Three British teenagers swap their teachers and parents for school life in South Korea, a country with one of the top education systems in the world, but also one of the toughest.
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SCHOOL BELL RINGS
When it comes to school exam results,
Britain is nowhere near the top of the international league table.
In fact, it's Asian countries that consistently take the top spots.
The UK lags behind these masters of education.
And my home nation, Wales, is the worst performing country
compared to England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
I'm Sian Griffiths, education editor at The Sunday Times.
I want to know, what would it take for Welsh schools to compete,
and be at the top of those rankings?
And to do that I need some help.
I'm inviting three pupils from my old school in Wales to
swap their classrooms, teachers and even their parents
to experience school life on the opposite side of the globe...
in Gangnam, in South Korea.
# Oppa Gangnam style... #
Here, pupils work long hours...
teachers can become millionaires... HE SHOUTS IN KOREAN
..and parents plough a small fortune into private tuition for their kids.
This is extreme education.
So, for three days, three Welsh teenagers
will live and breathe Korean education
to find out the secret to their success.
I honestly couldn't keep my eyes open.
This is School Swap - Korean style.
St Davids in Pembrokeshire is the smallest city in Britain.
This is where I grew up and went to school.
Here, I got the grades to go to Oxford to study English.
And back then the quality of Wales' education system was renowned.
But something has changed.
So I want three students from my old school to help me find out what.
I'm sending them to one of the best and toughest education systems
in the world today,
I'm looking forward to experiencing it,
but I honestly don't know how they cope.
Some days I'll only have two lessons in the morning,
or sometimes I have triple lessons at the end of the day,
so I can have a lie-in in the morning.
I do like the social part of school,
but I don't really enjoy the educational side of it.
Some might say that I like my PlayStation a bit more,
or playing sports with my friends a bit more than studying.
School, for me, is about, yeah, sure,
you come along and you see your friends every day,
but it's also about knuckling down and getting some work done.
I want to get the best, I want to be the best,
and I think that all starts with education.
I want to go to Korea because I want to know
why they're doing so much better at education than we are,
and what they have that we don't.
Three very different kids.
But how will they take to the super-tough system of South Korea?
# Everybody is kung fu fighting... #
Our three Welsh teenagers are travelling 6,000 miles
from Pembrokeshire to the capital of South Korea, Seoul.
# It's the book of your life that you're writing... #
For three days, I've arranged for them to be totally immersed
in Korean school and teenage life.
And they need to look the part, too.
It looks like I'm going to play cricket.
So first stop is the local school uniform shop.
-I feel like an air hostess.
-You look like one.
-Oh, my goodness!
Most schools in this area are single sex schools,
so the three will have to split up.
Tommy and Ewan will attend Dankook,
an all-boys high school in the most affluent neighbourhood in Gangnam.
The school is surrounded by expensive high-rise flats,
with Korean parents spending a fortune
to move into the school's catchment.
Mine's a very posh school,
and I have a feeling they're going to be really strict.
Sarah will attend the nearby all-girls school, Suhmoon.
Over 1,500 girls attend this high school,
and it's one of the best in Gangnam,
with strict rules on uniform and appearance.
Our three Welsh students will also be staying with a Korean family,
but before they head off,
I want to know if they're ready for the challenge.
Do you already know any Korean?
Have you learnt it in the few hours you've been here?
Well, I've picked up a little bit.
I mean, like, kamsahamnida is thank you.
And Tommy knows the way to introduce yourself.
Yeah, when you greet someone, you say mannaseo bangapseumnida.
I've been relying on these two.
OK. Well, good luck, all three of you. Off you go!
Sarah, Tommy and Ewan now split up and head off
to meet their Korean classmates for the first time.
They know nothing about their host families,
and the nerves are definitely starting to show.
Yeah, a bit nervous.
But should be good to meet them.
I think nervous doesn't quite cut it.
Do I press here?
What do I do? This one?
Here we go.
-Nice to meet you.
Sarah will be staying with 16-year-old Si-yeon.
When she was young, Si-yeon went to a school for gifted children,
and her favourite subject is maths.
-That's the living room.
-And the dining table.
-And that's the kitchen.
-Oh, my gosh. I'm actually here!
Meanwhile, on the other side of town,
Tommy is going up in the world.
-Nice to meet you.
-Nice to meet you.
Tommy's Korean classmate is Min Young.
He has a bird's-eye view of Seoul from his 36th-floor apartment.
And there's an 86-inch television to amuse him.
Ooh, you've got a home cinema!
That's really cool!
That's a lovely view, as well.
Ewan is the last to meet his Korean counterpart, Young-chang.
-Hello, hello. Mannaseo bangapseumnida.
There's no television here.
Young-chang's parents believe it's a barrier to good education.
