'The Smartest Kids in the World': 6 stories about students from Amanda Ripley's book

Journalist Amanda Ripley followed three American teenagers as they went to three of the most educationally successful countries in the world to attend school. Here are some of the stories.

2. Living at school

Ahn Young-joon/AP
Elementary school students look at the views from the Imjingak Pavilion in Paju, South Korea.

On his first day of school, Eric was shocked when he saw students in his class unashamedly napping with their heads down on their desks. How could the students do well when they were sleeping in class, he wondered? He also marveled at how comfortable the students seemed in the classroom itself, making themselves very much at home. Eric was allowed to leave school after two p.m. and asked another student what would happen after he left. The student told him that classes finished after four, then the students performed chores around the school such as cleaning the floors. Test-prep classes happened after that, then dinner at school, then a study period, then everyone left at 9 p.m. to go to private classes until 11. Then they went home. "Suddenly, he understood what he had seen in class that day," Ripley wrote of Eric. "The kids had acted like they lived in the classroom because they essentially did. They spent more than twelve hours there every weekday – and they already went to school almost two months longer than kids back in Minnesota. His classmates slept in their classes because they were exhausted."

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