Korean mothers' construction of school readiness in lower and higher socioeconomic status communities

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Kim, Jiwon, Ph. D.

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This research explored Korean mothers’ meaning of school readiness, the process of the meaning construction, and their educational practices based on their meaning of school readiness. The research was conceptually and theoretically based on a social constructivist approach (Graue, 1993; Meisels, 1999) and Bourdieu’s conceptions of economic, cultural, and social capitals, respectively (Bourdieu, 2001). For the study, 21 Korean mothers from two kindergartens placed in two different SES communities in Seoul, Korea, participated in this study. Multiple strategies such as questionnaire, interviews, and group discussion were employed. According to the findings of this study, the meaning of school readiness to both groups of mothers involved academic and social preparation. However, it was revealed that more focus was put on academic preparation than social preparation in their every day lives. The meaning of children’s school readiness for the Korean mothers was deeply constituted within and constituted Korea’s social and cultural contexts. In terms of the SES differences in the meaning of school readiness, the community standard for extracurricular education in the lower SES community, is less than that of the higher SES community. Lower SES mothers’ lack of financial, social and cultural capitals rather than their lack of value for those classes was a primary hindrance in providing their children with such an education. This study also confirmed the significance of the ready school and the ready community in relation to children’s school readiness (Graue, 2006; Pianta et al., 1999; Wesley & Buysse, 2003). As for the process of meaning construction, mothers in both groups reported that they collected information mostly from “other mothers.” However, “other mothers” for the higher SES mothers were the mothers of their children’s friends, while for lower SES mothers, they were mothers in the neighborhood who had already sent their children to elementary school. Mothers of their children’s friends as the most powerful information sources particularly among higher SES mothers point to the importance of the mothers’ social relations with “intergenerational closure” in their children’s education (Carbonaro, 1999; Coleman, 1988; Horvat et al., 2003). Moreover, Korean mothers reported that they are affected by reports of various media such as TV, newspaper, magazines, books, and the internet. Kin was also influential information source for lower SES mothers, which was consistent with Lareau’s study (2003).