Thursday, September 08, 2005

Normal School Days; the Hagwon as a babysitting service

Thursday, it's a normal day. I'm currently on a break between teachings (25 minute break this time), and I usually try to lap up plenty of sitting time during those breaks; when I teach, I'm usually on my feet, very active, engaged with the kids, and relentlessly assessing their learning.

Ah, such is the life of an American go-getter English teacher; or better served, a Hagwon babysitter. Here's why.

As far as kids go, I've noticed a few differences between Korean children and those of American children. Sure, I work at a Hagwon--these childrens' parents are paying our school for us teachers to help them improve their English; to improve beyond their normal mandatory school learnings. So many of these kids visit more Hagwons besides JungChul during their normal academic day, which for me, creates a problem on the learning spectrum. You see, some days, these kids are full of energy and excited to learn; on other days, they're no less than drained of energy and could care less how to pronounce THis verses THink.

Not all of these kids are alike, either. There lies a big difference between elementary school kids, middle schoolers and near-high schoolers here. Every year, it appears mandatory school gets progressively harder, and more and more kids are attending subject-specific Hagwons to improve this or that. I've heard that by the time a Korean student reaches highschool, they're gone from 6 or 7 in the morning to near 10 or 11 or later at night. I cannot imagine having this type of schedule back in highschool.

So i've often wondered about this--whether such drastic measures in teaching children is healthy for them. What I've learned about this, however, is that many Korean parents are having to work these days. Like in the states, I find it rare to find a family whose mother is a stay at home mom; in order to get ahead, to save money, to provide for the family--both parents are obliged to work, both in Korean AND the American cases. So when the kids get home from school, and the parents are at work, where are these kids supposed to go? If they stay home, they're not looked after; they're alone, so they don't interact with other school kids. In the states, the solution is an after-school program, a daycare or babysitter, or, simply staying home alone. Here in Korea, there's another solution.

And thus, Hagwons were created: I call it, Korean Babysitting Service-Centers, which has saved many of today's Korean adolescents from turning to mischievious behavior because there was nothing else to do to release their bordom.

I wonder whether the term Hagwon is indeed a disguise for a babysitting service; if so, the result produces pretty smart kids, that's for sure! Anyway, we can see just like in the states, where pre-school, after-school programs and sport activities are a-plenty, Daegu is laiden with Hagwons to look after Korean kids. I say this, because simply, as a foreign teacher along with the other 3 Korean teachers in my school, we spend alot of time---sometimes needlessly and endlessly, babysitting and controlling these kids from getting TOO out of control.

In another perspective, perhaps Hagwons are the answer to why there's such a low-crime rate in South Korea (I am speaking in particular of Daegu, South Korea's 3rd largest city, and because this is my immediate vicinity. I'm not quite sure though about Seoul--the largest city--nor of Busan--the 2nd largest city). It's hard to imagine anykind of crime happening here, especially when I walk along the streets, and see expressionless faces passing me; to me, these people often ressemble walking zombies! (The younger generations I've noticed, are full of light, laughter, and plenty of expression: they joke and giggle; what do you expect, they're kids!Unless of course, you're in the classroom and your Korean teacher is lecturing to you--then you'd be just as expressionless! Hmmph.)

Back to Hagwons: In the same respect, these Korean Babysitting Service-Centers turn out to be a positive resource, enabling kids proper learning experiences to keep busy and keep interacting with other kids, whilst their parents work. Sort of a win-win situation I think; and this view of mine has changed somewhat since the last couple of entries... whether such afterschool programs like this Hagwon is actually healthy for Korean kids.

My opinion: I believe so.

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