The Other Korea

By Sean Cavanagh — April 13, 2009 1 min read
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South Korea’s curriculum and school system draws a lot of scrutiny and praise because of the country’s top-notch performance on international tests. The Republic of Korea, as it is officially known, is continually found near the top of the rankings of nations in math and science, on the TIMSS and PISA, two prominent country-by-country comparisons.

Imagine entering South Korea’s school systems from a nation where education is de-emphasized to the point of leaving students without the most basic reading and math skills. A Washington Post story from this past week describes just such a scenario.

It’s about North Korean defectors who flee to the South to escape the totalitarian country. A common route is to first head north through China and then wind through Southeast Asia nations, typically with the help of a fixer. Many of the refugees described in the story are children, who have all sorts of trouble adjusting to life in a democratic society—one that’s also “rich, wired, consuming” as the story puts it. Unfortunately, many of those who arrive say they have been given little formal education (or little that’s of use). The South Korean government has created programs to help them adjust, which include remedial education and job placement. Fascinating reading.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.