exceptionally talented businessmen now head up Korean firms such as Samsung and Kia, both of which are proving to be ever more competitive global firms. Even on a more micro scale, the general work ethic and challenge that the Korean education system presents to its students to overcome has proven to contribute to Korea's stellar rise as a developed economy in recent decades. According to Sung Chulchung, a Professor at South Korea’s University of Science and Technology, “Without its well-educated, strongly motivated and highly disciplined workforce, South Korea wouldn’t have been able to achieve such success”. So South Korea is not just succeeding in the PISA scores- it is succeeding in creating a culture of discipline and strong work ethic in its people.

An example of how this resilience is built up is in the make up of the school day- as an example, in the documentary, the Korean students were usually up (and studying) from 7-11pm, or even until midnight. The Welsh students, meanwhile, who were sent to shadow their Korean counterparts for just 3 days, could barely handle the first. There is much to be said about how long hours can be detrimental for an individual, much of which is valid, but there are certain life skills such a schedule develops- basic things, like waking up early, using time efficiently, that teens in many other countries are notoriously poor at. In Korea, for example, many schools punish late comers by making them come in earlier the next day to clean corridors.

Teachers command much more respect in South Korea than in much of the West, which in turn leads to less time wasted in dishing out discipline and more time actually teaching.

Furthermore, another aspect of Asian cultures in general is that such skills and attitudes are actively encouraged by parents, who invest incredible amounts of time and effort into their children. In much of Asia, it is not uncommon at all to hear parents saving up extra money to be able to fund extra tuition or academic resources for their children. In the documentary, one of the Korean families had relocated to a new home to get their son into a better school. Despite the fact the new house was smaller, it was more expensive- because everyone wanted to get into that school's catchment. Now of course, such behaviours can be seen across the world- but arguably not as visibly as in Asia.

But this does come at a cost. As mentioned earlier, one could argue that the education system in S. Korea is too focused on fundamentals, which, while may be important, are considered by many not to be the entire point of going to school to get an education. Furthermore South Korean students ranked among the lowest in the world in terms of happiness, and, shockingly, suicide is actually the leading cause of death among Korean teenagers. This is not something to be taken lightly in the least. It raises a key question, that was raised by those 3 Welsh students who hopped over to Gangnam: the hagwons, the celebrity teachers, the CSAT and the stress and pressure that it brings to the Korean student- is it all worth it?

Is it possible at all to have a system that simultaneously instils that work ethic, that academic prowess, into a student, as well as the soft skills, without such a shocking impact?

That's what we will discuss in the next part of this series, as we introduce a certain Scandinavian country which is also known to have an excellent education system- but for totally different reasons... 

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Can Grammar Schools Work?

James Dancey looks into whether grammar schools can have a context in modern day education.



Grammar schools have been a left versus right issue for many years now. However, should it be?
With more than murmurs suggesting that Theresa May is going to be the first Prime Minister in decades to create new grammar schools, many of which were converted to comprehensives in the 1960s and 1970s. There’s been an array of reaction, much criticism coming from Labour benches and support coming from more grassroots Conservative members, but is this always the way?

Speaking to another friend who was fervently centre-left, he revealed that he was in fact pro-grammar schools, and that’s a stance I can understand greatly. It's one that is dismissed too much by the modern Labourites; there is indeed a strong argument for the implementation of grammar schools which the working class would listen to. One of the prominent arguments is that they have the capacity to undermine privilege, that idea to escape the poverty loop, this concept that children can gain a significant standard of education without having to pay fees.

Statistically, this is supported by correlative data that Oxbridge intake has decreased from state schools since the abolition of many grammar schools, studies also show that social mobility has decreased. However, it’s important to note that the data is correlative, and there are plenty of other issues driving the educational decline and social divide. However, it’d be hard to argue that grammar schools don’t enhance education for the poorest who attend there.

Which also underlines the greatest problem with grammar schools; it’s often not the poorest who attend. Recent statistics released suggested that the number of students entitled to free-school meals (a barometer of how many of the poorest are in attendance) is astronomically low, and actually that grammar schools provide more of a shelter for the middle class who don’t want to pay tuition fees to go to private schools.

My friend suggested that if we implemented more grammar schools and then made comprehensive schools focused on creative ventures the system would be more efficient. I agree, to an extent, you see he also believes in the abolition of private schools, and although I empathise with that temperament I think that you’d end up flooding the grammar system with the privileged. If you want to make the grammar schools more focused on helping children out of poverty then you’d have to provide just as good education to children from wealthier backgrounds, wealth discrimination works both ways. You can’t condemn a bright student to poor education because of his upper-class background. But then the issue there is that you'd be forcibly flooding the state system with private students, private students leaving less room for the less privileged. 

