Korean Parents 'Meddling' in Kids' Schools

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A report in the Korea Daily Los Angeles highlights a growing trend among Korean parents of gift giving and other practices seeking to gain special treatment for their children in public schools.

According to the paper, it is becoming increasingly common for Korean parents to offer high priced gifts such as designer bags or wallets to teachers in the hope that their child will receive special attention. Such practices, it adds, are most often found in schools with heavy concentrations of Korean students whose parents are newly-arrived immigrants with little to no grasp of English.

“Such parents rely on these gifts or other means to communicate with teachers, as they are unable to communicate with them directly,” one school official, whose name was not given, was quoted as saying.

One 4th grader told the paper that he recently gave his teacher a gift certificate for $25, saying he simply wanted to “express his gratitude.” But he added that he’s often seen classmates offer “more expensive gifts.”

While offering gifts to teachers is fairly common in Korea, it has become somewhat controversial there, with several news reports emerging in recent years leading to public condemnation.

“The problem has become significant enough that teachers have come out with stated policies that they will not receive gifts valued at more than $25,” noted the official. He added that he could not think of a single case in which a student had received preferential treatment in return for a gift.

The report also notes that in addition to gifts, a number of Korean parents are opting to go directly to the school principal or district office with complaints or demands, violating the normal procedure of first raising concerns with the student’s teacher.

The problem led one school principal to send out a letter specifically to Korean parents, requesting that they respect protocol and desist with sending complaints directly to his office.

"The decision-making process [in dealing with students] in American schools is not top-down, but bottom-up, so parents must speak with teachers first," said Rachel Park, a parents who has lived in the US for 20 years. "But a number of Korean parents look down on having to go this route, preferring instead to deal directly with school superiors."

In closing, the paper urges parents to instill in their children a sense of independence by allowing them to tackle problems themselves. If the problems persist, then the parents can take it up with teachers first, and later with the principle of district if need be.