Occidentalism
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What is happening to Korean college students?

May 16th, 2007 . by Gerry-Bevers

Tonight, while having dinner with a couple of my Korean college students, one of them, a forth-year business major, mentioned how he hates having classes with freshmen. When I asked him why, he told me that freshmen were so noisy in class that it was hard to hear the professor. When I suggested that he tell them to be quiet since he is a senior, he told me that when he once tried that, one of the freshman threatened to take him outside and beat him up. I then asked what the professor did when the students got noisy in class, and he told me that the professors usually just ignore them, which really surprised me.

I am teaching college freshmen conversation classes that have close to fifty students in them, and I am frequently having to tell the students to be quiet during my lectures or to put away their cell phones. Students come to class without books, paper, or pens, and even the ones who come to class with pens and paper seem to think it is more fun to write and draw on their desks than in their notebooks. I usually catch one or two students in each class absentmindedly drawing on their desks. Even though I always stop my lecture, jump down their throats, and make them erase the graffiti, there will be one or two students in the next class doing the same thing. It seems to be a nasty habit that is hard to break. Korean college students remind me of high school students in the United States, and I think that part of the reason for that is that Korean professors have basically given up on classroom discipline.

My department head came to my office last week, and told me that our school cannot afford to fail students, and very clearly suggested that I should not fail any of mine. Third-rate colleges in Korea are so desperate for students these days that they are practically selling their diplomas. One of the students at dinner tonight told me that a large and growing percentage of our students are coming from industrial high schools, which were originally set up for students who did not plan on going to college. That explains a lot since many of my freshmen cannot even make five complete sentences in English. I would guess that more than fifty percent of my students come to college for reasons other than to learn.

There are people in every society who do not have the aptitude and motivation for college-level study, which is all right since they can just find jobs, instead. The problem in Korea is that Korean colleges are trying too hard to accommodate these weak, unmotivated students at the expense of students who are there to learn.

Korean colleges need to raise their academic standards, improve classroom discipline, and fail the lazy assholes who deserve to be failed.


45 Responses to “What is happening to Korean college students?”

  1. comment number 1 by: toru

    I am frequently having to tell the students to be quiet during my lectures or to put away their cell phones. Students come to class without books, paper, or pens, and even the ones who come to class with pens and paper seem to think it is more fun to write and draw on their desks than in their notebooks.

    Oh boy, they must have learned it from Japanese students! for this time. 🙂 No I’m not kidding, those behaviors became kinda popular in Japan a while ago.

    Copy manga, movies, cars, or whatever but they don’t have to copy that one!!

  2. comment number 2 by: ponta

    those behaviors became kinda popular in Japan a while ago.

    Yeah, I also thought that it migh hold true in
    Japan.

  3. comment number 3 by: jion999

    toru and ponta

    So, it means Koreans’ long dream has come true.

    They said before frequently that they would catch up with Japan in 10 years.(笑)

  4. comment number 4 by: Newshound

    Not “might”, ponta. It was just as bad here in the lower level schools. I stopped teaching because of it. It’s depressing.

  5. comment number 5 by: pacifist

    These phenomenon are called “kindergartenization of colleges”. They think colleges as a kind of Disney Land or kindergarten to kill time. They don’t want to learn something in colleges, they only want a diploma.

  6. comment number 6 by: kjeff

    The problem in Korea is that Korean colleges are trying too hard to accommodate these weak, unmotivated students at the expensive of students who are there to learn.

    I think the problem is that in Korea, without college diploma, you’ll probably be treated like a second-class citizen, and the ripple effects really go the distance. Your societal standing, your marriage prospect, and your future children’s scocietal standing, their marriage prospects even, probably depend on it. It’s crazy…and sad really, because higher education is just not the place for someone who doesn’t truly want to belong there. I actually knew a couple of women(they said their parents told them so) who went to graduate school so that they had more ‘options’ in choosing their husbands(and, they did). That’s crazily sad, sadly crazy, and just plain crazy crazy. They really need to snap out of that confucian, scholar-is-king, mentality. Something must be done…
    By any chance, have you ever seen ‘Seng-Hwal-ei-Dal-In’? I haven’t seen for a while, so I don’t remember what channel it was, or if it’s still playing. The show featured people who are ‘masters’ of their vocational skills. It’s touching, and often, their ‘love’ of what they do and their proffesionalism truly made me feel ashame of myself. I think they should have more of its kind…
    And the government should regulate these ‘third-tier’ universities…don’t know if it’s possible, or if it’ll create its own problem even(corruption), but something…
    Oh yeah, let them play a little in highschool. Learn less; you really don’t need to learn that much math. I didn’t go to highschool in Korea, and usually came home around 2pm(and not midnight), and most materials in my calculus courses until about the second advanced level in college, I’d already learned in highschool. Imagine if we went on till midnight… Give them a break so that they won’t feel that getting in college is destination, and not just the beginning. College is not a place -only- to do ‘meetings’ and MTs.

