Education: What determines a successful school system?

NCTA at Trinity University

I was recently invited to attend an event hosted by the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia (NCTA) at Trinity University in San Antonio since my book, Less Stress for Teachers, was being gifted to the guest teachers visiting from South Korea. During the American portion of the presentation, attendees were given impressive statistics about the South Korean school system:

205 school days – compared to our average of 180

8:00-4:00 school day – compared to our typical day of 8:30-3:30

Additional tutoring at a separate school (cram schools) until well into the evening – compared to no separate school for tutoring here

15 years in a traditional classroom – compared to 13 years here

85% of students enter college – compared to some areas in the U.S. that have a 50% high school drop-out rate

End result: South Korea ranks at the top of the world in nearly every school subject.

Those are the kinds of stats that make American teachers smack themselves on their foreheads and mutter things like, “Why can’t our schools be like that?” “Why can’t our students be like that?” “How will we ever compete?”

And those are the kinds of stats the media uses to crucify our education system and teachers.

But when you talk to the South Korean teachers, they tell us the human side of the story that can’t be quantified in statistics.

They have a labor problem because college graduates don’t want to work blue collar jobs. The U.S. tries to keep out low-wage workers, but they need to import them.

Their students must meet critical deadlines. The Korean teachers noticed that many of the American teachers they observed encouraged students to take their time.

Their students are stressed out beyond belief and are not encouraged to express their emotions. The teachers commented on how happy American students looked.

Their students’ names, grades and rankings are posted on a wall for everyone in the school to see. In the U.S. that would lead to some kind of lawsuit about a violation of privacy.

Their students don’t have hobbies and many don’t understand the meaning of fun.

Their students don’t have high school electives (“fun classes”) from which to choose.

End result: The U.S. ranks well below other nations on international exams, but we’re free and happy.

After their panel discussion, I had the chance to speak with a few of the South Korean teachers about the saying, “The grass is always greener.” We want to be like South Korea. South Korea wants to be like us. Or we think we do, anyway.

What is the best type of school system? That depends on who’s judging.  What do you think?

About Helene Segura

Helene Segura teaches go-getters how to use their time more efficiently in order to have a more peaceful life. For details about her, be sure to visit

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