A few years back, I had a conversation with a mum whilst her son was sitting an exam here at the NSWLearning exam centre. We got into discussion about success and failure, in particular what we as parents measure as success in our home education adventure. As we chatted, I was struck by how thoughtful and wise this mum was in her views; basically, she told me that for her, as long as her son had done his best and used the gifts that God had given him, she would be happy with whatever grade he achieved. Now she was not being other-worldly or alternative here – she admitted she would be disappointed for him if he failed the exam but she told me that for her exams were only a means to an end – not a way of measuring a person!
After we finished speaking, as I was considering what she had said, I was reminded of a visit to Korea that I enjoyed in 2011; there doing your best is rarely good enough! The key thing is not to do one’s best but to be best; indeed, not being the best brings shame and dishonour not only upon the individual but also upon the person’s family. This belief permeates much of Korean society. For this reason, high school students in South Korea typically sleep 3-4 hours a night and spend in excess of 15 hours a day in school and extra study classes. It is little wonder that South Korea overtook Japan a few years ago as the suicide capital of the developed world – indeed in 2010, 120 high school students ended their own lives and currently 40 people a day end their own lives in South Korea!
Sometimes, when I speak at conferences about worldviews, people comment that they want to hear something that has more direct bearing upon real life. In these two examples that I have mentioned, there is something of an object lesson in how differing worldviews impact people’s real lives. Korean culture is permeated by a Confucian view of the world and the country’s shame and blame culture has grown out of this. In my opinion, the lady I spoke with a few years back had a view of success and exams that is much more consistent with a worldview that is shaped by gifts, talents and stewardship. In the end, it does all come down to our ‘view of the world’.
It is perhaps worth taking a little time to reflect on this on the day that so many young people in the UK receive exam results.