  7. comment number 7 by: kjeff

    Sorry,
    That was directed for Gerry.

  8. comment number 8 by: ponta

    Newshound

    Not “might”, ponta.

    Okay, my academic years was long time ago, so I am not familiar with how the class is being run at Japanese university. So it is the zoo at some colleges, isn’t it?

  9. comment number 9 by: Alex

    “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”
    -Albert Einstein

    I’ve seen a good class and a horrible class, both of which consisted of the exact same students. The only difference was the person standing at the front of the room.

  10. comment number 10 by: fencerider

    I have started to have the same problems in my college classes. I do make it clear to them from the beginning that there are certain behaviors for which they will be asked to leave the classroom. If they are asked to leave, I count them absent from class (which is the only legitimate reason to fail someone in most colleges these days) if they refuse to leave, I count them absent anyway.
    If they use their cellphones and I see or hear them…I warn them once and then I take them for a week. I warn them on the first day of class (in Korean) and i havn’t had much problem with it.
    As far as the grafitti is concerned, i just ignore it…it’s not my problem.
    Another solution that i considered is whipping out my hand phone and taking a picture or video of them writing on the desk. If they think their behavior will be recorded and shared with others…they may think twice.

  11. comment number 11 by: Gerry-Bevers

    Alex wrote:

    I’ve seen a good class and a horrible class, both of which consisted of the exact same students. The only difference was the person standing at the front of the room.

    Were you sitting in the class or standing in front of it?

    The teacher is not the only problem, especially in large college English conversation classes. The makeup of the class is also a problem.

    Freshmen English classes in Korea are usually made up of students with a variety of levels of English abilities, which is another problem with Korean colleges. Korean colleges just throw beginning, intermediate, and advanced students all in one big classroom. Most Korean colleges do not take the time to test the students’ level of English ability before putting them in classes.

    If you teach to the students who do not know even the basics of English, the more advanced students will be bored and tune out, and the reverse happens when you teach to the better students in the class. If you try to teach to the the middle group of students, you can still have people on both extremes tuning out. The only way to keep the attention of everyone is to put on your clown suit and run around the class entertaining them while throwing in a few English words and phrases here and there. The problem with that approach is that you are no longer teaching college English; you are teaching kindergarten English.

    I have been teaching Korean college students for more than eight years, and I have never had any group of students as bad as the ones I am teaching at my new school this semester. They are so bad that I have started writing an English textbook designed especially for large Freshmen classes full of unmotivated students with a variety of levels of English ability. I do not want to give any details of the book, but I will say that my inspiration was my experience in navy boot camp.

    Fencerider,

    I also use the attendance sheet as a means to enforce class discipline. If students are talking in class, texting on their cell phones, or sleeping, I usually give them two warnings before marking them absent. The attendance sheet is one of the best weapons to use against unmotivated, disruptive Korean college students because, as you said, attendance is one of the only legitimate reasons for failing students in many of Korea’s colleges today.

  12. comment number 12 by: GarlicBreath

    Gerry, don’t tempt the Korean nationalists. Talking about yourself and your job can bring danger. Any foreigner who questions that Takeshima island doesn’t belong to Korea is risking everything. Koreans (gyopos too) have been brainwashed into thinking that Takeshima (in the sea of Japan) is theirs, and opposition must be silenced.

    Be careful Mr Bevers….

  13. comment number 13 by: marshimallow

    Anyone who has taught English in Korea to students at any age might agree about the same problems. I usually ask if they do that behavior at home (drawing on the table or putting their feet on the chairs). That commonly reduces the problem. If they want to use their “hand-pone” they have to talk to the person in English. I haven’t had one person answer a phone call since. Good luck with those issues. Keep searching out for the historical truth no matter what the outcome is.

  14. comment number 14 by: kaien

    This is quite common in America as well, there are many courses that are set at “college level” and is in fact simply high school courses, but with a fancy piece of paper. I don’t think there are many things you can do to get those kind of students’ attention.