This is a really nice house.
You make the most of the space as well, it's really good.
Both are top students in their class,
and it's not long before they check out each other's maths homework
and musical skills.
First impressions, he's amazing.
He can play the piano backwards, for Christ's sake.
I don't stand a chance.
Finally here, I'm finally here, and it's crazy. It's really good.
I look like an idiot now.
Tomorrow, our three Welsh students are going to discover
why Korean education is the toughest in the world.
What time does school start tomorrow?
We need to be there by eight.
-Eight? All right, OK.
Eight o'clock is quite an early start.
-But it's all right.
-I think it is math, English and history.
And then we're going to have dinner at school.
And then we're going to have, like, the extracurricular stuff.
-We stay there until, like, ten.
-Ten o'clock at night?
I'm normally fast asleep at ten o'clock,
but...I think I can change for a couple of days.
I don't think I'm prepared for this.
6.45 in the morning,
and in Young-chang's house, there's no sign of Ewan.
-HE KNOCKS ON DOOR
It's already, like... a quarter before seven.
Yeah, sorry. I fell back to sleep.
Over at Si-yeon's house,
it's a different type of wake-up call for Sarah over breakfast.
We have this bag in each class for us to put our phones in.
-We have to give our phones in?
You're not even just, like, allowed to turn them off...?
I guess you can, but if the teacher finds out,
they'll take it for, like, a week and a half, to a month.
I guess it depends on the teacher.
-They can take your phone off you for that long?
-Oh, my God!
I did wake up, and then I just fell back asleep.
-Ready for school now.
Apparently, I might be out until 11:30 at night, so...
could be quite interesting.
While Sarah and Ewan make their way to their respective schools,
over at Min-young's house, Tommy's only just getting up.
I don't usually function at this time.
God, you get better weather out here than we do. Much better.
This is like...this is actually quite a nice day.
It gets a bit tiring after lunch.
I think I'll be tired before lunch.
Because Tommy got up so late, his Korean classmate is worried.
We're going to be there on time, I think.
He's never been late to school before.
I'll catch up, don't worry.
In Dankook High School,
punishment for missing the bell is coming in even earlier
to clean the corridors and classrooms.
With seconds to spare,
both have avoided mopping up duties -
for today, at least.
Sarah is creating a bit of a stir over at Suhmoon Girls' School.
Being the only blonde in school can make you quite a celebrity.
I'm not normally awake until about quarter to eight.
It's strange. Too early.
It's ten to eight, and first up, it's English.
And a gentle easing in for Tommy, Ewan and Sarah.
'Well, I'm not very familiar with that genre of music.'
'I cut myself when I shaved this morning.'
'Maybe you could shave in the shower?'
'Hmm, sounds like a good idea.'
More than 99% of Korean students
choose to stay in school after they turn 16,
compared to only 50% back home in Wales.
For the next three years, they prepare for a make-or-break exam
to get into a good university.
While I wait to see if the kids survive their first day,
I've been looking around the local area
and come across this Buddhist temple.
This sign is pretty interesting.
It's inviting people to come and do 3,000 bows or prayers overnight
this Saturday for... Guess what?
Good exam results.
These mothers are praying for good results
in the end-of-term exams.
Each prayer book has a picture of their child.
And on the roof of the temple,
the light stays on in the family's lantern
until the child reaches university.
In the temple courtyard,
the mothers burn old textbooks
to destroy any possible bad luck in the looming exams.
It is this religious devotion to education
that has helped transform South Korea's fortunes.
60 years ago, nearly 80% of the population here was illiterate.
Today, South Korea is an economic giant.
They did all that through education.
HE CHANTS IN OWN LANGUAGE
So, how good are they?
I've arranged a test for the boys in Dankook School.
-Good morning. ALL:
Today, you're going to be sitting a Welsh GCSE maths exam.
You have 60 minutes, and your time starts...
It's usually a two-hour long paper,
but we've randomly selected half of the questions
to fit this exam into 60 minutes.
-(In my maths exam, I got an A star.)
-(An A star?)
(An A star, yeah. I was told to aim for full marks, so...)
After only 15 minutes,
some of the Korean students have already finished the paper.
But even on his second attempt,
GCSE maths is still a headache for Tommy.
For my GCSEs, I got two A stars, four As, four Bs, and a C.
I thought I did quite well,
considering the amount of work I did.
The only grade that I would've liked to have got higher was a C in maths.
I would've liked to get that up to a B, but...
you know, it is what it is.
OK. so, can I just ask you all,
can you put your hands up if you found that paper difficult?
OK. So, can I ask you now, can you put your hands up
if you found the paper really easy?
Everybody found it really easy.
'Well, that was really interesting.'
None of those South Korean teenagers found that paper difficult.
