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Taylor Deardorff

Prof Glass-Hastings
EDUC 310 A
Imagine a young kindergartener full of hope and excitement for his or her first day of school. Many
of us in the United States would likely say he or she has every opportunity open to him or her; but other
countries would have different views on what that child is capable of achieving. Through comparative
analysis, we can examine the countries of Germany and South Korea with respect to this fictional child to
determine the educational trademarks of both countries systems. Every educational system must be
examined in its ecological context, and by analyzing the countrys history, nationwide policies, and differing
viewpoints on the child and family, we can gain further understanding of the reasons for their exiting
educational systems. Education is a reflection of greater societal values and ideals, and thus Germany and
Koreas respective systems differ as their cultures do; however, despite their many differences, a comparison
of German and South Korean education can be mostly apt and fair.
Educational Trademarks
If that kindergartener were German, she would begin school and, after fourth grade, be placed in a
track. Germany educations most distinctive trademark is its heavy emphasis on tracking, a process of
using assessments of skills and knowledge to place German children into different types of schools
(LeTendre 43). This tracking system is also called the tripartite system, for in most cases there are three
different schools a given child could be tracked into (Andell 16). After fourth grade, if he or she were one
of the best candidates, he or she would be placed into the gymnasium, supplying a general education for
students intending to attend a university (Andell 16). He or she could also be placed in the realschule, a

level below the gymnasium that offers both a general and a vocational education. Most graduates of the
realschule will find work in the commercial and service sectors (Andell 16-17). At the bottom tier of the
tripartite system is the hauptschule, which strictly focuses on work-studies (Andell 17).
The tripartite system itself illustrates another German education trademark: respect for and reliance on
apprenticeships. While in some countries failing to aspire for higher education past high school would be
looked down upon, industry or factory workers are admired in Germany (No Guest Workers Please 2015).
Although this child may have been tracked into a hauptschule, she could still graduate and have a high
assurance of finding a job (Misek 12). Germanys apprenticeship program allows for an extremely low youth
unemployment rate, at 7.4% with the European average at 21.9% (No Guest Workers Please 2015).
If that same child were Korean, however, she wouldnt be placed into a definite track early on. A
trademark of Korean education is its egalitarian nature, and a deep love and respect for education (Seth 1113). South Koreans view education as the way to continuing development and self-improvement. Thus, they
place a high importance on education and believe that everyone should have access to education (Seth 5).
While they do not track their students in the same way as the Germans, another trademark of Korean
education is their reliance on standardized tests. The two most important are the Entrance Examination to
place students into high school, and the College Scholastic Aptitude Test (CSAT) to place students into
college (Seth 7-8). How a student performs on these two tests determines which schools he or she can or
cannot go to, and how easily he or she can achieve their future goals (Seth 7). To an extent, the Koreans do
track their students into two different types of schools based on a measure of ability. However, the Korean
system, unlike the German system, still allows for mobility even if a student performed poorly on one test.
For example, if this child scored low on the Entrance Examination and placed into a Vocational high school,
he or she could take the CSAT and still place into a very good university. There is thus no structural

winnowing of students and all could seek to advance to higher levels (Seth 6). This kind of flexibility is
usually not seen after German children are placed into their tracks. Unfortunately, the high importance and
emphasis they place on these tests causes an extreme amount of stress in Korean students (Seth 8). A high
student suicide rate is an object of national concern (Lee 2011).
To truly understand the similarities and differences of Germany and South Koreas respective
education systems, its important to understand the ecological contexts of each, beginning with mesosystems.
Mesosystems are relationships between contexts or microsystems in which the developing person
experiences reality; essentially, the connections between smaller groups the child is a part of (Garbarino 23).
The most important mesosystem of any child in school would be the relationship between their home life and
their school life. In both Germany and South Korea, parents support and encourage betterment through
education. In Korea, though, because of the competitive nature of its schooling system, parents commonly
add another layer of involvement by paying out of their own pocket for their child to receive additional
private education (Seth 10).
As important as education is in Korean society, it makes sense that parents view teaching as a highly
respected career deserving of respect (NCEE). This respect and reverence is demonstrated through a widely
celebrated national Teachers Day in Korea. However, while they generally give teachers authority over their
children, German parents can often defy the choices and recommendations of their childs teachers when it
comes to their childs placement within a track (Andell 25-26). This gives parents a power over the course of
their childs education that isnt possible in Korea, with its emphasis on testing as determinative.
If a German child pursued an apprenticeship instead of higher education, though, they would
experience the mesosystem of interaction between their education and private industry. Germany is unique in

