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How the American education system is learning from South Korea
WEDNESDAY, JULY 25, 2012 17:04 PM

When one sets out to compare and contrast the U.S. and South Korea, there are the obvious cultural differences and then there are the disparities in student achievement. In South Korea, 63 percent of young adults hold a college degree, compared to 41 percent of American youths, according to The Washington Post.

While U.S. education statistics can be discouraging compared to data from other parts of the world, hope may lie in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), an education initiative that most states have adopted. The implementation of the CCSS is significant, as South Korea also relies on a standardized curriculum to encourage more students to attend college.

A look at education in South Korea

The news source reported that compulsory elementary education and standardized education helped South Korea go from being a poor country of mostly illiterate farmers to a nation that is now known to churn out countless engineers. This shift proved effective, as the number of South Korean college students rose from a mere 647,500 to 3.6 million between 1980 and 2008.

In that respect, South Korea has accomplished something that school districts across the U.S. hope to emulate through the adoption of the CCSS. With the Common Core in place, American education officials may be able to help students graduate from high school better prepared for college and the workforce.

Just as a student in the technologically advanced city of Seoul learns the same math lessons as his or her peers in a South Korean village, pupils in California will learn at the same pace as those in New York, thanks to the CCSS. However, where the American education system differs from South Korea’s is that economic demands influence what schools in the Asian nation teach. According to the news outlet, the South Korean system is centralized and regulated. Currently, South Korea is in need of professionals in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), so these are the fields students are being prepared for.

As there is no separation between South Korea’s ministry of education and ministry of science and technology, adults like electrical engineer Hyungtae Lee have known what they were going to be when they grow up from a very young age.

"My path has been set since elementary school," Lee told the news source.

CCSS designed to help the U.S. compete

In today’s troubled economy, American jobseekers need all the help they can get to make their career goals a reality. According to the CCSS’ website, the Standards are not just molded by the most effective models throughout the U.S., but from countries across the globe. As a result, the classroom lessons that are aligned with the rigorous Common Core may be just what students need to compete with workers coming out of South Korea.

American students have catching up to do in STEM subjects

It is no secret that South Korea is known for producing students who have a firm handle on STEM subjects. In fact, the news outlet reported that pupils in this country are far more likely to major in engineering than their American counterparts.

This is one area in which President Barack Obama would surely like to see American youths catch up with South Koreans, as the commander-in-chief has consistently stressed the importance of STEM education since taking office. Among the steps the Obama Administration has taken toward increasing children’s interest in subjects like engineering and mathematics is the Educate to Innovate campaign.

"Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America’s success," Obama said in his 2011 State of Union Address. "But if we want to win the future - if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas - then we also have to win the race to educate our kids."