I am in a group on Facebook of Korean university professor where foreign and Korean professors discuss topics pertaining to universities in Korea. Today, one of the foreign professors was complaining and wondering why he had to take attendance in university classes in Korea. In his country, attendance isn’t compulsory, but it is here in Korea, and he can’t understand it. I answered the post and explained that Korea is a Confucian culture, and the younger ones are all controlled by the older ones. They can’t wait until they get to control someone else because everyone tries to control them. This control issue doesn’t just show up in attendance at universities, but in many aspects of life in Korea. Koreans have this idea that if universities students don’t come to class, there is no way they can learn anything, and they treat their university students like high school students in other countries. Attendance is important, but from experience, I know there are circumstances where students learn even though they aren’t in class. However, Koreans are very against homeschooling, and if a student has been home schooled, they better not try to go to the university in Korea because the Koreans think physical presence in the classroom is the only way to learn. They give grades for attendance. Every country looks at attendance and grades slightly differently, and there are many different systems. What you are used to is not the only way of doing it, and teachers who travel have to get used to many new ways of doing things.
In both Korea and Japan, getting into the university is hard, and the students have no social life in high school because they are trying to get into the university. In America, students have a lot of social life, but when they enter the university in America is when the real tough studying begins. Many university students in America stay up all night studying. In Korea and Japan both, the university is the time when the student feel like they have made it, and they can finally relax and play. The social development of the Koreans and the Japanese has been delayed because of all the studying in high school. In America, the students begin dating in high school, but not so in Korea and Japan. When I was a student in Japan, an American professor pointed out to me that many Japanese girls giggle like American high school girls and seem much younger than they are. It is a difference in culture. When American students get to the university, they know how expensive it is, and even though it does happen, they usually don’t skip classes, but the Koreans feel they have to force the students to come to class because of their lower maturity levels. We consider American university students adults and responsible for themselves, but they don’t consider the Korean and Japanese students adults.
In America when I was a student, some of the classes had an attendance policy and some didn’t. One teacher would drop your grade from and A to a B if you missed 3 classes. Another teacher didn’t require attendance, and he probably should have because there were times my roommate and I got up and decided to go get donuts instead of going to class. I still got a good grade, but could have done better if I had attended better. I was pretty naive back then, and that is what you can call the Korean and Japanese university students too. They have been so controlled their whole lives that they don’t know in many ways how to handle themselves. I happened to have had very controlling parents too, and it caused me to be very innocent and socially younger than the other American university students when I was in school like the Japanese and Korean students.
When I was teaching at the university in Romania, I learned that attendance wasn’t initially compulsory in any of their classes, but I had come to teach, and I wanted them to come to my classes. In many classes, the Romanian students came to the first class, listened to what they would be learning in that class, then went home and got their books and studied on their own and didn’t bother attending the classes only showing up for the tests. I wanted to teach, so on the very first day of class, I would get up and give such a spill that they were convinced they had to attend my classes, so my classes were attended.
There was another American professor who showed up when I was there. She saw the attendance problem and wanted everyone to attend, so she insisted they make attendance books and take attendance. The university complied, but after she left, they went back to their old system. We can’t change other’s systems as we travel. Their systems are part of their culture and works for them. Our way is not the only way.
There was a Romanian professor whose classes no one attended, but the university wanted them to attend his class. His class met just before mine. The students were enrolled in both classes, but didn’t show up until my class. The school though the next semester, they would put my class first and his right after mine in the same classroom, and the students would show up for my class and then stay for his, but it didn’t happen. They showed up for my class, then went home. They did whatever they could to dodge that professor, and he didn’t care. They had taken off down the hall way one day after class, and he was coming down the hallway the other way. When I came out of the classroom, I told him where his students were, but he didn’t care. He ignored me and ignored them. He considered it their responsibility to get to class and didn’t care if they didn’t come.
When I was teaching Japanese at that university, there was a boy who told me that mine was the only class he was attending. He liked my class, but didn’t like the others, so he just didn’t go. I sat down and talked to him telling him how important it was to attend classes for his future. The very next weekend, he went swimming at a lake and drown. I was really shocked when I heard, but I thought about how much he enjoyed my classes and was glad he at least had some joy in his life, and how fruitless that talk I gave him was.
Eventually, they established a system where some of the classes in our university in Romania had compulsory attendance and others had what was called “Fara Fragrence” which means “without frequency.” That meant they didn’t have to attend if they just passed the tests. All my classes were eventually made mandatory because they said the students needed practice speaking in English or Japanese, whatever I was teaching, and coming to my classes was the only way they could get the benefit of me being there. They couldn’t speak English or Japanese at home.