Comprehensive schools are an easy option, but they are not the best option. However, if introduced, grammar schools must be done right and I’m sceptical of whether May would do them right, there are so many confounding variables that would offset any differences to undermine the systematic inequality in this country as it is.

If you did assign roles to each school, grammars as academic and comprehensive as more innovative then you would be able to have a more focused dedicated curriculum to each of them and allow students to find a niche a lot easier, giving young people inspiration is the best way to combat this disillusion that many of them hold with the system, which is, by the way, treating them terribly.  
I completely understand why people on the left are generally opposed to grammar schools; they can be futile and discriminatory in the wrong hands. However, we can’t go on with secondary education in its current state. There are a great range of issues with grammar schools, but it doesn’t mean they can’t be done right, and the only way to make progress on a flailing education system is serious reform.

I’m still cynical of whether May’s supposed reintroduction of grammar schools will do any benefit to those who are poorer but maybe in the future we’ll have a Government who will know how to handle them and realise the linear academic system is a product of the past and constrained by tradition. Regardless of grammar schools, the current arrangement has to be changed.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Why You Should Be Studying Abroad

Britain’s education system isn’t improving any time soon; James Dancey explains why studying abroad is a much more preferable option.



Ridiculous tuition fees, unbelievably low contact hours, and a receding level of international achievement. British students have suffered over the last few years. Whoever is to blame is irrelevant, but grudgingly attending is no longer a reasonable option if they want to carry on down the lines of placing profit before education. Recent Governments have seen the University system as a money machine, made more for exploiting the students who attend there by emphasising a necessity of University education as a key to all paths of life, manipulating that Freshers excitement that most prospective students have and then slapping on a nice whopping 9,000 pound (soon to increase) price tag.

I’m a professional cynic, and add Universities to a list of things that I don’t really like, my view is that University doesn’t make you smart, it just makes you qualified. If it genuinely did make you smart, then the ‘Qualified’ people in the House of Parliament wouldn’t have screwed up this country so much. Yet, it’s something that I’m having to make do with, another 3 years down the pan to be taught something that I could learn on my own merit. Just for a piece of paper to let everyone know that I did it ‘Officially’. Woop.

I’ve been conned, but not as much as others.  Because at the end of my education, I’ll come out around £10,000 in debt. Which admittedly is an irritant, but a fifth of what many people will leave a British University with. It has been estimated that around half of the students will not ever be able to pay the money back, and many of the smartest people emigrate to countries like Australia to avoid paying them back altogether. I won’t be bugged by that burden, and it’s not because I’ve received a gratuitous grant or found a loophole. It’s simply because I’ve decided to accept an offer from an overseas University, that University being Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is ranked just outside the top 50 Universities in the world, higher than many of the Russell Group prestige, including Warwick, Durham, Bath, Exeter, Bristol and I could go on. Many of the courses provided at Amsterdam barely break 1,000 a year, the course I’m partaking in is marginally more expensive due to the nature of it but it’s still a gulfing class difference of expenditure.  Nearly all of the courses are taught in English, they’re all just as valuable as any British degree and it really does look impressive on your curriculum vitae.

Most people I tell I’m going abroad to study react more excitedly than I do, as if there is something particularly exotic, and I can respect that. Employers are looking for staff that can go the extra mile, so why not go the extra mile for University, for more than half the price. The cost-benefit analysis is heavily slanted in favour of studying abroad. So why don’t more people do it?

Well I believe it’s a lack of knowledge of how beneficial it really can be and how it can truly aid your future prospects, that’s why I’m writing this article, not just because the head editor will fire me otherwise, but because studying abroad is the smarter option, short-term and long-term.


The British University system is failing this generation of students. And in my opinion, the only way to make them take notice is to let your wallets do the talking. Call me a miserable sceptic but the only way they’ll ever start to change their ridiculous policy is when you stop them from making money off it. Money makes a Tory Government go round, and it’s time to stop the hamster wheel of greedy politicians’ continuous exploitation of students’ lack of political engagement. 

Friday, 25 March 2016

The State of Gaza #2: Welfare

Few peoples of the modern day have been subjected to the type of oppression faced by the Gazan community. In this second part of our series 'The State of Gaza', we reveal the welfare troubles faced by the local community.







"The goal of this operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages."