Most of them finished it in about 15 minutes -
it was supposed to take an hour!
I'm not really surprised because the teacher said that paper
was primary school-level maths for those children.
It just shows how far we've got to go to catch up in Wales.
Thousands of children in Wales -
not just in Wales, across the UK -
would've failed that paper this summer.
That says a lot about where we are, and how much we've got to do.
I asked them, and they thought the exam was very easy,
and I said, "Well, some people in our class have failed that,"
and they said, "Well, that's...that's astounding," so...
I just think they just work harder, they go over it
and then, an exam they've never studied for before,
they just did it straight through, so...yeah, amazing.
Korean teenagers are exam-busting machines,
and are among the top-performing students in the world.
We know this because of the PISA test.
Every three years, 15-year-olds in 68 different countries
sit the same exams in maths, science and reading.
In the latest PISA maths test,
Asian countries, like South Korea, once again come out on top.
England and Northern Ireland are down with Scotland, at 29th,
and my home nation, Wales, right down at 36th.
One obvious difference here is the long hours they put in.
Sarah is struggling to stay awake.
Others have just given up.
But still, the teacher carries on.
I feel really bad because I've gone really sleepy now,
and that lesson, I was just like...
At least there's one similarity between Wales and South Korea -
they do have school dinners.
In Seoul, all kids up to 16 years old have free school meals.
But you won't find any chips being dished out here.
Korean school dinners are hailed as some of the healthiest in the world.
Plenty of rice, soup
and gut-friendly fermented cabbage called kimchi.
Oh, yeah, rice!
It's really nice. It's sort of like a stew sort of thing.
But there's less stew to it and more meat and veg and stuff.
It's really tasty, really tasty.
With their bellies full, it's back to the classroom,
and our Welsh students are actually getting
a taste for Korean-style lessons.
The method of teaching out here is
they just give it to you in black and white
and you memorise it and you learn it,
but that does not necessarily mean that you understand it.
What stuck out to me a lot is, in class,
they don't even talk to each other.
It's just bizarre.
The school here is better in terms of the results,
but are they really living a life that a young person should be?
I'm not so sure.
In response to such criticisms,
the principal at the boys' school has introduced a school sports day
to tackle the problems of stressed-out and tired students.
This is one of the best schools in Seoul,
and South Korea is at that the top of the international rankings
But do you feel that this kind of sports day is necessary
to give them some kind of release from that pressure?
Yes, that's a part of the reason I do this with these kids,
because, you know, like, this time never comes back, you know?
Like, this is a beautiful time of our life.
But they're kind of, like, squeezed under a big load of pressure.
Their day's probably like 6 till 12 or something.
-6am in the morning to midnight?
-So they're getting about six hours' sleep?
-Six hours' sleep.
That's a very, like...insufficient.
So, we've been seeing some children sleep,
actually nodding off in lessons.
What do you do when you see children doing that?
Actually, I tap the glass, the window of the classroom,
and I try to wake them up by sending my finger signal to them.
-Does it work?
-Yeah, it's working.
Eventually, probably, that's going to damage
their efficiency of their studies,
because they need to sleep, they can't have lack of sleep.
So that's the primary reason why we're doing this.
It's kind of like some activities to release their stress.
The final event of the day is rope skipping,
and Tommy's been given the responsibility
for swinging the rope for his team.
I'm actually quite nervous. I don't want to get it wrong.
Look how many people are watching!
Look! Look how wrong it can go.
Next up, it's Tommy's team.
Most of the Korean students don't know anything about Wales.
That's until they see the flag.
There's one famous Welsh footballer and everyone knows his name.
-Gareth Bale! Gareth Bale!
4:20, and the bell rings for the boys.
Over at the girls' school, the lessons may have ended,
but now it's time for after-school study.
Ten hours in,
and Sarah's sitting in the same classroom in the same chair.
I feel really bad,
but honestly couldn't keep my eyes open during that lesson.
It's all getting too much for Sarah,
so her Korean classmate Si-yeon comes to the rescue.
We're going to get you to go to the nurse's office.
There are a lot of beds there, so you can take a rest.
I feel so bad!
And after that, we can go to my extracurricular class,
and then we go home.
I feel bad going into the nurse's room.
I should be awake, but I'm just so genuinely tired.
As night falls on Seoul,
Ewan and Young-chang make their way to a five-hour self-studying session
in the local public library.
At the moment, we're waiting to get into the library.
I was amazed that there could be so many people all in there at once
and the fact that they're all exquisitely silent.
There was even kids in there studying, about ten years old.
It's surprising but...
shows the work ethic that Korean people have
and it's just impressive, it's amazing.
Studying for 14 to 16 hours a day is normal for Young-chang.
This is his way of staying at the very top of the class.
