Most American students would run kicking and screaming if you told them they had to attend Saturday school. It’s quite the norm in Korea, though. According to a quick (unofficial) survey of most of my students, most all of them attend school on Saturdays, for half days, and they are completely ok with it. They are actually a little upset that Saturday is being taken away from them.
It’s a pretty well-known fact that the Korean president is not well liked. One of the main reasons is that he is trying to streamline the Korean education system to make it more like the American education system. The primary reason for that is because in a recent study, Korean children were named the least happy (or second to least, I can’t remember) in the world. They spend too much time studying, and not enough time being kids. I put this statistic in the same category as the study that said that Orlando is the angriest city, and St Louis is the most dangerous. While it’s the president’s job to not dismiss such reports, I take them with a grain a salt.
One of the recent changes he is trying to pass into law includes altering the hours of hagwons (where I work) stating that children shouldn’t be taking classes until 11pm (I don’t entirely disagree with that). Another is working towards getting rid of hagwons altogether. If I haven’t already explained it, hagwons are comparable to Sylvan Learning Centers. Some students attend these academies for extra help in studies that they have difficulties with, while others attend them to get a leg up on college entrance exams. Students, generally those from wealthier families, attend after school academies, up to six days a week. Hagwons are available for virtually any subject above and beyond normal school studies, to include dance, music, taekwondo, etc. My hagwon teaches English, Science and Math…maybe more. Most of them attend either M/W/F or T/H/S for 4 hours (3 classes) each night. This is only for English. If they chose to do Science and/or Math classes they come additional nights. I have some that come 4 hours a night, Monday – Saturday. My academy also has a reputation for being pretty hardcore.
The newest item on the list of education reform is to get rid of Saturday classes in all public schools. Most students would be happy with this, right? Not in Korea. I teach one Open Conversation class a week, and the students are the four most intelligent children at our hagwon. I thought this class would be a good opportunity to get a student perspective on this matter. They dream of being UN Ambassadors, a Dentist who studied at Harvard and a Pediatrician with a degree from Johns Hopkins. These kids are serious about their studies and they are not happy with this decision.
I have posted the video below that first brought this matter to my attention. And truthfully, my 8th graders gave me the exact same response. Canceling Saturday classes, will only make their Monday-Friday school days even longer. One of them currently goes to school from 8:00-4:30, and said next year the days will be extended to 6pm. Their curriculum requirements aren’t lessening, so the time on Saturdays that is being taken away will still need to be made up during the week. Also, despite the president’s ongoing efforts to reduce enrollment at hagwons, this seems to only increase business for them. This opens up a whole new time slot for classes.