AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 98

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Session 98: Societal Pressures and Education Fever in China and Korea

Organizer: Andrew B Kipnis, Australian National University, Australia

Both China and Korea are famous for the intensity of their educational systems. In both countries, parental desire for university education for their children is almost universal and exam related competition for university places is intense. The intensity of the competition both reflects and generates complex societal dynamics. Class mobility and differentiation, national and international patterns of migration, gender relations and strategies for child-raising, ethnic relations and marital patterns, not to mention economic structures and political legitimacy, all influence and are influenced by the value attached to educational success. The intensity of educational competition also creates divergent pressures on differentially situated members of the community—the families of good and poor students and students from wealthy and poorer households experience the competition the system generates quite differently. Ironically, policy measures taken to reduce the competition often end up reproducing the competitive pressure in slightly different form. Papers in this panel examine aspects of the social causes and effects of educational fever in the two countries. Sang-Young Park examines the Korean state’s countermeasures against Korea’s private education from the 1970 to the 2000s, suggesting that the state’s policy measures have been becoming increasingly ineffective. Yookyung Bang analyses the unintended consequences of attempts to make the Korean education system less intense. Andrew Kipnis depicts how the policies encouraging the privatization of educational services in Shandong province, China reproduce the very forms of educational competition they were supposed to combat. Mette Halskov Hansen describes efforts to raise the educational competitiveness of disaffected students at rural Chinese schools.

Visions of the Chinese learned individual: Hesse, Confucius, and motivational pep-rallies in the rural high school
Mette Halskov Hansen, University of Oslo, Norway

Based on fieldwork in an ordinary small-town high school in China, this paper discusses how rural students are trained to take individual responsibility for success as well as failure in their educational endevour. Education fevers are high in this relatively well-off rural region of southern China, and social pressures to succeed are strong, from parents as well as school authorities and teachers whose salaries and careers depend on the performance of their students. However, the young students themselves often express a lack of motivation, fear of failing, and doubts about their own abilities to live up to the expectations. The paper analyses how school authorities therefore employ new methods to combat waning motivations among students. These methods illustrate how the individual is held entirely responsible for his or her own performance and degree of success in the final test – the national examination – and therefore also for the family's degree of success in gaining face, status, and a higher income. More specifically, the presentation will discuss contradicting visions of what constitutes the 'Chinese learned individual' as they are communicated to rural high school students through the curriculum, election campaigns of the student association, and in new-style motivational pep-rallies.

The Korean State's Countermeasures Against Private Education
Sang-Young Park, Australian National University, South Korea

Korea’s education fever is often manifested in Korea’s widespread private education, against which the Korean state has been implementing a series of countermeasures for decades. The Park Chung Hee regime of the 1970s and the Chun Doo Hwan regime of the 1980s resorted to such strong policy measures as “Equalization Policy” and all-out ban on private education. These policies were no doubt authoritarian and draconian, but they were considered effective to counter Korea’s growing private education at the time. As Korea has become more democratized in the 1990s, however, these measures came to be gradually loosened up, leading to the Constitutional Court’s decision in 2002 to lift the ban on private education. Since then, Korea’s unleashed private education industry rapidly grew through swift specialization and diversification, which is represented by the rise of the Dachi-dong area as the nation’s private education capital. Korea’s soaring private education has been spearheaded by the Korean upper middle classes, and this can be seen in the cases of the “Kangnam moms” and the “wild geese fathers.” Korea’s rising private education and the Korean middle classes’ active participation in it are increasingly moving beyond the reach of the Korean state.

Marketing Private Educational Services in Small-Town China
Andrew B Kipnis, Australian National University, Australia

In Shandong province, China the provincial government banned public schools from running weekend and after-school study session in the hopes of reducing educational competition. The result has been an explosion of private businesses offering tutoring and after school classes to fill the gap. While the wide variety of services available seems to cater to the interests and aptitudes of individualized children, the marketing of the services reproduces the very ideologies of social competitiveness and hierarchy that the designers of provincial education policy hoped to combat. Moreover, the provision of these services homogenizes the students as much as it individuates them. This paper analyses the marketing strategies for and the consumption of a wide variety of educational services in one small town in Shandong. With reference to the classic work of Durkheim and Foucault, it examines the interrelations among homogenization, individuation, hierarchy and nation building in the provision of educational services

Admitting Failure: South Korean Higher Education and the American Admissions Model
Yookyung Bang, Columbia University, USA

In recent years, many South Korean universities and colleges have revised their admissions practices by implementing alternative criteria for student evaluation, instead of relying exclusively on standardized test scores and high school grades. Some of the institutions have adopted a more holistic approach, citing prestigious U.S. colleges and universities as their models, in order to "qualitatively" evaluate each student's "potentials and individual characteristics" and to reduce pressure on students and parents who spend a disproportionately high amount of money and time to prepare for the high-stake and high-stress national college entrance test. While most of the students still go through the traditional process, some students seek to differentiate themselves as “qualitatively” different from other students with comparable test scores. This paper analyses how South Korean high school students and other stakeholders respond and adjust to the new admissions system and how a specific and relative notion of individual “merit” is constructed in the process.