I found that if you review your school works
which you've learned on that day then it really helps you a lot.
So the library where I study near my house,
it only opens until ten,
so if I want to study more and finish my work,
then I just come back to school and, yeah, stay here until 12.
My parents' influence is the biggest part
cos my dad grew up in the countryside.
He had a really poor background, and he studied really hard
and he made it into Seoul.
If he can do that, maybe I can study more.
But second purpose is that it's really kind of happy
when you get your results from studying.
It's really not comparable with any other achievements.
Yeah, that's what drives me to study.
When they're not self-studying in libraries,
most Korean students go to private night schools called hagwons.
This area of Gangnam has over 1,000 of these hagwons.
Min-young is taking Tommy to his English hagwon -
a two-hour top-up lesson in English grammar.
I've arranged to meet Tommy at his hagwon,
and on my way over in the taxi,
the driver has plenty to say about the role hagwons play
in society here.
This is mathematics hagwon, and this is English hagwon.
This is mathematics hagwon.
-This is a street of hagwons, really.
-This is Hagwon Street.
Yes, that's right.
And the children come here what time? After school? Five o'clock?
About five o'clock to twelve o'clock.
-So at midnight, this street will be full of children?
Byung-hoon has sent all of his three children to hagwons.
So when you have three children in the hagwons,
how much is that costing you?
Almost 2,000 per month.
-For only mathematics.
How many hours do you have to work to pay for the hagwon?
About 14 hours.
-14 hours a day?
-15 hours in a day.
-How many days a week?
-Six days a week?
You're working 14 hours a day.
So you never see your children!
When do you see your children?
Very hard to see children, yes.
It's a high price to pay for hagwons.
Yes, yes, that's right, that's true.
Korean parents spend more on private education for their kids
than any other country in the world.
It's almost an addiction here.
The government has even placed a ten o'clock curfew on the hagwons
to try and control their influence.
To keep the kids out of private education,
the girls' school offers its own version of a hagwon.
But it's all too much for Sarah.
We were supposed to stay until ten,
but I've actually been really tired,
so, luckily, we've been let out a bit earlier.
But, yeah, it's been a really intense day
and definitely not used to staying in school this late.
At his private hagwon, Tommy and his Korean classmate, Min-young,
now face another test.
Tommy, what's the difference between present perfect and past?
"I have learnt in Wales for 20 years."
OK. Uh...that's present past.
-Like "have lived".
What is the difference between "have lived" and "lived"?
Uh, I lived...
-I don't know.
Can I ask you, cos you've been teaching, tonight, a grammar lesson
to one of our students from Wales, Tommy,
but in the English grammar test, Min-young did better than Tommy.
Min-young is excellent. He's a good student,
and also he's diligent.
I noticed that Tommy was writing down everything
and he wanted to memorise it.
So Tommy is really diligent and he has passion,
so if there is a system that helps Tommy,
then Tommy can, you know, get a better score.
So hagwons seem to be doing a good job, from your point of view,
but a lot of people criticise them
and they say that children are here too late and they get very tired.
What would you say to that?
You know, personally, I just run this hagwon to help the students.
Everyone wants to go to SNU, Seoul National University,
and I help students to go to those schools.
So, in a family, if someone goes to SNU, Seoul National University,
it's a kind of really big pride in that family.
I think it's a kind of culture.
It's ten o'clock at night.
The hagwons are closing because of the government curfew,
but many students, like Young-chang, are carrying on.
So, where are we going now?
So, we're actually heading back to school.
-Back to school?
Our study room is open until, like 11:30.
Luckily, we have our bikes there, so I'm sure we'll take them back home.
That makes things easier.
God. And then a long day tomorrow.
-And the one after that.
Dankook Boys' School is open until 11:30 at night,
so they're carrying on with their studying there.
This is a relentless education system.
It's ten o'clock at night, and the street's just full of children.
A lot of them are still in their school uniforms.
And I've been speaking to a few groups of children.
Some of them are tired, some of them are hungry.
One said he would love to be playing basketball,
and one girl I spoke to, she was 14, she said, "I just want to sleep.
"I'm so tired, I just want to go to sleep."
Like other countries around the world,
the Welsh Government has sent civil servants out to South Korea
to see if changes need to be made to our education system back home.
But is this what it takes
to get to the top of the international rankings?
And if it is, is it actually worth it?
Schools open early in Korea.
After the pupils have finished
cleaning their classrooms and the corridors,
it's the start of lessons.
For Ewan and Tommy,
this is a far cry from their school back in Pembrokeshire.
It's 8:30 in the morning. Quite a few people are having a nap.
I think I might join them in a minute. I'm feeling a bit tired.
It's taken a toll on me.
I mean, I prefer our type of school.
