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Big Thought CEO Gigi Antoni Says We Can Learn From Korea's Education System

Krystina Martinez
Big Though CEO Gigi Antoni recently returned from a trip to South Korea.

The education nonprofit Big Thought has spent 27 years working with North Texas schools. CEO GigiAntoni is just back from a little farther afield -- Seoul, South Korea. For this week's Friday Conversation, she's sat down with KERA’s Stephen Becker to talk about what we can learn from one of the top-rated national school systems in the world.

Interview Highlights: Gigi Antoni…

…On how she ended up in South Korea:

“We were brought there by the [Korea Arts Culture Education Service], which is like our National Endowment for the Arts. We were working with teaching artists who are working in schools across Korea and helping them get skills, particularly working particularly with high-risk teenagers.”

Credit Seulgi Hong / Big Thought
Big Thought
Teachers in the Big Thought workshop in Seoul work on self-portraits.

…On the South Korean education system:

“Boy, Korean schools are like high-risk testing on steroids, so these kids are really tracked. They’re tested as early as eighth grade and so they go to school from 7:30 in the morning to 10 o’clock at night, five days a week.

…On the dark side of Korea’s high achieving students:

“They are very motivated. They have very long school days, but apparently, there is quite a backlash from that now that they are trying to figure out how to deal with. They have one of the highest teen suicide rates in the world. Kids get extremely burned out. They don’t have a lot of motivation beyond just getting through that test, and so they’re losing a lot of kids.”

…On some of her takeaways from the trip:

“They are doing some really incredible reforms to address this issue with their kids…they are all out, ‘let’s figure out how to engage our kids.’ It was great to see how the policy shapes up, how they use their resources to address a problem they’ve identified nationally.” 

Former KERA staffer Krystina Martinez was an assistant producer. She produced local content for Morning Edition and She also produced The Friday Conversation, a weekly series of conversations with North Texas newsmakers. Krystina was also the backup newscaster for the Texas Standard.
Stephen Becker is senior producer of the Think show , which airs on more than 25 stations across Texas and beyond. Prior to joining the Think team in 2013, as part of the Art&Seek team, Stephen produced radio and digital stories and hosted "The Big Screen" — a weekly radio segment about North Texas film — with Chris Vognar. His 2011 story about the history of eight-track tapes was featured nationally on NPR's All Things Considered. His works has been recognized with numerous state and national awards.