  15. comment number 15 by: kjeff

    Gerry,

    If you teach to the students who do not know even the basics of English, the more advanced students will be bored and tune out, and the reverse happens when you teach to the better students in the class. If you try to teach to the the middle group of students, you can still have people on both extremes tuning out.

    I don’t know if this helps, but a tip from a professor I was assisting in on summer. Summer classes are always more challenging to teach, than the regular ones, because of the diversity of the students enrolled; you get students from all sort of colleges and programs. He gave an exam early in the semester to get an average level of the class, and found a middle point between that and what he thinks the class should be. We got a B- average, with no curve; pretty good I think. In short, serve the most students, and extra credits for the extreme ends to keep the motivated. Oh yeah, move to a different school next year…good luck.

  16. comment number 16 by: General Tiger

    Gerry:
    Seems like you’re one of the unlucky professors. My school (Yonsei) would never allow those type of behaviors to go on (unless you’re talking about those massive classes with 300 people). Hope that you get better students later.

  17. comment number 17 by: kjeff

    Gerry,
    On an unrelated, related subject, have you ever seen HBO’s The Wire? I’m in recommending marathon of the show. If you’re not into cop-and-robber TV show at all(who are you?), skip the first three seasons(although all deserve to be one of all-time best TV shows), the death of working class in Season 2 is heartbreaking. Season 4 deals with inner-city education, and as one reviewer put it, “it is the best indictment against No Child Left Behind Act.”

  18. comment number 18 by: Matt

    Gerry:
    Seems like you’re one of the unlucky professors. My school (Yonsei) would never allow those type of behaviors to go on (unless you’re talking about those massive classes with 300 people). Hope that you get better students later.

    But isn’t Yonsei one of the more elite schools? I think Gerry is talking about “third rate colleges”.

  19. comment number 19 by: kjeff

    General Tiger,

    My school (Yonsei) would never allow those type of behaviors to go on (unless you’re talking about those massive classes with 300 people). Hope that you get better students later.

    Show-off…LOL…just kidding…

  20. comment number 20 by: General Tiger

    Matt:

    But isn’t Yonsei one of the more elite schools? I think Gerry is talking about “third rate colleges”.

    Granted. Unfortunate that Gerry has to stand those idiots.

  21. comment number 21 by: pacifist

    Yonsei was the 17th univ in Asia in 2000.
    It was higher than Hokkaido Univ (19) adn Keio Univ (22) in Japan.
    http://www.asiaweek.com/asiaweek/features/universities2000/schools/multi.overall.html

  22. comment number 22 by: General Tiger

    pacifist:
    I never looked at those lists, since I feel they’re biased one way or another.

  23. comment number 23 by: lirelou

    Gerry’s complaints sound like some of my old professors’ complaints from the early 90’s. Has Korea come up with Pell Grants too? Only in one former professor’s case, she was physically assaulted by a student’s mother when she refused to change a grade from failing to passing.

  24. comment number 24 by: lirelou

    I meant to note that my former professors were then teaching in the continental U.S.. So, Korean education is becoming “americanized”?

  25. comment number 25 by: Gerry-Bevers

    General Tiger,

    I taught Yonsei students at the Yonsei Foreign Language Institute in the early 80s, and they were great–very competitive and eager to learn. Unfortunately, my students now have very little interest in studying. In fact, I surveyed one of my classes by asking the students to list the things that are most important to them. At the top of the lists were “family,” “friends,” and “cell phones.” None of the students mentioned anything about studying or learning new things.

    My students are good kids, but they lack motivation and discipline and do not seem to have set any goals in life. The challenge is to keep them in line while motivating them to study and set goals for themselves. If professors accept that challenge, then they can look forward to their classes; but if they ignore it, then teaching freshmen English at third-rate colleges in Korea can be as frustrating as hell.