They don't have to come in till nine,
they don't have to work so much in the morning.
Across the city, in the all-girls school,
Sarah has more energy than she had on day one.
Yeah, definitely, I'm much more alert today. 100%.
But then again, we have got history and Korean next,
so I don't know how that's going to go for me.
Hopefully, fingers crossed, I'll stay awake.
This all-girls high school is one of the best in Seoul.
These girls are passionate about their education.
They work long hours -
anything from 8 in the morning to 11 at night
to pass their exams.
And what's striking is the respect the teachers have here.
An old Asian proverb says that the king and the teacher
are both equal in status.
No wonder, then, that some teachers have made a fortune
off the back of that belief.
I'm on my way to meet the most famous teacher in South Korea,
and we've arranged to meet in a hair salon.
Cha Kil-yong, or Mr Cha to his hordes of adoring fans,
is preparing for his next lesson.
Your hairstyle today, it's your normal style,
or there's a good reason for your hairstyle today?
In education-obsessed South Korea,
Cha is a top-ranked maths teacher,
and here, it makes him a celebrity.
HE SINGS IN KOREAN
He looks every bit the pop star
and shares the limelight with some of Korea's biggest idols.
This is Mr Cha's latest single,
an appeal for students to smile as they study
for their big college entrance exams.
You are very rich from this, yeah? You are a millionaire?
He doesn't actually teach in a bricks-and-mortar school.
He's made his fortune by running an online cram school, or hagwon,
part of the country's huge private education business.
And he has a variety of props, masks, costumes and wigs
which he wears according to his mood.
Entertainment is a fundamental part of the learning process.
HE SPEAKS IN KOREAN
But this is a very serious business.
He has three million registrations on his website,
and at any one time, 300,000 students are logged on,
each paying £22 per month to watch his maths lessons.
He is a celebrity superstar.
He has built up an empire here in just six years.
HE SPEAKS IN KOREAN
You think it's stupid, but then you realise that, actually,
even 17-year-olds are captured by him.
He has a massive following,
and it just goes to show how big maths is in South Korea.
HE SPEAKS IN KOREAN
Over in the girls' school,
Sarah is about to have a taste of mathematics, Korean-style.
Teenagers here are notoriously good at maths
and consistently top the international rankings.
But Sarah seems to be holding her own.
I know that one.
You have to add the first number, you minus the two together,
so 5 minus 3 is 2, so that's where the 2 comes from,
and then 5 plus 3 is 8.
Unfortunately for Sarah,
it's first-come, first-solve in this school.
What just happened?
But one of the answers has been left unfinished.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
I think all the girls knew how to do it
but they just thought they'd let me do it.
I kind of felt like they were doing it out of a sympathy vote,
because that was the easiest one on the board,
and I couldn't do any of the other ones.
But at the end of the day, I got some food out of it, so it's fine.
In between lessons at Dankook Boys' School,
Tommy and Ewan get a chance to visit the school farm.
This is random.
A while ago, they built
this biological study centre, or whatever,
to help with biology and stuff,
and they've just got animals on the school grounds.
And we've come down here,
and there's cats and rabbits and chickens.
It's just bizarre.
Before, this was in much bigger scale.
There were peacocks and iguanas and, like, exotic animals.
I'm allergic, so I don't really want to get too close.
Halfway through their three days in a Korean school,
and the long hours are taking their toll on Ewan and Tommy,
as well as a few others.
The hours are bad.
I'm usually this tired every day.
If you keep doing it, you sort of get tired.
-You get used to it, probably.
When do you go to school? You know, like, when school...
-Nine o'clock, and then we finish...
-And we finish at...
-Then we finish at 3:30.
By spending so much time with Tommy,
Min-young has a growing curiosity about Welsh education.
I don't think you can say which is better.
People in Wales, they get more active
and they get more social ties, I guess,
and, you know, we study more.
So if we find a middle ground where we can study
and engage in those kind of fun activities,
then I think that would be the best.
In three years' time,
Min, like all other Korean high school students,
will have to sit a university entrance exam, called the CSAT.
The test, offered only once a year, is seen as the make-or-break exam,
not only when it comes to college admissions
but for a teenager's entire future.
It's like a defining moment in your whole education, I guess.
Everyone wants to go to Seoul National University,
which is, like, the top... at the top.
Yeah, I'm aiming for it.
Everyone's aiming for it, I think.
Seoul National University is just like Oxford or Cambridge back home,
and it's just as difficult to get in.
These students are the next generation of Korean maths teachers.
This year, 3,000 students applied
to go on this teacher's training course.
Only 36 got places.
I think maybe 2% or maybe 5% high school grades
can only be admitted to my department.
So if you want to be a maths teacher,
and be trained in this university,
-you're one of the top 2% to 5% of graduates in South Korea?
