Yes, both my short Korean public school career and anecdotal evidence from colleagues, leads me to confirm that things are really sad there.
Both students and teachers waste enormous amounts of time on meaningless, repetitive tasks while patting themselves on the back for putting in so many hours. Unfortunately, it's so deeply embedded in the culture that they don't even see it.
As I've mentioned elsewhere before, this is also a contributing factor to the high youth suicide rate in South Korea. A colleague told me at her school they didn't even acknowledge when this happened to one of her students - it was just business as usual. Does that mean suicide is "normal"? If all one's youth was wasted sitting in sweaty classrooms with no vacation breaks, no time for friends, endless homework and memorisation, and seemingly uncaring parents, one might wonder whether life was worth living as well.
If we could spend an equal amount of time educating governments, parents and administrators there on efficient and effective ways to learn, we could PERHAPS turn things around. However, I fear that nothing short of a "shock and awe" campaign would have any impact on the entrenched ideas, the ruthless pursuit of profit, or the fear they feel towards many things non-Korean.
I'd have to say too that as an "outsider" while living there I felt powerless to influence change. It WILL come in time, but at what cost?
Posted 6th August, 2010 at http://jasonrenshaw.typepad.com/jason_renshaws_web_log/2010/08/teaching-in-korea-eight-days-a-week-and-a-cruel-summer.html