In March 2013, CBBC presented a short documentary series on mischievous school kids being sent to strict schools. One episode of Extreme Schools happened to focus on two school boys being sent to a prestigious Korean school.

Brandon and Shane have been nominated to complete a week of Extreme Schools because they are the epitome of rowdy students. They don’t study or do their homework. They hate school (so did I) and think it’s boring. The presenter sends these boys to Daewon International Middle School in South Korea and like Daisy Donovan when she presented The Greatest Shows On Earth, they experience a gigantic culture shock. Having to bow to the teacher, studying 13 hours a day, eating food they’ve never tasted (to be honest that lunch at Daewon School looked delicious).

It’s interesting to note how these two boys found so many things funny or weird such as Hangul writing and the Korean food yet brag about how English lessons were going to be easy for them. Clearly, they overestimated themselves. English lessons in fact proved a huge struggle, despite how they have fluency in the language. They were the bottom of the class whilst the Koreans spoke eloquently and with far better pace. Was this a sharp reminder of how different our education level and study attitude is compared to Korea?

The teacher keeping an eye on the guests/new students was Mr Kim and during the lesson where the class had to talk about their ideal jobs he thought the boys’ ambitions weren’t good enough. Brandon wants to be a photographer and Shane a lorry driver whilst the Korean students had some typically geeky but career-potential ambitions. You’d think the boys would stand little a chance during their overseas study, however a trip to the arcade and a chance to design their own computer game somehow gave them the edge to be creative. They even went to a Kpop dance class and danced to Gangnam Style. Bit old, don’t you think BBC? PSY is great but you and other UK media can surely bypass that by now.

Small Kpop peeve aside, I do think these activities made Brandon and Shane’s studying a little bit more exciting and therefore made them behave more productively for their final challenge where they had to do a presentation on Wales. Shane refused to help out because he thought it was pointless to do a project when he was going back home soon. That’s not the point at all. Just show the Korean students your culture and do it creatively. Why not make Wales proud and go out with a bang once the week is over?

Mr Kim picked up on Shane’s not so studious manner when he asked him to explain the presentation progress instead of Brandon doing it. Being called out and tested on what little you know is hardly a pleasant experience but it was only a matter of time that Shane had it coming somehow because of his unenthusiastic approach to studying. I felt a bit bad for Brandon after that moment because I could see he was trying hard to show he could do something since he got inspired. Nice to see the presentation went well though (or if that was just for the sake of the camera and the school were friendly to the boys since they were foreign – we’ll never know).

After watching this episode it left me wondering whether these kids would be enlightened to seriously study better for the future. What makes one think these kids will change their attitude after a week in their intense school exchanges? Wasn’t it just an excuse to go on “holiday?” I am shocked that mischievous kids like the ones in this Extreme Schools series get to be sent off to prestigious schools by a broadcasting company and get paid for it with so many benefits. So I guess if I was a naughty kid I’d be guaranteed to get this kind of once in a lifetime opportunity would I? Sadly I got none of that at their age. I used to have that quiet, innocent Asian ‘work my backside off’ mentality to get good grades.

I always got told off for not appreciating my life compared to the very poor countries but looking at these kids brush off some of the hospitality and discipline lessons made me frown because I understood how pressurising studies could get and when you made an error there were consequences which were not just a mere “correct your mistake” warning. These boys got a luxurious trip at a young age and perhaps one huge eye-opener on the Korean culture. Hopefully like their parents, they were grateful for this opportunity to explore South Korea’s strict education.

One of the other UKP staff had also seen this Extreme Schools episode and shared her thoughts:-


Being sent across the world – free of charge, I might add – isn’t an opportunity that arises every day. So if you do get the chance, wouldn’t you try to make the most of the experience and really embrace it? Granted, the boys taking part in this program were only young and, due to the nature of the show, not the most committed of students. But you’d think they would have been a little more excited about being taken to this exotic country in the middle of term time, rather than spending their time whining about the uniforms and spending endless days making a (less than satisfactory) PowerPoint presentation. In fact, the presentation that the boys gave about Wales was made out to be a big achievement but it didn’t look that great in its simplicity and after a dismal string of non-achievements…can we call them failures? Certainly, performing worse than the Korean students in an English test, entirely held in English, was probably not their proudest moment. But then again, it didn’t really help them to overcome their class-clown ways.

Let’s talk about the English test. The Korean students couldn’t have been more than 14 or 15 years old, and yet they spoke English with such a level of proficiency that I would never have achieved by that age in any foreign language – and I consider language learning to be a strength of mine! One girl in particular impressed me, speaking with an incredibly believable American accent rather than falling into the trap of speaking English with a Korean accent. That led to me questioning the teaching of MFL (Modern Foreign Languages) in the UK. Most prominently taught are French, German and Spanish, but even given that we’re forced by the national curriculum to study at least one of these languages, it’s no secret that as a country we don’t stand out as high-achieving when MFL is considered. We perform embarrassingly next to our European and Asian counterparts.

Part of the problem is the attitude many people in the UK adopt; “Everyone speaks English so why should I bother to learn a language?” And yes, it does seem that other countries acknowledge the importance of being able to use English, but it’s only because English has become such a global language. It doesn’t mean that us English speakers should sit back and relax, though. The way that MFL is taught in schools is perhaps the main reason that we don’t do well in comparison to those other countries. Starting to learn a foreign language at the age of 11, and then only simple vocabulary (for example, “I am 11 years old,”) means that at 14 years old while we’re trying to express our opinions on healthy eating, the rest of the world have a 3 or 4 year head start on us and are actually able to have a more complex conversation with us.

Unless a child in the UK continues to study a language when they leave high school, all that was learnt disappears (just like any other subject) and those precious 5 years of language education become meaningless. Even if we started learning a language properly in primary school, we don’t have qualified language teachers in primary schools so perhaps we still wouldn’t be getting the best language education. I’m not sure what the solution is, but the state of MFL teaching in Britain still leaves much to be desired.

Did you manage to catch this episode of Extreme Schools on CBBC? Do you think the BBC did a good job with this documentary series and perhaps encouraged schoolchildren who were born here to study harder?

Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.


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**Jan 2013 - Jan 2015** British Born Chinese who occasionally self-reflects. Has more Aegyo than she should for 'old' age status. LinkedIn / Review Blog