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South Korea’s Secret: Hagwons

August 25, 2013

South Korea outscores the US in all kinds of international comparisons and a recent Wall Street Journal article explains why:

In 2012, their parents spent more than $17 billion on (hagwons). That is more than the $15 billion spent by Americans on videogames that year, according to the NPD Group, a research firm.

What are hagwons? They are privately operated after-school tutoring services offered in strip malls or on-line, tutoring services that supplement the instruction offered in public schools… tutoring services that prey on parents’ fears that their children will fall behind unless they enroll… and they pay huge salaries to superstar teachers and huge profits to shareholders who invest in the corporations that operate them.

The article naively suggests that this trend might be embraced by our country. In fact, it already HAS been embraced by our country: many tutoring centers operate in upscale suburban areas and SAT-prep centers have sprung up in strip malls. To an extent this is nothing new: I supplemented my income as an undergraduate teaching speed reading to affluent suburban students in Philadelphia in the late 1960s and some of my teaching colleagues in Philadelphia in the early 1970s offered tutoring services for a fee in the summer. As this article illustrates, the internet makes these private tutoring services more widely available… and because internet instruction is disproportionately available to high income parents and students it exacerbates the economic divide in place.

On-line learning can close the gap, but only if it is readily available to parents and students at all economic levels. That may be the case in Korea, but isn’t the case yet in our country.


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