A set path vs. having some say

Today I had a conversation with one of the teachers at my middle school about some differences in the Korean school system and the American school system.

In Korea, students have a set path. The students are divided by grade into classes. For instance grade 1 (seventh grade in the U.S.) has five classes: 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, 1-4 and 1-5. The students in each class attend all the exact same classes and never mix with the students from the other classes except at lunch, special events or afterschool classes. So the same 30-35 students are together all day long.

Students have no choice in their classes. They can’t choose electives like in the United States. There are some “fun” classes like music and P.E., but everything is mapped out and required.

Classes also are not “leveled” like they are in the U.S. Since the same students attend all the same classes, there is no division of advanced or low level students.

The Korean teacher I was talking to said, “oh, the American school system is so much better!” Although I think there are too many factors for a blanket statement about whose system is better, I definitely agree that America’s leveling of classes and opportunity for electives is far smarter.

Not leveling students causes too many problems just from what I have seen in the English classes I teach. With 35 students in a class, there are generally a few with high level English skills. But there are also some with such low comprehension levels (or disinterest in learning English) that they can’t follow. I try to teach toward the middle of the class and offer extra help to the low level students during partner and group work. This though sometimes leaves the higher level students less challenged, and potentially bored. Breaking the students into an advanced and a general class would offer a more effective learning environment for the students. The higher level students would be challenged more and move more quickly . The general class could be tailored more to necessary English skills and make sure that the students have a solid base before moving on so they don’t get left behind.

Not offering electives is not all that surprising based on Korea’s collectivism culture. However, I think that’s an obvious one; students tend to do better in things that interest them. So for a low level student who hates school, having one class he looks forward to can give him a reason to get excited about learning.


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