Tuesday, January 25, 2011

South Korea and the State of the Union

Once again, South Korea's education system got a nice shout out from President Barack Obama.

The reform-minded president has been known to wax poetic about Korea's longer school day and parents' dedication to education. In the annual State of the Union address Tuesday night, he added the prestige of the teaching profession to South Korea's list of academic advantages. 

"In South Korea's teachers are known as nation builders," he said, urging Americans to treat their teachers with the same respect. 

I think it's true that teachers have been seen this way - in so much as the education system has a whole has been the backbone of building the country's economy over the past 60 years and its identity as a distinct democratic and capitalist country once it separated from North Korea.

But the identity of teachers is getting more complicated in a developed South Korea, where wealth is abundant and children aspire to be chief executives or movie stars and where many say they respect their cram school teachers even more. More on that here. 

Other edu-excerpts from the speech:

China is not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany is not waiting. India is not waiting. These nations -- they're not standing still. These nations aren't playing for second place. They're putting more emphasis on math and science. They're rebuilding their infrastructure. They're making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs. Well, I do not accept second place for the United States of America. 

'Instead of funding the status quo, we only invest in reform -- reform that raises student achievement; inspires students to excel in math and science; and turns around failing schools that steal the future of too many young Americans, from rural communities to the inner city. In the 21st century, the best anti-poverty program around is a world-class education. (Applause.) And in this country, the success of our children cannot depend more on where they live than on their potential.'

'When we renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we will work with Congress to expand these reforms to all 50 states. Still, in this economy, a high school diploma no longer guarantees a good job. That's why I urge the Senate to follow the House and pass a bill that will revitalize our community colleges, which are a career pathway to the children of so many working families. (Applause.)'

'To make college more affordable, this bill will finally end the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that go to banks for student loans. (Applause.) Instead, let's take that money and give families a $10,000 tax credit for four years of college and increase Pell Grants. (Applause.) And let's tell another one million students that when they graduate, they will be required to pay only 10 percent of their income on student loans, and all of their debt will be forgiven after 20 years –- and forgiven after 10 years if they choose a career in public service, because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they chose to go to college. (Applause.)'

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