Category Archives: Contemporary Issues

The Harsh Realities of Education in Korea

The education system in Korea has created of the major social debates in Korea today. With one of the highest rates of international student matriculation at American universities, the Korean education system is one of the most intense and competitive in the world. From primary school to high school, Korean students are under intense pressure from their teachers and parents to do well in school. The culmination of these external pressures and the students’ own internal pressures makes suicide the leading cause of death amongst Korean youth. A 2010 report on youth suicides in Korea claims that 13 out of every 100,000 people from ages 15 to 24 committed suicide. Additionally, 8.8% of the youth surveyed claimed that they had considered taking their life, with 53.4% of them stating that educational stresses were the central cause of this urge.

The alarmingly high rate of suicides motivated by high academic pressures sparked one girl’s interest in creating a documentary about the Korean high school experience. This documentary, directed by Kelley Katzenmeyer, focuses on her interactions with Korean high school seniors as they are preparing for the “Korean SAT”, a college entrance exam only held once a year. Although the movie is not out yet, the 18-minute preview provides a decent picture of what the life of a Korean high student is like. And if you are interested in seeing the full film, you can donate to the film through the film’s website.

Painful Lessons, another movie about Korean education, talks about the use of corporal punishment in primary and secondary education. This use of harsh discipline is a very serious debate in Korea; many proponents have argued (and substantiated the argument) that the use of corporal punishment should continue because the absence of it creates an absence of motivation in Korean students. The movie gives an example of a Korean high school that doesn’t use corporal punishment. In this school, kids are not nearly as motivated as the typical Korean high school student, often sleeping in class or catching up on the latest comics. However, corporal punishment has recently become very violent, making the debate on both sides very strong. Although its methods may seem archaic and unethical, Korea does produce very bright individuals. Only time will tell if the Korean education system will be forced to address the problems that exist or continue running it as it has been run in the past.

A classroom full of Korean boys studying for the once a year college entrance exam (Courtesy of Ahn Hyun-Joo)


Painful Lessons (directed by Seoul Broadcasting System in 2011)

A Documentary Film on Korean High School by Kelley Katzenmeyer (still under production)

Suicide Leading Cause of Youth Deaths (The Korean Times)

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Posted by on May 15, 2012 in Contemporary Issues