  26. comment number 26 by: chase

    This is really true. One of big problems in Korean education system is that people who do not really need to go to college go anyway. I do not know the exact statistic but I think it’s probably way over 50%. Not everyone needs a college education to have a role in society.
    Industrial High Schools were built in purpose of training students who are not interested in academics too much, with useful skills so they can find jobs to work after they graduate. We haev this system because most of normal high schools do not separate classes for different levels of students. Jr.high/Middle school students take tests at the end of their 9th grade (3rd grade) for entering high school. About bottom 15% are forced to go to industrial school. (in some areas, the e.b. distributes students according to the test score and in some areas students are distributed randomly). Now in Korea, there are too many colleges and we don’t need that much actually because the number of students are decreasing every year. Therefore, non-prostigious colleges, >100 ranked schools(most private schools) have hard time finding students. Therefore it’s extremely easy to get into those “colleges”. Many Korean parents feel ashamed if their children don’t go to 4yr-college, so they want to pay for their children to go to college if they can regardless of their interest.
    Students do not necessarily appreciate this and squander time in college. There has been a myth for high school students that they can play and have fun and don’t have to study to graduate. It probably started as an encouragement for truly hard working students to give hope and have a goal but now all the students, including nonstudious students believe the playful part of that myth. Nowadays, students at top 20% realize that they have to study hard to get a goob occupation after they graduate college but many others lack motivation.
    However, students not understanding proper behavior in class is not just 3rd rated universities’ problems. (with exception of top 5 universities perharps)
    My dad teaches at one Korean university(11th reanked in nation)and he still thinks his students’ behavior can be improved a lot.
    Gerry, I don’t know how you should solve your problems, but my dad always have a lecture about proper behavior as a college student on the first day of class instead of regular material. It might be harder for you because you’re not Korean but you can try doing it and become serious. Are you closer to a firm strict scary looking teacher? or friendly loose teacher? of combination of both??
    Are you teaching at 2-yr college or 4-year college? I was just curious…..;;;

  27. comment number 27 by: kteen

    Third rate schools=지방잡대s

    Gerry, did you really expect the students in the ‘third rate schools’ to study?

  28. comment number 28 by: kteen

    chase,
    it was 82.1% in 2005.

  29. comment number 29 by: Gerry-Bevers

    Chase,

    I use both the carrot and the stick in my classes. I praise my students when they obviously make a good effort, but when they do not do the assignment or do it half-ass, I give them a little “nose fart” (코방귀) to let them know I am not impressed.

    I set the rules on the first day of class, but my students seem to think they can turn me to the dark side since they continue to test my determination until about midterm. Then they finally start to realize that “the force” is strong in me, and that I will not be bent to their will. That is about the time they start to shape up.

    Kteen,

    I went to a community college in Texas before transferring to the University of Hawaii, and I remember the students at that community college being very serious and diligent. So, yes, I expect students at even third-rate colleges in Korea to study.

  30. comment number 30 by: kjeff

    kteen,

    Gerry, did you really expect the students in the ‘third rate schools’ to study?

    How many hours do you think their parents have to work to pay for those tuitions? I wonder if they ‘really’ expect their sons/daughters to study? Although I think sending them to college is probably a mistake to begin with; it’s not for everyone.

  31. comment number 31 by: chase

    Korean college tuition is fairly cheaper than US’s (though it’s getting higher and higher every year). I think parents would want them to study but I agree that their primary purpose of sending them isn’t to make them study.

    Gerry
    Your method sounds good but I guess they are not really working. I don’t know what would be the best way.

    kteen
    thank you for your statistics. I thought that it would be around 70% but I wasn’t sure.

  32. comment number 32 by: mattrosencrance

    Mr. Bevers:

    I respect you and love this site, but I have to caution against you calling your students “assholes.”

    I taught at Gyeongsang Dae and at Konkuk Dae and yes, some of my students were assholes, but I write that from a safe distance in America where I won’t be burned in effigy or in reality by a soju-inspired crowd shouting “대~~~한민국”.

    General:

    I’m amazed that any of you are amazed.

    Of course they’re not motivated to learn; few if any of them will even use their English and what English that has been taught to them has been done so, probably, via memorization and either with faulty curricula or without any at all up to this point. This means that they walked in not knowing it and will leave the same way.

    Of course they’re horribly immature; there’s a will to infantilism there that’s inflicted upon and adopted by all until marriage to the point that they don’t even know how to wash their own clothes or cook chamchi bokkeumbap. (My personal theory is that this is a codependent attempt by the parents, reinforced by Confucianism, to instill devotion in their children by increasing their duration of dependence, but unwittingly at the cost of the children’s cognitive independence throughout life, but that’s a big tangent, isn’t it?)

    Of course Mr. Bevers won’t be allowed to fail any of them; meritocracy is almost as vile a concept in Korea as is transparency. Konkuk, a private uni, didn’t refuse a fellow teacher of mine the ability to fail a student for fear of losing her tuition after she cheated on her final exam or me the right to fail students who naturally failed the class – they were worried about the uni’s reputation. (“People think Kondae is a farmer school, but soon we will be better than Seoul National!”)

