The Pressure of Korean Education

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http://vimeo.com/26833191

Korean students are known for their academic excellence and spending hours at after school programs. From their youngest age, parents are pushing them to study to the extreme with the dream to reach the SKY (Seoul National University, Korea University and Yonsei University) the top 3 Korean universities. Perfect on paper, the system also has major flaws…

http://vimeo.com/26833191

Korean students are known for their academic excellence and spending hours at after school programs. From their youngest age, parents are pushing them to study to the extreme with the dream to reach the SKY (Seoul National University, Korea University and Yonsei University) the top 3 Korean universities. Perfect on paper, the system also has major flaws…

Widely admired, Korean students excel at mathematics, achieve among the highest test scores around the world and get top acceptation rates into Ivy League universities in the United States (The New York Times). However success has a price, Korean children live under the pressure of the big University Entrance Exam, Suneung Shihom 수능시험 a huge country wide event once a year. Many students start preparing for Suneung since middle school.

Having no time for childhood, Korean students spend about 16 hours each day memorizing lessons and studying at Hagwons 학원 (private academies). It has reached a point where the Korean government had to take action by imposing a 10pm curfew on after-school programs to ensure a healthy lifestyle for children.

A recent survey revealed that Korean kids are among the unhappiest in the developed world, which is easily explained by the repetitive learning format. It is also alarming that the current educational system produces adults who lack creativity and entrepreneurial skills (The Wall Street Journal).

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Korean student hard at work (Source: The New York Times)

Combined with the impact of hierarchy in Korea, it creates companies with bureaucratic organizational structures. As proved by the impressive economic development of the country it is an efficient design. Yet it has its limit, the lack of initiative from employees creates a huge loss of talent and a disadvantage against the competition especially in the IT and service industries.

With 80% of high-school graduates attending university, there is a strong bias for college education. It is fuelled by the “perception — driven by educators, families, politicians and media — that success and stability can be achieved only by going to college and getting a job in a large conglomerate or the government.” (The Wall Street Journal)

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Photoshop makes you look perfect on your C.V.

The Korean economy knows a 3.3% unemployment rate for the general population and 7.5% for the 15-29 years old (August 2011, Arirang). Being top of the class is not enough to ensure a good position after graduation and a lot of students feel discouraged as they don’t understand what the point of trying so hard anymore is.

The competition to enter a Chaebol (Korean conglomerates like Samsung or Hyundai) is cutthroat and inflation is on everyone’s mind. Perpetuating the Korean obsession for beauty, it is common practice to Photoshop your picture on your resume to look like the Korean ideal of a small face with big eyes. As the next logical step, many turn to plastic surgery to increase their chances at job interviews.

“The pressure to find gainful employment is one of the main causes of suicide among those in their 20s” (The Chosunilbo). Unfortunately, suicide is also the highest cause of death for Korean in their 20′s. As a result, Korea has the highest rate of suicides in the developed world, topping all 34 countries member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

work in Korea, korean culture, korea life, korea society, Kelley Katzenmeyer, Korean High School,On a brighter note, the Korean Government is conscious of the issue and has launched a 5 year plan to resolve the increasing suicide rate through prevention and taking action against those publicizing suicide methods. At a conference held recently by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, experts stated that suicide is not just a matter for individuals but a social problem that the society should tackle together” (The Korea Times).

In such a conformist society it will probably take decades before the system changes. Interestingly enough it is not always Koreans who seem the most worried about their mental health but foreigners. I just came across Kelley Katzenmeyer, an award winning filmmaker from the United States who is just 19 years-old. Her next project, A Documentary on Korean High School, is aiming at shaking-up the Korean mentality and creating a positive society for Korean youth. Watch the documentary preview above and you too go to KoreanHighSchool.com to help finance the film!

Korean High School (Documentary Preview) from Kelley Katzenmeyer on Vimeo.

 



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