Why is it that your best graduates in South Korea
want to become teachers?
What is the number-one reason, do you think?
-Number one, top stability.
-Number two, two months' holiday.
And number three, maybe it's still we respect teachers.
Becoming a teacher is a dream job for many high school pupils.
Do-yen Kim is one of them.
Under enormous pressure,
he studied 16 hours a day for three years solid
to get into this university.
It was real difficult.
Especially in Korea, we have a lot of students
who want to go to college, so the competition is really tough.
We have only one exam for college entrance once a year,
and that is the major source of stress
for lots of high school students in Korea.
After only a few minutes talking to Do Yen Kim,
I could see that it was almost painful for him
to talk about his time in high school,
and then I found out why.
-I lost about two or three friends...
-To suicide? Really?
Because they were studying too hard?
One was extremely stressed by the studying part,
and the other also committed suicide, yeah.
Oh, I'm really sorry to hear that.
-How old were they?
-Well, they were about 15 or 16.
South Korea has the highest suicide rates in the industrialised world.
It is astonishingly the number-one cause of death
for those aged between 10 and 30 years old.
Some say it's time to make changes to the system,
including the former Minister of Education,
who was in charge of South Korea's success
in the last PISA international rankings.
Those high test scores in PISA
mask very important problems
in Korean education.
For example, Korean students don't have enough time to read,
to do sports, to do music, and to spend their time freely
because they are too much pressured to prepare for their exam.
Even in PISA test,
when they ask Korean students whether they are happy in school,
Korean students were the lowest.
-It's really worrisome.
It is time for Korean parents to make changes,
to prepare our next generation for the 21st centuries.
Our children may need a different set of skills,
other than just high test scores.
Communication, collaboration and creativity -
they should be nurtured.
The government are introducing changes to the system.
All middle schools now have to allow
one school term free of any written exams.
Though there's still another five terms of exams left.
The aim is to get pupils into sports and other creative activities.
In the girls' school,
Sarah is swapping her classroom for a kitchen.
She's learning how to make Korean pancakes.
Presentation is probably about four.
And joining them in the class kitchen are a group of parents.
In South Korea, parents are free to observe the teacher,
to judge the quality of teaching,
and they give them a score.
For most teachers, it's an uncomfortable experience.
Personally, it's awful, but sometimes it's really helpful for me
to keep awake as a teacher,
cos I need to train myself
and sometimes I need to learn more things about education,
and that really helps me to encourage my students, too.
After this lesson, I've kind of got to know everyone.
I still don't know all their names,
but I think they've definitely tried to make me feel welcome,
and I feel much more relaxed now
than I did at the beginning when everyone was just staring at me.
I think they kind of actually see me as a person now.
This lesson, it was as if it could've been a lesson back at home,
and we've got to kind of, like, take over ourselves,
so that was really good.
I think that brought my mood up a little bit.
Teachers are under pressure.
They're not only marked by the parents,
but by their fellow teachers, and even by the pupils.
Korean parents consider it their duty to give their children
every opportunity to be their best,
and they are prepared to make significant sacrifices.
Long into the night, parents are seen ferrying their kids
between schools and top-up classes in the hagwons.
Parents dedicate both time and money into developing the next generation.
It is a responsibility that is taken most seriously.
Tonight, Young-chang is taking Ewan to a three-hour maths hagwon
for some probability equations.
Oh, my God!
You should open a restaurant.
Young-chang's parents pay for this extra tuition
to make sure that he passes his exams.
But their sacrifices don't stop with paying for classes.
They even took a decision to move house,
leaving a bigger property to live in this small apartment
because it is nearer to a good school and good hagwons.
The family only see each other at weekends.
Dad works away all week in a nuclear power plant
to pay for the top-up tuition for his son.
That's a big sacrifice,
and this is so Young-chang can finish his education?
Here, parents have high expectations of their kids,
and they're willing to sacrifice so much to ensure their success.
Do I look tired? I wonder why.
While Ewan finishes his hagwon,
Sarah is having private maths tuition in Si-yeon's apartment.
'They're just working so hard.'
I think, in the long run, it probably isn't that beneficial
because of mental health and everything like that.
Sarah's school in Pembrokeshire is more than a place to study.
In her GCSE exam year,
the school helped her through a very tough and emotional year.
Yeah, it's been quite a difficult year this year
because my mum was diagnosed with cancer again.
So, on top of my GCSEs, there was quite a lot of stress.
The school, they helped me so much
because Mum was going through chemotherapy
as I was doing my GCSEs.
So having that support network at school was incredible.
So I hope to go on to do medicine at university
in either Cardiff or Bristol,
which is kind of fuelled by Mum being poorly.
