Nowadays, more and more teachers come to realize that, in order for them to be able to address their professional duties in the most effective manner, they may never cease being observant of what accounts for the essence of concerned the students’ cognitive predispositions. At their turn, these predispositions appear to reflect the specifics of the student body’s ethno-cultural affiliation.
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This is exactly the reason why, it is namely those national systems of education that happened to be thoroughly attuned to the culturally defined cognitive and perceptual characteristics of the population in question, which are being commonly considered the most effective ones.
The reason for this is that they do ensure the concerned population’s upright mobility and provide an additional value to the affiliated social capital. The validity of this suggestion can be well illustrated, in regards to the educational systems of Finland and South Korea – despite the fact that their functioning is based on a number of mutually incompatible principles, these systems are nevertheless appearing equally effective.
As Kielstra pointed out: “The top performers in the Index (the Global Index of Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment) are Finland and South Korea” (2). The reason for this is that, while designing them, the policy-makers in both countries did take into account the culturally defined particulars of the concerned citizens’ mentality.
After all, it has been well proven that the specifics of one’s existential mode, concerned with the way in which the person in question addresses cognitive tasks, cannot be discussed outside of what he or she happened to be, in the ethno-cultural sense of this word. In other words – people’s culture defines the essence of their cognitive predispositions.
In this paper, I will explore the soundness of this particular thesis at length, while exposing the most important aspects of how the Finnish and South Korean systems of education operate and relating them to what happened to be the predominant socio-cultural discourses on accountability in both of the mentioned countries.
The major qualitative characteristics of the South Korean system of education can be outlined as follows:
‘Testocracy’ – According to Sorenson: “The Korean educational system has become a ‘testocracy’, with the influence of the high school and college entrance exams rippling throughout the system (15). This, of course, implies that South Korean educators tend to regard the notions of ‘knowledge’ and ‘memorization’, as being essentially synonymous.
The high spirit of competitiveness. Ever since their pre-school years, South Korean students are being encouraged to think that, in order for them to be able to attain a social prominence in the future, they may never cease trying to prove themselves being much better than the rest. In its turn, this causes these students to address studying in the highly competitive and yet responsible manner.
The sheer intensity of the educational process. In South Korea, it represents a commonplace practice among students to apply an additional effort into coping up with the applied educational requirements, such as by the mean of resorting to the services of the privately hired tutors.
Authoritarianism. In South Korea, students are being encouraged to regard teachers, as such who enjoy the voice of a final authority on just about everything. Partially, this explains why in South Korea, teachers strive to withhold from indulging in the informal socialization with their students.
The above-mentioned characteristics of the South Korean system of education appear to reflect the fact that the legacy of Confucianism continues to have a powerful effect of the workings of the South Koreans’ mentality – hence, causing them to adopt the so-called ‘holistic’ (Oriental) worldview.
The main qualitative aspect of this particular worldview is the fact that its affiliates are being driven by their unconscious desire to ‘blend’ with the surrounding natural/social environment, rather than to ‘master’ it. Consequently, this causes them to adopt a ‘contextual’ approach towards gaining a new knowledge.
This explains why the South Korean system of education places a strong emphasis on “hard work, memorization, and repetition” (Sorenson 18), as the integral parts of its operational premise. Apparently, this has to do with the fact that it is namely the prospect of securing a well-paid job, which motivates these students to pursue with their studying, in the first place.
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Yet, as we are well aware of, it is specifically the narrowly specialized professionals, who are being highly appreciated, as employees.
In order to become such a specialist, one needs to prove capable of memorizing as much of the career-relevant data, as possible – often at the expense of being unable to broaden his or her overall intellectual horizons. Hence, the actual significance of the South Korean educational ‘testocracy’ – this system is fundamentally consistent with how South Koreans tend to perceive the surrounding reality and their place in it.
Another clearly phenomenological issue, in respect of how the South Korean education system was able to prove itself thoroughly effective, is that, as compared to what it is being the case in Western countries, the Government of South Korea does not invest excessively in education.
According to Sorensen: “The state in South Korea does not devote an extraordinary amount of money to education‐some 4.5 percent of the gross national product, compared with 7.5 percent for the United States” (13).
Nevertheless, this apparent paradox becomes demystified, once we make mentioning of one of the Confucian philosophy’s main principles – the so-called principle of ‘kaizen’, which can be loosely translated in terms of a ‘continual improvement’.
