After-School Tutoring Skyrockets in South Korea

August 8, 2013

Kim Ki-hoon earns $4 million a year in South Korea, where he is known as a rock-star teacher -- a combination of words not typically heard in the rest of the world. Mr. Kim has been teaching for over 20 years, all of them in the country's private, after-school tutoring academies, known as hagwons. Unlike most teachers across the globe, he is paid according to the demand for his skills, and he is in high demand, says the Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Kim works about 60 hours a week teaching English, although he spends only three of those hours giving lectures.

  • His classes are recorded on video, and the Internet has turned them into commodities, available for purchase online at the rate of $4 an hour.
  • He spends most of his week responding to students' online requests for help, developing lesson plans and writing accompanying textbooks and workbooks (some 200 to date).

Thanks in part to such tutoring services, South Korea has dramatically improved its education system over the past several decades and now routinely outperforms the United States.

  • Sixty years ago, most South Koreans were illiterate; today, South Korean 15 year olds rank number two in the world in reading, behind Shanghai.
  • The country now has a 93 percent high school graduation rate, compared with 77 percent in the United States.

Tutoring services are growing all over the globe, from Ireland to Hong Kong and even in suburban strip malls in California and New Jersey. Sometimes called shadow education systems, they mirror the mainstream system, offering after-hours classes in every subject -- for a fee. But nowhere have they achieved the market penetration and sophistication of hagwons in South Korea, where private tutors now outnumber schoolteachers.

  • Viewed up close, this shadow system is both exciting and troubling. It promotes striving and innovation among students and teachers alike, and it has helped South Korea become an academic superpower.
  • It also creates a bidding war for education, delivering the best services to the richest families, to say nothing of its psychological toll on students.
  • Under this system, students essentially go to school twice, once during the day and then again at night at the tutoring academies.

To call this mere tutoring is to understate its scale and sophistication. Megastudy, the online hagwon that Mr. Kim works for, is listed on the South Korean stock exchange. Nearly three of every four South Korean kids participate in the private market. In 2012, their parents spent more than $17 billion on these services.

Source: Amanda Ripley, "The $4 Million Teacher," Wall Street Journal, August 3, 2013.

 

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