I will do whatever it takes to get into university
and to go on and, obviously, become a doctor then.
So, what if you had to decide
between a Welsh and Korean school for your child?
Which one would you choose?
Welshman Aled Powell met his Korean wife
whilst teaching in a Korean hagwon.
They've now left Korea and live in North Wales.
A tough decision, but one they made
to keep their daughter Arwen out of the Korean system.
When I worked in hagwon, I hated it
because I could feel the students are suffering.
They don't like it.
-I wouldn't like to send Arwen to those hagwons.
Oh, I think Arwen is saying she doesn't want to go either.
So, you wouldn't really want Arwen going into
a secondary school in Korea, then? A high school?
No, I think the pressures are too high.
They've got a wide range of choice of subjects in Wales as well,
so whatever her interests are,
I think the Welsh system is quite good at catering for that.
It seems these parents have set a course for their daughter
in the Welsh school system.
Or have they?
I think Mum still needs to be convinced.
I think it's just ideal living there
but when she's, like, in secondary school,
I'm not very sure about it
because I don't feel they're encouraged to study hard.
It's good they have choices for their lives
but, especially academically, I don't feel very encouraged.
Here, it's more than encouragement. Here it's pushing.
And it has affects not just on the children,
but on the whole family unit.
There's a few years yet until Arwen starts school,
so plenty of time to decide which country offers the best education.
But our time in Korea is fast running out.
After spending three days in a Korean school,
the Welsh students prepare for their last day.
And for Tommy, he gets a taste of the cleaning duties
dished out as punishment for Korean kids.
Yeah, I know, I was a bit disappointed.
I thought it'd be a grand finale, but no, I'll do cleaning.
On their final day, I've arranged a surprise for the Welsh students.
Their headteacher, David Haynes, has flown out
from Ysgol Dewi Sant in Pembrokeshire to see them.
The students have no idea he is here.
Oh, no! Oh, no!
-How are you, boys?
-It's my headteacher.
Bore da pawb.
Nice to see you, sir.
-Good to see you, sir.
-You all right?
-This is Mr Haynes.
-Nice to meet you.
How are you, all right? How are you?
How's Sarah's Korean coming along? Is it good?
-Have you learnt any words?
I would be useless on my own.
It's very different in some ways, similar in other ways?
-Much longer days.
Cos you may only have three lessons one day.
They've got it easy, haven't they, these guys, yeah?
-How are you?
-How are you?
-Nice to see you.
-Thank you for having the boys.
-Welcome to my school.
How many children would you have, entry, in a year?
How many children in one year group?
-500 in one year? That's as big as my school.
And that's 11 to 19.
So we have about 80 children a year.
I envy your school.
Sometimes this place reminds me, like, a boot camp.
Too many kids here!
After spending the day at both schools,
I want to find out from the Welsh headmaster what lessons
he thinks can be learned from our Korean counterparts.
I think that the work ethic is first class.
Children are dedicated, they work long hours.
This school stays open till 12 at night for students
to stay behind after school, which is remarkable, really,
something we don't see back in Wales.
Would you like to see schools staying open later in Wales?
Maybe till seven or eight o'clock?
It's certainly something to think about.
I'm not saying we should be open till 12 o'clock
by any stretch of the imagination.
But certainly something that we need to look at.
I think our children do work hard within the current framework.
But they don't work as hard as the kids in South Korea?
They don't work as long, I don't think,
in terms of the amount of hours they spend in school.
And they don't get quite the same level of grades
in their exam results.
They don't achieve the same levels within the PISA test, no.
-So there are lessons to be learned, David.
I said yes. Yes, I agree.
But speaking to the principal here, he's very interested in what we do
with regards to deeper thinking and being creative.
I think there are lessons to be learned from Korea visiting us,
but there's certainly lessons to be learned
by visiting South Korea as well.
From David Haynes' experience,
there's a shortage of top maths teachers in Wales,
so he'd like to bring over maths teachers from South Korea
to solve the problem.
In the health service,
we bring across doctors from other parts of the world
and they contribute greatly to our society
and the provision that we receive.
I don't see it being a problem at all,
that specialists and highly trained professionals coming from
other parts of the world, like South Korea,
could contribute greatly, I think, to our education system.
In three days,
our Welsh students have clocked up more than 100 hours of study.
Double the time compared to back home.
But now, it's all come to an end.
It's time to say goodbye to their Korean classmates.
I feel like I've actually made some good relations here,
and it just feels like they're actually my class,
and I've got used to being in that class.
And it's been fun, and I've been part of the learning experience,
and it's been really good.
So I'm kind of sad, in a way, that it's my last day.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
'Obviously I've enjoyed the whole experience
'and having that opportunity to witness this school.'
But I'm definitely, definitely going to be happy
to get out of this uniform.