Yes, this really is really is a genuine quote- one made not by some lone political voice, but 
by the actual (now former) Interior Minister of Israel himself, Eli Yishai (pictured), in 2012. Yishai was talking about the Operation 'Pillar of Defence', a military operation that, contrary to its name, saw Israel going on the attack. These 8 days of Israeli air strikes killed 174 Palestinians and injured 'hundreds more', according to the UN. It sounds pretty bad, but in reality, this is barely the starter to the main course of violence- with many, many more brutal operations killing thousands more Palestinian civilians.

Israel's  (now former)
 Interior Minister Eli Yishai,
who has expressed his wish
to "send Gaza back to the
Middle Ages".
Eli Yishai, emphasised that it is imperative that Israel should "destroy and damage infrastructure, public buildings and government buildings" (which would, and do, constitute international war crimes), in order to perform this wonderous act of time travel. 4 years on, it would be fair to say that he, and the Israeli government as a whole, has certainly kept to his promise. Accounts of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) bombing hospitals are far from rare. Operation Protective Edge in Summer 2014 didn't only kill 2,310 people, but it destroyed or damaged as many as 67 hospitals and health centres in Gaza, killed 32 medics and injured 102 more.

No wonder then, having to face such military action, that Gaza's healthcare system is not coping well. According to the World Bank, Europe has 5.4 beds per 1,000 people, and Israel has 3.3. Gaza has just 1.3, with 30 hospitals and clinics serving almost 2 million citizens.

One positive sign is that this January, the first new hospital in 10 years opened in Gaza, with two more expected to open by the end of the year. However, if the current situation is anything to go by, these will struggle like the current hospitals, primarily due to a desperate shortage of key medical resources caused by the lack of prosperity in Gaza. Following Operation Protective Edge, a World Health Organisation (WHO) report claimed that "nearly 50% of Gaza's medical equipment is outdated, and the average wait for spare parts is about 6 months"- something attributable not just to the blockade of goods entering Gaza, but the shortage of financial resources and wealth largely caused by it.

IDF operations have also severely disrupted emergency health services in Gaza. Between October and December 2015, the WHO reported that 146 paramedic personnel were injured by Israeli strikes, which also damaged 91 ambulances and 'significantly delayed' 91 others in emergency situations.

Such poor accessibility to healthcare matters when you have a people in such a bad condition as the Gazans. A UNWRA report estimated that Operation Protective Edge alone destroyed over 100,000 Palestinian homes, affecting 600,000 civilians- a third or so of the entire Gazan population. The result of the decades of Israeli bombing has been mass homelessness, and the blockade has prevented civilians from gaining access to basic building materials they need to rebuild their homes and lives.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have lost their homes
to IDF air strikes- but few have the access to resources
required to rebuild them.

As well as housing and shelter, food is a key matter. The conflict and lack of a fluid economy (which we'll discuss in #3) in Gaza has pushed people deeper into poverty, which according to the WHO has resulted in 57% of the population being exposed to food insecurity. Consequently, a massive dependency has grown of the Gazan people on foreign aid, particularly food aid.

There is a very dark side to the food situation in Gaza, as revealed in 2012 when Israel was forced to release secret documents that showed the government was rationing food to Palestinians, tactically at a level calculated to be just above starvation between 2007 and 2010. Israel argues that it was attempting to pressurise the elected Hamas government of Gaza, but many condemned this as an unnecessary form of collective punishment.

Let alone housing or food, even water in Gaza is at a severe premium*. UN estimates suggest that over 90% of the water in Gaza is not fit for human consumption, and the only freshwater source of water available to the region is downstream from Israel- who many believe have used this as a tactic of war. The lack of clean water has not only taken away from many the basic nutritional value of the liquid, but it has lowered drastically the hygiene and sanitation conditions, causing stomach infections and other illnesses to locals of all ages.

The UN estimates that by 2020, virtually no clean water will be
available to civilians of Gaza.
The welfare of the Gazan people is a crucial issue that is unacceptable in the modern day. We hear almost nothing about it in the media, unless there is a military operation being carried out- and even then, we hear very few details. To have a state where the majority of citizens are food insecure, where so many lack even basic access to clean water, where most of the medical equipment is outdated, is unacceptable- particularly when there is a state government behind all of these crises. Unlike many other impoverished regions in the world, Palestine and Gaza have the potential to thrive- they are simply being deprived of the tools they need to do so.

And no, this is not something whose main consequences are in the long run, affecting only distant future generations. The crisis is now; the Israeli government really is achieving its goal of sending Gaza "back to the Middle Ages". Action needs to be taken now to end the blockade, to allow the Gazans to rebuild, recover and redevelop their lives.