What the application of this principle does in the field of education, is that it naturally prompts both: teachers and students to believe that the lack of educational recourses may never justify the educational process’s ineffectiveness, which contributes to the establishment of the virtuous circle of trust between them.
In plain words, while faced with the lack of these resources, teachers and students are not being expected to simply complain about it (as it is often being the case in the West), but to seek out the innovative approaches to amend the situation.
The particulars of the socio-cultural situation in South Korea also help us to explain why, as it was mentioned earlier, the country’s system of education can be best described as ‘authoritarian’. Apparently, this is nothing but the consequence of the fact that there is no policy of political correctness in South Korea, which in turn can be explained by the high degree of the affiliated population’s ethno-cultural homogeneity.
Unlike what it is being often the case with Western students, there is no simply no way for a South Korean student to go about explaining its academic failures, as being indicative of his or her teacher’s racial biasness.
The validity of the idea that the qualitative features of the system of education in a particular country are highly reflective of the concerned population’s cognitive inclinations can also be illustrated, in regards to Finland. The national system of education in this country is known for the following set of its main attributes:
Affordability (Equity) – The most fundamental principle, upon which the Finnish system of education is based, is the assumption that, regardless of what happened to be the particulars of their socio-economic status, all citizens are entitled to receive a high-quality education.
The mentioned assumption derives out of the idea of a welfare-state. As Sahlberg noted: “Finnish reforms since 1970 have prioritized creating equal opportunities, raising quality, and increasing participation within all educational levels across Finnish society” (5). This is exactly the reason why in Finland, mentally and physically disabled students are not even slightly being discriminated against.
The emphasis is placed on ‘understanding’, rather than on ‘memorizing. In Finland, students are being provided with the unrestricted freedom to reflect upon the obtained knowledge in the classroom. The reason for this is that it is expected to help students to relate to this knowledge emotionally – hence, making it much more likely for them to be able to gain an analytical insight into what they have learned.
This also explains why, as opposed to what it is being the case with their South Korean counterparts, the country’s students are not being required to memorize the vast amounts of information, as the foremost precondition for them to be able to graduate, in the first place.
Libertarianism. In Finland, students are not subjected to the strict code of an academic behavior, which in turn allows them to adopt a somewhat relaxed attitude towards studying: “(Finish) pupils are free to go home in the afternoon unless there is something offered to them in the school” (Sahlberg 9). Yet, this does not seem to have a strongly negative effect on the concerned students’ sense of discipline.
At their turn, the earlier mentioned attributes of the Finland’s system of education can be explained by the fact that Westerners, in general, and Finns, in particular, are endowed with the so-called ‘Faustian’ (analytical) mentality. This mentality’s affiliates tend to adopt a dialectical (concerned with how causes define effects) stance, when it comes to cognizing.
Consequently, this causes them to be primarily concerned with trying to identify the objective subtleties of the subject of their cognitive inquiry, while ignoring the affiliated context. Therefore, there is nothing odd about the fact that, as we have pointed out earlier, the Finnish system of education does not place a heavy emphasis on the ‘memorization’ – there is simply no need for it.
After all, those who tend to ‘probe’ the surrounding reality analytically, rather than to merely reflect upon it, are able to discover this reality’s most fundamental principles. This, of course, empowers Westerners (Finns) rather considerably, in respect of enabling them to utilize their understanding of these principles, while addressing a number of seemingly ‘mechanical’ life-challenges.
The reason for this is simple – one’s awareness of the actual principles of how a particular system function, compensates for the concerned person’s lack of ‘technical’ knowledge (the subject of memorization) about how this system’s components interact, during the course of the process.
The other mentioned characteristics of the Finnish system of education (Affordability, Libertarianism) are being just as indicative of the workings of the Finnish people’s mentality. After all, there can be only a few doubts, as to the fact that there is indeed a link between these people’s endowment with the sense of a ‘Nordic idealism’ and the strength of their commitment to ensuring the equal educational opportunities to all.
Kielstra, Paul. “The Learning Curve 2012 Report: Lessons in Country Performance in Education.” Economist Intelligence Unit. Ed. Dennis McCauley. London: Pearson, 2012. 6-8, 22-25 & 38-40. Print.
Sahlberg, Pasi. “The Finnish Paradox: Less is Mure,” and “Is the Future Finnish?” Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? New York: Teachers College Press, 2011. 41-69 & 124-133. Print.
Sorenson, Clark. “Success and Education in South Korea.” Comparative Education Review 38.1. (1994): 10-35. Print.