Friday, November 12, 2010

Great at Math, But Not Happy About It

South Korea tends to dominate on international math and science exams, competing for top place with the other Asian Tigers. On the 2007 Trends in Mathematics and Science test, Korean eighth graders scored second in math and fourth in science. Americans scored in the middle of the pack - at ninth and eleventh place respectively.
Hansung Science High School in
Seoul  is experimenting with more
creative teaching styles.

But a corresponding survey showed that Koreans lagged in other areas, including self confidence and satisfaction.  Only 38 percent of Korean students said they actually enjoyed learning science and 33 percent said they liked math --- compared to 54 percent and 41 percent of American students. 

Korean students are not alone in their sad state.  The Brown Center on Education Reform published a kind of happiness index in 2006 that mined test data and showed many high performers are similarly disenchanted, while some of the happiest students - in places such as Iran and Botswana - are lagging way behind in skills.

These findings could have implications for happy and sad students alike: In America, classes are designed to be more interesting and exciting, but many students have a strong aversion to memorization-heavy subjects that offer delayed gratification, such as math or foreign language, subjects that pay big dividends in the work place. 

In Korea, the average student can do a lot of math, but their thinking skills get stunted during long days and nights of cramming. A lack of joy can lead to a lack of curiosity can lead to a lack of good ideas. If Korea wants to be a leader in science, not a follower, the government has decided it might need some happier students. 
Hansung students are working
on a semester-long project in
the biology lab

I wrote this story for the Global Post about an elite science high school that's trying to make class time a little bit more fun for future leaders.  In the story, I interviewed teacher SooJin who studied gifted education in a graduate program at the University of Virginia, and is working hard to implement some of the ideas she learned in Korea.
Please check it out!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting on this blog. :) It's always delightful to find a blog on Korea that is well-written and informative.
    I have some friends who are stuck in the Korean education system, and it's a sad situation. All they do all the time is basically study for the Suneung... I hope that SooJin-nim is able to find her classes to be working out.