Thursday, March 6, 2008

Educational Nomads

The previously mentioned Indian Wave is in Korea, although in a slightly different form from what's going on in Japan:

An increasing number of Korean children now study in India, where they can learn English more cheaply than in the U.S. or the U.K. Parents are also impressed by the reputed strengths of Indian education in math and science, making the country an affordable alternative to the traditional destinations for Korea’s “educational refugees.”
Of course somebody beat me to breaking (well, blogging about) the story; Seoul Buffoon has already weighed in with his experience and has noted this amusing side effect:
At half the cost, the kids can get a decent education conducted in the English language. But of course, there is a caveat. They will end up speaking with Indian accents!

In fact my partner was there for two years (thats where I met her and followed her to Korea) and she speaks English with an Indian accent! Infact if she speaks in English on the phone, the person at the other end may actually think that she is an Indian!! Joking ofcourse, but the point I am trying to make is that if Korean parents can “tolerate the Indian accent” it works to their advantage.
I find this interesting since I'm now forced to reconcile the contradiction between the parents who send the kids off to India and the parents who are blind to acknowledging anything other than American English. I spell colour with a U even though I'm told that it's wrong.

But there's something else about this article that caught my eye: Educational Refugees. It's the first time that I've heard that term but to me the word refugee is loaded with so much tragedy and suffering that to use it to describe children of affluent parents and their personal education choices is very questionable. I'll grant that there maybe some validity when used as a commentary on Korean education but this goes too far and turns the affair into a sad hyperbole. For one, I'm sure that the Chosun isn't being hipster ironic and for another these Korean children are not being left behind:
As a high school teacher and guidance counselor, I am currently dealing with the fallout of [The No Child Left Behind Act] as I try to find schools for students who are not doing well in our school. We are a "failing school" that is "in need of improvement" and heading toward "corrective action." Yes, our test scores are low. But they are low because we are a transfer high school, meaning that we take in students who are being pushed out of other schools that need to meet AYP and these "weak" students will prevent them from doing so by scoring abysmally on the tests. The mission of our school is to educate these second chance kids, NCLB be damned. However, on occasion we do have students that need to tranfer to another school. And this is what happens: nobody wants these students. There are hundreds, probably thousands of students that no school will take in because those students are a "liability." The schools that have been educating these second chance kids for decades and trying to open up other possibilities for them are now being punished for doing so. NCLB hangs over schools like ours menacingly. We have been educating students that no other school wants for 25 years. When schools like ours disappear or are "restructured," what alternatives will kids have?
In this comment the Educational Refugee label has some merit since these children have no other alternative in the mainstream education culture. In another example, I found this website that uses the same metaphor albeit entrenched in a Christian motif:
Quite often, they start their homeschooling because of some negative causes, such as their children getting bullied in public schools. They are always in need of various kinds of help and encouragement from outside. Sad to say, many Japanese churches are not cooperative to the homeschoolers in Japan Homeschoolers often do not receive cooperative or positive reactions from other church members, and this can be detrimental for their Christian life. Even some of them are "persecuted" by other church members.
Even though I don't agree with subject matter, this contemporary use of Educational Refugee seems appropriately well placed, reinforcing the notion that Educational Refugees are members of society targeted for exclusion. This then poses the question: Are the Korean Kids being alienated by the national educational policies? I would say no. It seems like they (or their parents) are instead opting out of the educational system to gain that extra educational edge:
The OECD recently released the results of its Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). In the survey, Korean students finished first in reading skills, fourth in mathematics, and 11th in science. When the report was released, Koreans made a fuss about the science ranking plummeting to 11th from top place six years earlier. But the foreign press still regards Korea as a nation of excellent students. Despite the students' outstanding performance, Korean parents are uneasy about the country's education system. They covet an "advanced education," setting their eyes on overseas schools. They are aware that high scores don't necessarily reflect real abilities or skills. Nonetheless, they are so worried that they send their children to private crammers and continually push them for higher and higher scores.
So it looks like it's safe to say that the Chosun's usage of Educational Refugee is a good example of mediocre journalism that's thankfully outside of the current emotionally charge atmosphere. Except that I found Rieko Fry's PhD thesis Japanese children abroad: Politics of education for kaigaishijo and kikokushijo with this breif history in it's introduction:
Business expansion in the 1960s and its associated international strategies have meant that many Japanese company employees and their families were sent abroad on long-term assignments. The children who accompanied their parents on such assignments and then returned to Japan were first described as 'educational refugees' and were regarded as culturally ambiguous, socially marginalized and academically disadvantaged. The Japanese government considered that special measures were needed for these children, as they had missed out on the standard education that they would otherwise have received. Consequently, it introduced various educational options so that they could reintegrate smoothly into Japanese society and its educational system. Later, in the 1980s, when 'globalization' became vital to Japan, the attributes associated with such children were recast and they began to be regarded as 'valuable national assets' for their supposed rich cross-cultural awareness and bilingual abilities, the very qualities the government sought in the new generations of Japanese.
Interestingly enough the term was at first referencing an internal demographic, much like the left behind of No Child Left Behind, but soon became a fashionable (i.e marketable) quality. I can only guess that this is the same logic behind the Chosun's usage; the term has mutated within the Korean monoculture to a point of direct contradiction with it's dictionary definition. Simply put, Education Refugee is now Konglish.