Perhaps the most disturbing comment in any report on the Gaza crisis comes from a 2012 UNWRA report, which concluded that without any urgent action, by 2020 "there will be virtually no reliable access to sources of safe drinking water, standards of healthcare and education will have continued to decline... to ensure that Gaza in 2020 will be a 'liveable place', on-going herculean efforts... need to be accelerated and intensified in the face of all difficulties."

Join us for next week's final instalment of The State of Gaza series when we analyse the Gazan economy. 

This RT report provides an interesting on the ground insight into the water issues being faced by Gazan civilians.

"We do injustice to Gaza if we glorify it, because being enchanted by it will take us to the edge of waiting and Gaza does not come to us. 
Gaza does not liberate us.
Gaza has no horses, airplanes, magic wands, or offices in capital cities... 
Gaza liberates itself from our attributes and liberates our language from its Gazas at the same time.
When we meet it - in a dream- perhaps it won't recognise us, because Gaza was born out of fire, while we were born out of waiting and crying over abandoned homes."
Mahmoud Darwish, extract from 'Silence for Gaza'.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Failures of The American Education System - The American Inequality Series #5

In this final instalment of the American Inequality Series, we analyse how responsible the USA's education system is for the nation's growing economic inequality.



The quality and level of education is seen worldwide to be a strong determinant of an individual's future socioeconomic status. 
fig.1
Take a look at this graphic (fig.1) from the US Bureau of Labour- a clear positive correlation exists between level of education and earnings, and a clear negative with the level of education and unemployment rate. 

According to the Institute of Education Studies, the median earnings for young adults with a bachelor’s degree was $46,900- the equivalent for high school dropouts was less than half, at $22,900. It’s been getting worse for high schoolers: those who have only graduated from high school have seen their real incomes decline by over a quarter in the last 25 years.

So a correlation can be observed, but is there a causality between the two? The general consensus among academic seems to answer yes- in a well-known study by David Card, of UC Berkeley confirms the causality, concluding that “individual returns to education are declining with the level of education”. Education was proven to be a major factor in unemployment during the recent recession- nearly 4 out of 5 jobs lost during the economic crash belonged to workers with a high school diploma or less. Furthermore, 63% of US jobs now require a postsecondary degree- up from 28% in the 1970s. So education, now more than ever, seems to provide a safety net from both unemployment and low earnings.
Sometimes even a bachelor’s degree is not enough: according to Elena Bajic, CEO of online executive job recruitment site IvyExec, “when an employment recruiter looks at an Ivy League degree, they will look at it more carefully”.

Nevertheless, clearly advanced education of some level plays a role in one’s future economic prosperity. The ‘American Dream’ dictates a desire for opportunity for all to become prosperous- so if education is a key (though not the only) to the door from poverty into prosperity, do all Americans have this opportunity?

fig.2
The greatest barrier for many Americans to college education (in particular elite the Ivy League elite) is financial. The Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA observed choices made by students with regards to college- in particular those who had been offered a place at their first choice. HERI noted that only 56.9% of students enrolled in their first choice college in 2013- and compiled the most significant factors for why so many students didn’t enrol in their first choice, even if they got an offer. Fig.2 shows the 4 most notable reasons- all of them centering around college fees highlights how much finances matter to students wishing to go to college.

Public colleges hold relatively little clout over the education ‘market’ of the USA. Only 5 of the top 20 universities in America are public (state-funded)- a damning statistic, though it must be considered that there are almost three times as many private 4 year institutions as there are public equivalents.

But there is still an increasing pressure among the young people of America to go to top universities- and the majority of these are private colleges, whose national average total fees (for a typical four year study) in 2013-14 were $40,917, $9,000 more than the public equivalents

Two conclusions can be drawn from this data:
1) The poorest of society are struggling to afford a college education, and therefore are more rarely enrolling. 
2) Those who are only able to afford a public college education remain at a disadvantage when it comes to post-graduate employment.

fig.3
Colleges have attempted to lower economic barriers of entry via financial aid; for example, 70% of students at Harvard University receive such aid from the college. 

However, the effect of this has been minimised by rapidly rising college tuition fees- fig.3 shows how in the past decade, fees have inflated at a rate disproportionate to most other goods and services- and at a strongly contrasting level to real household income, which has in fact fallen in previous years (fig.4)
fig.4

This has led to a widening gap between education opportunities for the poor and wealthy. The wealthy are mostly in the best position to provide their children with good quality education, which in turn benefits their future income, so they can educate their children well, and so on.

Socio-economic mobility is not dead- successful ‘rags to riches’ stories are not unheard of- however for many lower class people the environment and opportunity is not present to help them succeed academically- and the state of the US jobs market means they often remain poor for their whole life as a result.