    Let the SoKos imitate their NorK cousins and be able to list countless chimerical grievances enacted upon them by benign or allied nations.

    You have all noticed by now that despite the time and money invested in English, that thought, for lack of a better word, that reinforces herd cohesiveness is the only thing that sticks, right?

  33. comment number 33 by: Newshound

    Ponta,

    Yep, it’s pretty bad at some of the smaller schools. I noticed that at places like Hosei and Toudai students are more motivated, but even there you have students falling asleep in class or talking when the teacher is. I couldn’t believe it. I lost it on a group of students once (when I was teaching) and threw 12 of my 35 students out of the class half way through the semester. When the office came to me after the students complained, I said that they all could come back once they wrote an essay explaining to me why they hadn’t done homework for 4 months, and why they felt it was polite to sleep, talk, and play PSP in my class.

    The office was a bit shocked that I was so angry, but they understood my point. I think they wanted to do the same thing in most of the problem classes because they said, “No problem.”

    No one came back.

  34. comment number 34 by: ponta

    I said that they all could come back once they wrote an essay explaining to me why they hadn’t done homework for 4 months, and why they felt it was polite to sleep, talk, and play PSP in my class.

    Must be very interesting essays.
    Why is it polite to sleep talk and play PSP in your class?—–makes me laugh.(^_-)

  35. comment number 35 by: AG

    I remember the ironic story in Japan.
    A professor was very impressed that
    one of his classes was very quiet.
    He was about to get used to the students chatting during the lecture.
    Then, he turned off the light to show
    OHP, and saw numerous tiny lights, like
    fireflies, across the classroom.
    Yes, the students were too busy text messaging.

    I think Japan should cut down on the number of 4-year colleges. Ideally, there should be a minimum standard for high school diploma, too (Going to high school is not mandatory in the first place!). I wish that Japanese system were more like that of America’s, where students don’t necessarily go into college immediately after high school.
    I don’t think banning cell phone use in classes is violating any basic human rights. Am I wrong?

  36. comment number 36 by: General Tiger

    mattrosencrance:

    Meritocracy is almost as vile a concept in Korea as is transparency.

    I resent that statement. Not ALL Koreans are like that (obviously.)
    Gerry:
    I hope you get some better students later on.

  37. comment number 37 by: Gerry-Bevers

    General Tiger,

    I have good students already, but they are being forced to study with a bunch of students who are not interested in studying. That is the problem.

  38. comment number 38 by: General Tiger

    Gerry:

    I have good students already, but they are being forced to study with a bunch of students who are not interested in studying. That is the problem.

    Yes, and having the school try to save its ass by not failing them.

  39. comment number 39 by: Ken

    I sympathize you for teaching college students inferior to elementary school kids.
    http://japanese.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2006/09/26/20060926000020.html
    “College students of economics, mathematics and computer science made 14.5 – 53.3% mistakes in mathematics test of primary school level.”
    http://japanese.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2006/09/25/20060925000036.html

  40. comment number 40 by: Brian

    Some interesting comments about the issue…

    And then there’e Garlic-Face and Ken who make completely irrelevant and off-topic nationalistic attempts at insight. lol. Does anyone respect these guys?

    As a college student myself, I’d have to say that there is little power for teachers to enforce learning. However, any disruption should not be tolerated and teachers should have the power to fail any student who is under-performing. Is there something in the Korean college system that restricts the teacher ability to grade truthfully?

  41. comment number 41 by: Ken

    Korean media seldom critisize the Korean.
    So once reported, we should think the actual state worse than the article.
    My quotation seemed so efficacious that I could troll those who felt it offensive.
    Of course, I would not like to be respected by such totalitarian as plot to shut up objections with labelling opponent as nationalist.

  42. comment number 42 by: General Tiger

    Brian:

    And then there’e Garlic-Face and Ken who make completely irrelevant and off-topic nationalistic attempts at insight. lol. Does anyone respect these guys?

    Regardless of whether they are nationalistic or not, they need to step out of sterotyping.
    .
    But, it seems people just can’t.

  43. comment number 43 by: Ken

    Oh, is Axis of Totaritarian organized?
    I wonder which it is, there is little freedom of speech so that people cannot notice the abuse or people cannot take action though they know the abuse.

  44. comment number 44 by: Ken

    Correction: Oh, is Axis of Totalitarian organized?

  45. comment number 45 by: Errol

    I would guess that more than fifty percent of my students come to college for reasons other than to learn.

    erry, the answer is here in the Chosun Ilbo.

    See paragraph three.