But then I find this story and learn what it means to be a true Korean Educational Refugee:
The educational exodus from Korea has created not just success stories. The number of students who give up on their studies overseas and return to Korea is increasing, from 8,019 in 2001 to 13,586 in 2005. Some soon pack their bags again because they can no longer adapt to their home country either.
So it seems clear enough: the Konglish definition of Educational Refugees is an umbrella covering all Korean nationals who acquire education outside of Korea. This is a mislabeling since these students don't become Educational Refugees (by measure of the rest of the word) until they return home and experience the alienation brought upon by their foreign education -- much like Seoul Buffon's Partner but of course to a larger and less humorous degree -- and acquire a new designation in the Korean monoculture: The Educational Nomad.


JK said...

Hello, I live in Atlanta GA. Korean-American who lived in Korea for 6 years. First of all, thanks for blogging this good stuff, well written and nice to see something written about Korea that shows a human touch.

I had a question. A work colleague of mine is in Mokpo for the weekend, and wanted recommendations on what to do. Any recommendations? Nothing good on yahoo travel, frommers or even the Mokpo government travel site.

Thanks, my email if you don't mind giving a few pointers:

Many thanks,

choi said...

Hi!You must be confused with the word,Education refugees, for Korean students who have studied overseas, for this indicates absolutley different situations in the United States.I think there are a bunch of misused English words by Korean due to the incomplete knowlege of English or inference of Korean language.

I am not sure if Chosun knows you have the different definition on it, but I think Chosun might just translate 'refugees' to wandering people with no residences. Chosun doesn't seem to have your definition on its mind.

You are right. Eduation refugees is used to describe Korean students who have studied overseas, but failed to adopt themselves to Korea Education curriculum, and reconsider leaving Korea again.

Anyway, as the parents, that is one of the most worried things to me. Korea and America school systems are not alike. Not only school, but also custom, behavior, and culture are also different. As my son has got accustomed to American style, if we go back to Korea in a year, my son should undergo the difficult and hard time.

Oh! It is lunch time. I have to get a bite. Be back soon. Sorry!

JUDY said...

I have two blogs and this is my main ID.

My son should take the tutor to catch up with Korea subjects that he has missed in the United States.
Like other Korean students, after school, he will go to the private academic institutions called hawkwon in Korea.
At school, he will have no friends, which makes him feel sad and small. He has to start over everything again. Since this process is demanding, he could ask me to go back to the United States, which is the worst. Here, the worst means he finally puts his name on the list of the education refugees. He is neither an American nor a Korean student.

I just hope that he will get over these difficulties ahead of him.

Talk later!