Friday, March 30, 2007

The True Definition of a Hagwon

With the beginning of the new school year (March 1), we started specialized classes. For the most part this works really well and we can focus on a particular area of English study instead of trying to teach everything at once.

The classes are broken down into reading comprehension, writing, grammar, conversation and vocabulary. The down side is that with our schedule, the students might have a different teacher for each one of those subjects. They then get homework in each subject but it isn't due until the following week's class.

The students are slowly figuring out the system though this past month we've had a lot of problems. Students bring their grammar books on reading days and their vocabulary books on writing days. They forget to turn in their homework or leave it at home. Each student has a book for each class and then either a practice book or a homework book to accompany it. Most students have nine-plus books for English class!

More than ever before I feel that we are fulfilling the mission of a hagwon - cram school. For 50 minutes each Friday I drill the kids on 12 new vocabulary words. We go over definitions, parts of speech and usage in sentences. For their homework, they are then supposed to be able to complete complex analogies, use the vocab words to complete sentences and write their own sentences using each of the words. Yikes!

There are 18 pages of homework for vocabulary. Then the students have homework each week in reading, writing, grammar and conversation. This isn't even taking into account that they are all going to public school and probably have homework in each of those classes. Most of the students then go to one or two other hagwons (music, math, science, taekwondo, etc.) and have homework in each of those.

Are we asking too much of these students? It is debatable. It is what their parents and society expects. They'd just better get it all done or else it is down to the principals office where they face the corporal punishment lovingly doled out at the end of a stick by a short but stern and scary Korean lady.

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