When I first walked into Daewon High School in Seoul (the #1 high school in the country), I wasn’t surprised by the motto over the main door: “Less of me, more of us.” American culture encourages students to express their opinions about a particular subject matter freely. They are also encouraged to discuss some topics with other students and the teacher, and to do projects at home. On the other hand, Asian schools are completely different. Schools in Asian countries are lecture-based, and learning is memorization-based. Creativity is not required, discipline is. The teacher presents a particular matter and lectures while students are sitting and carefully taking notes. Well, at least, they’re supposed to be taking notes! My friend, a school teacher in Seoul, used to constantly agonize over the number of students sleeping in her class, sometimes many at a time, and that it was a common problem for all teachers in Korea.
Although some teachers might encourage student participation after the end of lectures, it’s not considered a priority in the Asian school system.
Teacher – student relationship
The relationship between a student and a teacher in American schools is casual and friendly. Students are allowed to communicate with their teachers freely. Also, teachers value students’ opinions without a dismissive attitude.
Asian countries are characterized by a certain hierarchy, which transmits onto schools as well. Schools have their own hierarchy that doesn’t incorporate casual and friendly relationships between teachers and students. Teacher-student communication in the average Asian school is strictly formal. Teachers respect students and demand respect in return. Openly disagreeing with a teacher isn’t encouraged. As a result, many Western teachers, when teaching in Asia, find the students to be highly respectful.
The American grading system is very simple – when a student gets a particular score, he or she gets a grade that is in the range for that score e.g. scoring higher than 93 gives you an A, but also scoring at least 93 gives you an A as well.
The grading system in Asian schools is more complicated than that in the American system. However, it’s also more precise. Asian schools use a relative grading system, which doesn’t have a set score that defines the great. Instead, the system divides scores into percentages and assigns different grades to specific percentages.
For example, students whose grades are in top 35% in entire class can receive an A, the next 40% get a B, etc. The primary purpose of this grading system is to increase competitiveness and motivate students.
After-school school, sort of
Children in America rely on their “regular” school education to study, get informed, etc. They do homework that was assigned to them by their teachers, and that would be it. On the other hand, Asian kids go to school after their regular schools. These are called different things, like Hagwons (학원) in South Korea, and Eikaiwas (英会話教室) in Japan; they are private academies.
Private academies teach kids subjects and lectures they are taught in schools. Many (all?) mothers in these countries send their children to these academies after school, which range in subjects taught from academic, instrumental, sport, and, most popular, English language study. These after school academies are probably why sleeping students are tolerated on occasion in public schools; their teachers know they have many hours of schooling left! And they know the students are most likely going to listen to the same subject matter in private academy later. Teachers from private academies assign kids additional homework. Some private academies open their doors during vacations only; children can stay there up to 11 PM. The government of South Korea had to place laws against hagwons being open late into the night because there was such demand from parents! Children go to these academies right after their regular schools.
American teachers usually work with smaller classes. For example, 25 – 30 students in one class. On the other hand, classes in Asian schools are much bigger. They can go from 35 students up to a staggering number of 65 students in some regions.
Of course, in private schools and after-school academies, class sizes can be as small as 10-20.
In American schools, children “change” their classmates all the time. One child can attend Math class with one group of students, while at English class he or she will see a completely different group of students in the classroom.
Asian schools have a homeroom concept in which students are assigned to particular classes where they stay throughout their time in that particular school, or if some student is particularly exceptional, then he/she gets the opportunity to advance. This cohort concept aims to bring different children closer together, to allow them to get used to each other which in turn increases productivity – so they say – as well.
Teachers in American schools have their classrooms. Children come to them. Also, each child has his or her own hallway locker where they place their stuff.
However, in Asian schools, each class has its own classroom and the teacher is the one who comes to them to lecture. That’s why there’s no need for hallway lockers. Children have their stuff with them at all times. After the language class is over, they put their books into their backpack and take out the book and notebook for the next class.
This is something that American schools don’t have, though I like it. In Asian schools, besides having teachers for different subjects, each class has its own head teacher (remember kids stay in one classroom the whole day, basically). This teacher is responsible for establishing discipline in his or her class. Also, the head teacher is the one who calls a child’s parents if he or she misbehaves. On the other hand, in American schools, each teacher has to establish discipline or contact parents on a per-student basis, amongst all his or her many students.
Teachers in American schools are allowed to send their students out in case they misbehave or show lack of respect. Also, schools are allowed to suspend students.
Asian schools are different; according to their law, “no child shall be denied an education”, teachers aren’t allowed to send kids out of the classroom. Also, schools don’t suspend kids. They assume kids would fall in with a bad crowd, smoke, drink, or do other mischievous things if they are banned from the class.
In America, kids go to school in a school bus. Once they turn 16 and get their driver’s license, they drive to school. In Asian countries, kids don’t go to school in a school bus. They go to the nearest school. Since they live close, they walk or ride their bikes to school.
Though, high school is a different story. When teenagers go to high school that’s not near their home, they take the subway, bus, or train. They can’t drive because you have to be 18 in Asian countries to get a driver’s license. Even when 18-year-olds get the much-anticipated license, he or she isn’t encouraged to drive to school.
As you can see, American and Asian schools are extremely different. What do you admire the most about the American and Asian school systems? Is there any trait from Asian schools that you’d like to see in America as well? Or vice versa?