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  • Writer's pictureDawon (Cherry) Shin

Problems in Korea’s Education System

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

Cherry Shin (Northwood High School)

South Korea is well-known for a lot of aspects: Kpop idols, food, and its competitive education system.

Korea is famous for having extremely high-standards in education. It provides high quality education for students from both schools and private academies in all subjects. Korean students show exceptionally high skills in math compared to other countries. Some of the factors include the non-calculator policy. Unlike America, schools in Korea strictly prohibit the use of calculators. This enhances the students’ mental math but may also limit certain calculations that may be impossible for a human brain to calculate. Similar factors allow Korea to rank 8th in literacy, mathematics, and science world wide.

However, these achievements are accomplished from the sacrifices of Korean students. The “education fever” forces Korean students to go to school 16 hours a day. After school, all students from age 7 to 17 go to cram schools or hagwons. Even elementary students have a lack of sleep due to loads of hagwons every single day after school. School ends at 5pm, cram schools end at 11pm-12am, and students start their homework at midnight. All of these efforts are for one and one reason only: to go into the SKY universities (Seoul, Koryo, Yonsei). The degree and the university one came from generally determines the idea of “success” in South Korea. The competition to go into one of the SKY universities is severely harsh; just missing a mark or two from the final exam at the end of your high school year determines which university you end up in. GPA is the only factor that universities consider when they choose students in Korea, resulting in low interests in extracurriculars and severe competition.

This extreme competitiveness may give Korea a significant advantage. After the Korean War in the 1950s, Korea was one of the poorest countries in Asia. Education was the hand that forced South Korea back up into economic thrivingness. However, this came with another consequence: extreme suicide rates. It would be impossible to go through all the hours of repetitive studying for years without depression, anxiety, and stress. The anxiety of rankings at school, the stress of not being the number one, all the overload of homeworks and assignments from 7 or more cram schools will certainly impact one’s mental health. South Korea has the highest suicide rate in all of OECD (The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development). Suicidal thoughts come from the feelings of failure when students get unsatisfactory grades.

I believe this education system in Korea should change. Students will continue to go through the same, repetitive style of living generation after generation, and the standards of “high” grades will increase accordingly. We should all understand that one’s grades, one’s university doesn’t determine how smart a person is. The reason we learn should be to apply these facts in real life to solve real life problems, which comes from experiences rather than sitting on desks 16 hours a day with a pencil in one hand.

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