A Teacher Who Makes $4 Million

Kim Ki-hoon is a teacher who has created a multi-million dollar hagwon empire for himself in South Korea.  He makes $4 million a year — as teacher.

The Wall Street Journal has an article published about the Korean educational system and the hagwons that parallel it.  Writer Amanda Ripley adapted the piece from her upcoming book “The Smartest Kids in the World—and How They Got That Way,” in which she follows the stories of three American high schoolers’ experiences spending a year studying in Finland, Poland and South Korean schools.

The most successfully paid athletes in America (and the world) are paid more for their brand then they are for the sport they play. It’s the Tiger Woods brand. The Roger Federer brand. The Kobe Bryant brand. Well, meet Ripley’s $4 million “teacher” – Kim Ki-Hoon – is also a brand. He gets the big bucks because his company is listed on the South Korean stock market.

The essential problem with the competitive afterschool, private shadow education system is that no matter how it originated, its main goal inevitably becomes profitability, not education. It’s comparable to the U.S. health system, where payment comes first and care comes next.  Don’t get me started.

The problem in both is that the “care” may not be that good, even after paying that much. In a system based on profits and in which “teachers are free agents”, there is no assurance of quality of education. When a parent signs their kid up to learn English – a language they may likely not know – what assurance do they have that it is good? Training schools must build a strong brand, one that demands higher prices than others.

Kim Ki-hoon is a machine.  He herds umm “teaches” hundreds of thousands of kids via online video – is not quite the same as what public school teachers do. Much of the training school industry (especially English training schools) in Eastern countries like South Korea are rotten businesses that put profitability above-all and treat students like cows – herding them through book exercises and tests.

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“Can the U.S. learn from this academic superpower?” Of course it can, although I like the idea of education for education’s sake as compared to asking how much (both mentally and monetarily) we can squeeze out of a kid. There are other things to consider: the psychological tolls on children, the effects of income-based education on society, and the increasing focus on technology sourced learning. Branding is not a new concept in education. U.S. universities do it all the time. It’s a question of how much we want our quality of education be decided by how it’s marketed to us.

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