Parental involvement in children’s academic success

Researchers find that South Korean students’ academic success is driven from home, specifically' parental support and involvement (Hwang, 2001; Grove, 2017; Kim, 2016; Kim and Bang, 2016). South Korean parents’ enthusiasm and involvement in their children’s education is commonly' described as education fever. Kang (2008, p. 5) sees the fever as paranoia: This “deviant educational fervor... [is] status centered, family centered, symbolism centered, [and] result centered”. From an extreme stance, Koo (2014) argues that most South Korean children’s parents are the main source of the unrelenting pressure put on students. Koo’s view, we argue, is biased in that it ignores other possible interpretations of the source. For instance, supporting children’s education is an important parental responsibility, which means that it is a familial task, sometimes including extended families, that is to be sustained and valued. Many South Korean parents make financial and career sacrifices for their children’s education. Furthermore, as Kim, Lee, and Lee (2005) have argued, South Korean parents’ education fever is “still an evolving concept in South Korean society” (p. 7) which can hardly be understood from one viewpoint. Interviews with South Korean parents confirmed Kim, Lee, and Lee’s (2005) interpretation.

Sujin: I believe that education matters the most for my children. I do not only mean achieving good credentials, but also that learning well and much is important. I believe that getting my children a good education is the best thing I can do for them.

Heesuk: Through education, one gets what one wants, either university degrees or desired jobs. I know that some successful people did not get a good education, but through education, success may be easier.

Byungkuk: I simply support what my son wants. He wants to become an international lawyer. He is goal-oriented and highly motivated. He often asks me for financial support for his additional education beside schooling. In fact, [public] schooling is not much help for him because his academic levels are much higher than those of his peers. I do not think that I put much pressure on him. It is he who takes the lead.

As we see from the interviews, South Korean parents’ motivation for supporting their children’s learning varies. What they share is that they take education seriously and believe that money spent for education is not wasted but a kind of investment and the parents’ responsibility (Kim, 2016). In fact, for all parents we met, getting a good education for their children is their dream.

Kim and Bang (2016) identified four types of parenting with regard to their children’s education. Autonomy supporters, like Byungkuk, support any activities their children like rather than forcing them to study. Study supremacists, like Sujin, are highly proactive and find resources and information for their children’s education. Apologetic supporters, mostly found among low-income parents, are those who feel that they do not provide enough support for their children’s learning. Value enthusiasts focus on their children’s character development rather than achieving higher grades and exam scores alone. With some variations in terms of the means the four types of parents use, we provide a few characteristics of South Korean parenting which should be understood from a culturally-relevant perspective. In South Korea, parents teach their children that education is the most important, reminding them daily that studying hard will guarantee a successful and happy life (Jung, 2016). Sometimes, sadly, this parental behaviour produces a life-threatening consequence (Kim, 2011). Yet in general, it encourages children to study rigorously in conjunction with various forms of support.

Many South Korean parents monitor, sometimes micro manage, and help their children with doing homework given by both school teachers and hakwon instructors, preparing for performance assessment, and finding extra-curricular activities for entertainment and educational purposes. Many students we met told us that their parents, mostly mothers, provide them with information regarding admission criteria for the school they want to enter, information about private tutoring institutes, tutors, and learning materials they can use. For example, Youngsuk, a 10th grader, told us,

My mom finds for me hakwons I can go to and tutors. Umm, it would be more accurate that she mostly makes decisions for me. Of course, I do not simply follow all her suggestions. But I am busy studying at school, hakwons, and tutoring. My mom does it for me. She has friends she meets daily. She gets information about their children’s learning, schools, upcoming exams, and admission preparations. I sometimes feel pressured by her management, but at the same time I really appreciate it because I know she does it for me.

Some parents, mostly mothers, consider managing their children’s learning as a job: it not only requires a lot of time, but also specific skills such as finding information and helpful individuals. The mothers drop off and pick up their children to move from school to hakwons and home, so that their children save time as well as energy' that they can spend on studying as the term “gangnam mom” refers to an overly solicitous mother who micro-manages her child’s academic achievement (Park et al., 2015, p. 1). However, during our study we also witnessed parents putting increasing academic demands on their gifted children. We have met many students whose parents become upset when they make even a single mistake on a test. Soo-young said, “They are never satisfied. I got almost all the questions right. They never compliment me. Always tell me to do better. Who compliment and encourage me more are my teachers at GE hakwon".

Bernstein’s (1975) theory of invisible and visible pedagogies considers parental roles as invisible, as tacitly influencing students’ learning and education. In contrast, visible pedagogies include strong framing, and explicit controls over the relay of educational practices. We argue that parental influence in South Korea is not implicit or invisible. It is very' visible and explicit in that parents make important decisions, not simply on what career paths they want their children to pursue or what schools they' want their children to enter, but also on the curriculum, materials, teachers, schools, and tutors for their children.

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