Korea is known in the world as having one of the best education systems. Academic performance and standerized test scores are amongst the highest in the world. But at what cost?
Modern Korea is based on competition and monetary success. In a nation obsessed with higher education the pressure to succeed becomes evident at a very young age. Many students attend school 6 days a week. Most students attend some form of after school classes. English education is a huge priority in Korea and students spend several hours a week in Hagwons “a private institute” or “cram-school.” Once students are finished with all their classes they are busy with hours of homework and studying for exams.
The focus is to get a near perfect on the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) in order to gain acceptance into one of the three best universities in the nation, Seoul National University (SNU), Korea University, or Yonsei University. Hundreds of thousands of students spend their whole childhood studying with the same goal in mind. There is even a national day based around CSAT exams on the 2nd Thursday of November.
The structured environment that occupies students daily lives leaves very little room for personal freedom. Korean mothers feel an obligation to micro manage studying and monitor their children so that precious study time isn’t wasted. Winter and summer vacation just means more time to spend in a Hagwon or with a tutor.
Korean parents aspire to provide their children with the opportunities necessary to foster success in the future. However, excessive pressure to succeed has attributed to stress and depression.
In South Korea, teen suicide is amongst the highest in the world. The psychological burden is such that suicide rates increase around the date of the CSAT exam. Some students convinced that they will not do well on the test, kill themselves even before taking the test. This was the case of a 18 year old boy from Daejeon who did not perform well in last year’s CSAT. His father found his body only a few hours before the nationwide exam began this year.
According to Education Week the former South Korean Minister of Education, Byong Man Ahn, emphasizes how over-testing can negatively affect a child’s desire and ability to learn. With the myriad of problems that need solved in the world. What we need is a new educational paradigm that isn’t focused around test scores but that motivates the desire to learn. What we need now more then ever in the world is creativity and ingenuity.