Thursday, October 7, 2010

Exam season and Wolchulsan re-booted

After getting back to school on the Monday, I taught all of two classes. I did a fairly standard exercise on what they did during Chuseok, with strategies for starting and finishing conversations politely and informally. After which, I was, and I love this, asked, as if the term 'rhetorical question' had never been coined, if I would 'allow' the students time to revise for their exams during my scheduled class time. The mid-term exams started on the following Tuesday which meant a whole week of turning up to the students' home-rooms and telling them to be quiet and do some work. Credit where credit is due as well; by and large that is exactly what they do. For most of them, a parentally-administered ass-whupping will swiftly follow exam results deemed below expectations. Now that's extrinsic motivation.

I'm also intrigued by the term the Korean English teachers at my school use for this, 'self-study.' Is it an American thing, I wonder? Isn't the word 'self' redundant? To me it suggests perhaps some sort of introspective analysis, a process the average Korean psyche is far from overburdened with, and something the kids at school are not really encouraged to do. As a consequence, it's gently hilarious to me, as if this revision (hardly a better word itself) is a kind of preamble to self-evaluation. It actually leads to the exact opposite, evaluation by others, via the indisputably compelling medium of multiple choice tests.

I don't want to carp on about the fatuousness of equating academic excellence with multiple test scores here - I'll save that for next week - but I did feel sorry for the diligent students who slavishly pored over their books during my class time. I also felt sorry for the disenfranchised souls who had already, at the very least on a subconscious level, opted out of the education system and just wanted to sleep, as well as those who spend so much of their putative leisure time studying, that they too appear narcoleptic during school hours. I really admire the resilience and determination, in some respects, of most the kids at my school. Their education system, to my limited view, seems a joyless procession of rote learning, tests and relentless, stifling, educational hot-housing. The kids' knowledge resembles hothouse blooms, too: often forced, twisted and abject. While some blossom spectacularly, most are deformed or stunted. My kids memorize trigonometry graphs, but some labour under the misconception that a fan in a room with all windows and doors closed will likely kill you (the Korean urban myth of fan death is worth chuckling about: read about it on Wikipedia). 

While to some degree some kids back home suffer this as well, it's neither as intense, nor as monotonous. The cookie-cutter-style personalities of a lot of the kids here is both a product of and reinforced by a system that desires, requires and rewards automatons, rather than more rounded learners. I was interested to read a while back that many of the higher-ranked universities in Korea now administer their own exams for prospective students, so fed up are they with a system that discourages talented youngsters to think creatively, or even to think of something like the English language as an organic entity without immutable rules. This is encouragingly a step in the right direction at least. I hope it filters down to the broader education system.

Anyway, boring, and worse still, probably clichéed rant over. This weekend some friends, Sam, and I hiked through Wolchulsan National Park again. This time we decided to hike from Cheonhwangbong end of the park to the Dogapsa end, the reverse to how I've done it the two times I've been there before. It was busy, as we didn't really get there early enough, but still a good day.

After writing a lot on hiking after the Chuseok break, I'm taking a break and leaving this as a photo essay.

Precarious-looking suspension bridge on the way the Cheonghwangbong, which is top left, covered in cloud

Baram falls from the suspension bridge

On the way to Cheonghwangbong

Some of Wolchulsan's more noticeably strange rock formations

I made myself unpopular by insisting we took a half hour detour to see this Buddha carved into the rock face

The eulalia fields, just before the trail down to Dogapsa

1 comment:

  1. Self study is a funny word to use for the act of studying indeed. But it is some nice time off from teaching.