In South Korea, academic pressures are intense. 83% of 5-year-olds receive private education and at age 18, students take an eight-hour university entrance exam. With so much emphasis on academic excellence, many are turning to chavruta study, the yeshiva methodology in which pairs of students debate and ask each other questions based on the text.
“When I read about chavruta (study), I immediately felt an emotional connection,” said mother Kim Hye-kyung. “It was the educational path I’d been dreaming of. I thought my heart was about to burst with joy.”
South Korea’s Jewish community is virtually nonexistent; most South Koreans have never met a Jewish person. But there’s one fact about Jews that just about every South Korean knows.
“Jews account for just 0.2 percent of the world’s population, but 23 percent of Nobel Prize winners have been Jewish,” said student Choi Jae-young. “And despite all the time and money we spend on education, only one Korean has ever won a Nobel award. That irks many Koreans. It makes us want to learn Jews’ secrets.”
Some South Koreans believe that the key to such “secrets” lies in Jewish approaches to education.
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