that their educational system is largely shaped around what employers want; their unions, government, and
industry all function as a cohesive unit and work to support everyone involved. (Dribbusch & Birke 7-8).
This same support system could not be found in Korea, where one is looked down upon for attending a nonprestigious university, much less no university at all (Abelmann et al. 38-41).
Exosystems, the next ecological context, for a child are settings that have power over his or her life,
yet in which the child cannot participate (Garbarino 23). The exosystems for a child from Korea and
Germany are both similar in the fact that they are inextricably linked to their countries pasts. After World
War II, the German state and its education system were left divided and in ruins (Andell 16). Germany
redesigned their approach to education in an effort to avoid the economic and societal problems that plagued
them in the first half of the century and allowed Hitler to take power, specifically high unemployment and
inflation (The Holocaust Explained). Germans instituted tracking to avoid high unemployment rates, and
they have been successful in that regard (OECD 2). Their reliance on private industry also stems from their
pastGermany lets private industry dictate the educational system, because they dont want the government
to do so (Misek 16).
Koreas education system is shaped similarlyas a reaction to their past. Japan occupied Korea until
1945, and after only around 5% of Korean citizens had a formal education (Seth 4). The Korean government
strategized that a new, robust educational system would be the way they would reboot their country (Seth 6).
Education played a huge role in Koreas modernization (Brazinsky 53). This ecological context demonstrates
itself in Koreans high regard for education and the immense pressure and stress that accompanies
standardized testing. While Korean and German educational systems look very different today, they were
both formed with the same goal in mind: preventing circumstances of a past they did not want to repeat.

A macrosystem is the setting in which all exosystems and mesosystems exist, or the broad
ideological and institutional patterns of a particular culture or subculture (Garbarino 24). Germanys
macrosystem consists of values that shape their rigid educational system. They value independence and selfreliance (Kirkman 294), and view their children as an investment that should pay off. This is demonstrated by
tracking, in that children who are the best should get to reach their full potential, and their very low
birthrate, around 1.36 (Grimm 2014). They also still have a male-breadwinner model, which explains why
preschool is optional, because usually they have a mother at home (Grimm 2014).
Koreas macrosystem is shaped largely by their reliance on Confucian dynamism, which stresses the
value of filial piety (Seth 5) This influences each Korean to give high respect to those in authority above
them, such as teachers and their parents (Seth 9). This emphasis on family helps explain their reverence for
teachers, and the motivation behind why many Korean students strive for successmost of the time, it is to
fulfill their familys wishes.
Is a Fair Comparison Possible?
We have just explored an educational comparison; however, there can be a danger in comparing two
different countries educational systems. No educational system exists in a vacuum, instead life in schools
and classrooms is an aspect of our wider society, not separate from it (Kubow & Fossum 29). Culture is not
simply a category for analysis, for treating culture as an independent variable in a statistical calculation
encourages the assumption that an educational strategy can be detached from the values and conditions
which give it meaning and ensure its success (Kubow & Fossum 30). Indeed, any comparative analysis
must include fully understanding each countrys culture, because culture, in comparative analysis and
understanding, and certainly in national systems of education, is all (Kubow & Fossum 30). Korea and

Germany have differently shaped educational systems for their citizens, but these choices and policies are not
arbitraryas we have seen, they are a reaction to the respective countrys past and larger societal values.
However, comparison between the two countries is possible. If we can avoid inserting our own
cultural biases, we can instead aim for conceptual equivalence, which is trying to identify the same general
concepts present in each country (Theisen & Adams 279). As Theisen and Adams note, the primary task of
the comparative researcher is to identify an acceptable level of conceptual equivalence across cases regarding
the idea, institution, or process being studied (279). By keeping the disparities in each culture in mind,
Korea and Germany can be compared, because a great deal of conceptual equivalence exists between the two
countries. They both have state-funded, widespread education that families in each country respect. They
both instituted these systems for the goal of using education to create a new, better future for their citizens.
To compare the two doesnt mean requiring cultural borrowing; it allows us to learn more about each
country, and our own society, by making the strange familiar (Kubow & Fossum 27).
We must be cautious in comparing any two educational systems, but if we can understand each
country in its own ecological context before doing so, it makes the comparison fairer. Germanys existing
educational tripartite system stems from their exosystem influences and countrywide economic goals, while
Koreas test-based system and great respect for education is a reaction to their past as well as their
macrosystem values of filial piety. In the end, the similarities and differences between Korea and Germany
demonstrate that no countrys educational system is created without purpose.

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