I also learned when I was in Romania that none of the university classes in Germany have required attendance. Again, if they just show up and take the tests, that is all they have to do. If they can get the knowledge elsewhere, fine, they can. They don’t consider class attendance to be the only way they can get knowledge.
I understand the Koreans making a big deal out of attendance because their students act very young. In one class, one girl thought she was going to get away with showing up for class, sitting by the back door, and after attendance was called, she would slip out. She had forgotten that she dyed her her orange, so was different from everyone else. I missed her when she left, and she got an absence for that day. The English majors were not into skipping classes. It was the students in the general English classes taught for everyone in the university that you had to watch.
The university here in Korea is so controlling that they don’t just let the professors average the grades and turn the grades in at the end of the semester. They give us a form to fill out on the computer. We have to give a separate grade for attendance, homework, mid term test, and then the final test. A different amount of points must be entered for each heading, and the computer actually gives the final grade. We are told what percentage of the grade each section should convey, but in the major classes, we get to decide the percentages for ourselves. However, a grade must be there for each category. In America and in Romania, all I did was figure out the grades and turn them in. I never had to break them down like I did in Korea when I turned them in. Every grade I put in each section of the Korean computer, including the attendance had to be backed up with evidence from my records, and at the end of the semester, after I put my grades in the computer, I had to turn the evidence into the university office. They felt the need to control every part. The computer was programmed to grade very different from how we grade in America.
In America, the average of the grades was the grade. In Korea, not so. There were rules that only a small percentage of the students could get an A, only a small percentage could get a B, etc. The computer was programmed in such a way that if a student actually had a grade that would give them an A, but there were too many students with an A, and that student had a lower grade, but still technically an A, they still couldn’t get an A. They were pushed down to a B+. That meant that if too many students had B’s, the one with the lower B would be pushed down to a C, and so on down the scale.
When students who knew they had an A average got a B, they would get mad and call me up and try to push me into changing the grade, but the university rules said I couldn’t change it even though I felt they should have an A if they earned it. If I gave then an A, I would have to change the grade of another student who had an A and give them the B because the computer only allowed a certain number of A’s. Some of them got so mad their parents called the main office and yelled. That would cause the main office to call my boss, and my boss would call me in and yell at me too. It wasn’t my system that caused it, and I disagreed with their system, but I took the blame. Students calling up professors and complaining after you post the grades is just part of the system here in Korea in every university. They are given the teacher’s private cell phone number and told that it is normal to try to get the teacher to change their grade. Many called up who had a bad grade and tried to push for an A+ saying they would lose their scholarship if you didn’t give them an A+ after they didn’t attend, didn’t do their work, and didn’t make a decent grade on the tests. They try to make it the teacher’s fault if the students fail.
There was a senior in one of my general English classes who should have passed that class as a freshman, but could care less about coming to class or doing her homework. She told me that I couldn’t flunk her for doing nothing because she was out of there. She was going to graduate regardless. When I was figuring out the grades, my boss called and told me that the girl must graduate and that I couldn’t flunk her. I didn’t like her passing when she actually flunked, but I had to do what my boss told me. Eventually, I learned that my boss had taken a bribe to change the girl’s grade.
My students in Romania tried for bribes too, but I never took a bribe. When it was time for a final test in Romania, the student showed up with 2 liter bottles of pop, chocolate bars, and flowers. My desk was full of goodies. I told them all I appreciated the gifts, but that none of it would have any influence on their grades. I wondered if there were professors who actually succumbed to bribes like that Korean professor, but I didn’t know. All I knew was that I didn’t.
As you can see, just because you attended the university in a certain country doesn’t mean that every country does it the way yours did it. Some think student must attend class. Others think if the students can find books and get the information elsewhere, fine, and they let them take the tests and pass the class. Some grades are fair, and some are bought. Some systems make sense, and others don’t. I learned the system of giving grades in the university where I taught in Korea is in all universities in Korea. My school told me they had to institute the system because there were teachers just giving A’s away to make themselves look good, so they decided they had to control the teachers. The system also causes the Korean students to have to compete harder, but there are breakdowns like the teacher who took a bribe and students who really should have a high grade, but can’t because there weren’t enough A’s allotted for that class. When you travel from country to country as I have, you always have a new system to learn. You can’t do it your way because you are outnumbered. It is their country and their school. You can try to change it the way the American professor in Romania did, but it did her no good because when she was gone, her system was too.