Survey Results – Part 6: Korean Students Academic and Social Skills

Survey Results – Part 6: Korean Students Academic and Social Skills

The previous parts of this series can be found here: Part 1 – Dating & DownloadablesPart 2 – Lifestyle and PetsPart 3A – Teaching Resources (Hakwon vs Public School)Part 3B – Hakwon vs Public School Workplace SatisfactionPart 4 – Websites Used and Part 5: Co-Workers.

Raw data and stats can be found in part one of this series.

Update: Numbers of hakwon and public school teacher respondents are as follows: Q30 (59, 120), Q31 (57, 119, Total – 223).  For age groups these figures are: Q30 (Elem. or younger – 120, Middle School or older – 84, Uni – 22), Q31 (120, 83, 19 respectively).

Korean toddler being absolutely adorable.Today we’ll take a look at how Native English Speaking Teachers (NESTs) see their students.  For today’s post I’ll mostly focus on the overall figures (although I may be tempted into comparing perceptions of hakwon students versus public school students).  I also compared elementary and kindergarten aged students with middle and high school students (or as we say here in Australia, primary school and secondary school).

A quick qualifier, none of these questions required answering and respondents could choose as many, or as few, answers as they liked.  They could also choose answers that contradict each other.  So it’s important to note that if, say, 10% of respondents said their students like the colour blue that doesn’t necessarily mean they think 90% of their students don’t like the colour blue.  So I can only consider what the response specifically and not draw conclusions outside of that.


A look at the overall impression NESTs have of the academic abilities of Korean students

The most popular response for all type of teachers and all age groups was that the students can be an absolute joy to teach (64% said this).  The next most popular overall was that they can also be very annoying to teach (51%).  Sounds about right to me and reflects what I think most parents would say about having kids.  The smallest result were teachers who said students in Korea do as much rote-learning as the kids in their country at just 1.6%.

There was some variation in hakwon versus public schools.  Public school teachers were more likely to say their students relied too much on rote-learning (52% vs 35%) and hakwon teachers were more likely to say their students were pushed too hard by their parents (59% vs 41%).

A comparison of how hakwon teachers and public school teachers perceived the academic skills of their students

One of the surprises for me was that teachers of middle school and high school students found them a greater joy to teach than elementary and kindergarten teachers (69% to 58%).  I had assumed that younger students would be more fun to teach as well as being more annoying – effectively having greater extremes and polarity for the teacher whereas I expected older students to deliver a more steady baseline experience.  Wrong again Bob. (Note: the number of university teacher respondents was only 22).

A comparison of how various teacher's perceived their Korean student's abilities broken down by lementary, secondary and tertiary age groups.

It also appears teachers of older (high school) students are more likely to report their students are pushed harder, study more and rely on rote learning more than their younger counterparts (52% vs. 44%, 44% vs. 26%, 48% vs 38% respectively).  I also took a look at what university teachers had to say and they reported two results I found interesting.  The first was that 59% reckoned their students relied too heavily on rote-learning.  The second, and more concerning, is that 41% reported that their students were being pushed too hard by their parents.

To me that’s a pretty concerning and explains a lot as well and I’m going to break from my pattern of simple reporting to add my own view-point.


Korea-ESL-ObeyIt suggests to me that uni students in Korea are still relatively juvenile compared to university students in the west (or at least in my native Australia).  I’m sure most NESTs would tell you that their parents had very little to do with their university education.  I don’t remember having any classmates I knew whose parents “pushed” them during uni.  Maybe I’m naive, maybe my friends weren’t typical or maybe they were being pushed but I wasn’t aware of it.

Still, if a student isn’t responsible for their education by the time they’re at uni and if their parents are still pushing them at that point then I think that stunts their sense of independence, growth and maturity.  Seems really unhealthy to me and instead of helping your kids I think it has the opposite effect and takes away a wonderful opportunity they have to grow up.  When you protect your child too much and for too long you’re begin taking away their opportunities to make mistakes and learn from them and setting a pattern of dependence on authority.

The reason I think it explains a lot is that when I taught Korean students in Sydney many of them were university aged.  They seemed a lot further behind the curve when it came to life skills and street smarts than, say, my Brazilian or Japanese students.  Many of them found the transition to taking care of themselves to be a bigger learning curve whereas my Brazilian students weren’t phased at all.  The Brazilian students were at the other extreme and many had gun stories or stories about friends they had being kidnapped.  These were wealthy students who could study overseas so it was fascinating to hear their stories.  When live in a place where that sort of thing isn’t unheard of then you usually have fairly well developed life skills.

For the Korean students, once they had made the transition they seemed to grow a foot in confidence and that was wonderful to see.  It bears reminding that the students I was teaching were the same age as a lot of NESTs in Korea.


This brings me to the next question.

Social Skills

ESL Korea - Social skills of Korean students as perceived by their NEST teachers

45% said Korean students have the same social skills as the kids in their home country and was the most popular answer regardless of age or school type.  The only difference between hakwon teachers and public school teachers is that hakwon teachers felt their students have less time hang out and socialise.  Makes sense, all hakwon students go to public school but not all public school students go to hakwon.  The ones who don’t probably get more time to be with their mates.  (Note: the number of university respondents was only 19).

A comparison of perceived social skills of Korean students by age

When it came to age groups it does appear that the older you get the more time you have to hang out with your friends with university coming out the highest.  The most interesting result here is that whilst 18% of teachers of primary and secondary school students felt that they had poor social skills this number jumped to 32% for university teachers.  I would have expected the reverse given the popular (admittedly western) opinion that university is the time when you become who you want to be and no longer feel bound by high school social norms and strata.

Korea ESL - A comparison of public school teacher's perceptions and hakwon teacher's perceptions of Korean students

A breakdown in the perception of hakwon teachers versus public school teachers shows that few believe their students get lots of time to interact socially with their peers however this view is stronger amongst public school teachers (for understandable reasons).  Also, few felt their students had very good social skills but equally few felt their students had poor social skills.  As can be seen in the graphic above, most felt their students had the same social skills as kids in their home country.


Korean Public School Students Enjoying ClassAs many open commenters pointed out these are some pretty broad generalisations to make about a large group.  At the same time there were some interesting trends that can’t be ignored.  As with all students they can such a joy to teach at some times and such a PITA at other times.  However the data suggests that rote-learning and over-bearing parents are thought to be big issues in the Korean education by many NESTs.

Socially speaking it appears that most teachers feel kids are kids wherever they are except that Korean kids have little time to interact with their peers.  University teachers in particular feel that while their students get a lot of time to socialise with each other they perceive their students to have worse social skills that did the hakwon teacher or public school teacher.

The responses for this portion of the survey were pretty mixed and this was probably because there was a lot left to be desired in the range and number of responses offered.  If/When a future survey is conducted this will be one of many areas that can be improved.

Question of the day: What result most stands out to you from the ones above? (Sign up using your Facebook account to register)

The next part will look at the life skills, attitudes and outlooks of Korean students as their NEST teachers perceive them and the one after that will get to the question of what NESTs think will most improve their lives in Korea.

Photo Credit: (adorable Korean toddler) youngdoo via photopin cc
Photo Credit (obey poster): Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer via photopin cc
Photo Credit (laughing students in class): Poetprince via photopin cc

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