Obviously, thank you for making everything so comfortable for me
and really welcoming me.
When we first came here, we felt really alien because
we didn't know anyone and everybody was giving us weird looks, sort of.
Since we've been here, it's only been three days,
and I feel like part of the class, and it's really cool.
It's been a really good few days. It's been very funny, as well.
You've all got really good personalities.
So, yeah, thank you very much,
and I hope you do well in your exams.
Only feels like yesterday I arrived, and I was going to go to school,
but it's all coming to an end.
You know, it's been a really good experience, though.
Certainly I'll remember it for a long time.
Before they leave their Korean host families,
I'm catching up with Tommy, Ewan and Sarah for their final impressions.
I feel like it would benefit the younger years
where education is still compulsory,
to bring in some of the same rules, if you'd say,
as the South Koreans do,
just to kind of improve the work ethic.
I think if there were stronger after-school classes
to help people with problems they might be having a school,
like, if there was a hagwon-based thing,
that would be really good.
-Just not finishing as late.
So more after-school clubs in St Davids
and some more rules, yeah?
Oh, no, cos we sound so bad now!
-We're a bit too soft on the kids at home.
Here, they don't mess around. They give you a punishment.
You get cleaning duty, or you stay after school.
-And you think that's good? It's consistent?
-Well, it works.
-People are going to hate us.
-But I mean...
-It's true, though.
-..is it what you want?
So, if they were competing against Korean students
for a university place, who would win?
How does a Welsh A-level compare to the Korean CSAT?
At the end of the day, they're studying so hard for that CSAT
that they don't actually get extracurricular options.
So even if they smash those exams,
if we smash ours as well, we win, just simply by circumstance.
Before they head off back to school in Wales,
there's a few more goodbyes to say.
Right, this is farewell.
Oh, my God...
It was a pleasure to have you here.
You guys are going to have to come and stay with me.
I'll be sure to visit your place.
Thank you, cheers. Come here.
We don't do handshakes. Hugs. Thank you.
-Thanks very much.
-I was very happy to have you stay.
Thank you for feeding me so much!
The food's been incredible. I'm coming back like...pfff.
You're my son.
-I'm very happy.
-I have a nice friend, too.
-Have a nice trip.
-It's been good to meet you, man.
See you soon, bye.
Thank you! Bye!
-See you, guys.
-See you later.
What we've learned is South Korea's schools are changing.
They're cutting back on the testing.
They're taking the best of our system,
more sports, more creative activities,
and they're applying them here.
But what we're not doing is
we're not taking what they already have here,
which is the foundation of knowledge, which is a work ethic,
which is ambition and aspiration for every child.
And my real fear is these countries
are going to be accelerating away from us
at an even faster rate than they already are.
It's time to head home, and there is one thing I'm keen to do.
Education is a devolved area.
That means the system in Wales is run by the Welsh Government
in the Senedd in Cardiff Bay.
In the days before
the latest education rankings are announced,
I meet with Education Minister Kirsty Williams.
I want to see what she thinks about our Korean experience
and find out how she plans to improve Wales' standing
in the international rankings.
Did you think Wales did OK last time round?
No, absolutely not.
I was very clear outside of government,
and I'm very clear now that I'm in the government
that Wales' previous performance in PISA has not been good enough,
and it's not what I wanted to see.
We need to make improvements.
And do you want Wales to be in the top 10, the top 20 in PISA?
I want Wales to improve its scores.
I'm not going to sit here, like other politicians in the past
have made wild predictions about where we will sit.
What's important is the individual scores
that our children can achieve, and we need to make progress.
I want Welsh parents to be engaged, to go into parents' evening,
to take up the opportunities that the school afford
to talk about what they can do to support their children's education.
Take up a place on a school governing body,
let me know about how they perceive Welsh policy is developing.
I'm clear that we are making the changes
that will make a difference to PISA results in the future.
We're not where we should be, we're not where I want to be,
but we are moving forward.
Since filming, Ysgol Dewi Sant has introduced
Korean-style changes to its school.
They're going to ban mobile phones for GCSE pupils
and will make the school day longer
with timetabled study sessions in the evenings.
Though, they still believe that there's more to life
than very long hours looking at a blackboard.
And, coming from Pembrokeshire,
I wouldn't entirely disagree with that.
Of course it's about getting the balance right,
but I'm convinced that, looking at Korea,
there is still a lot for us right across the UK to learn.
# Everybody is kung fu fighting
# Kung fu fighting
# Your mind becomes fast as lightning
# Although the future is a little bit frightening
# It's the book of your life that you're writing... #
Three British teenagers swap their teachers and parents for school life in South Korea, a country boasting one of the top education systems in the world - but also one of the toughest. Can they hack it?