December 4, 2022

Education: Competing Against the World

South Korea

Young South Koreans are more likely to graduate from high school than those in any other developed country.

Cynthia Barnett | 8/1/2006

Young Sun and others wear uniforms, must keep their hair the right length and may not dye their hair. Young Sun attended ninth grade in the United States because of her mother's job and says one big difference is how familiar American students seem with their teachers. "Asian students take the relationship between students and teachers very seriously," she says. "For example, you can't call your teacher by his/her first name." She calls American students "free and easy" and says they may need more discipline, but overall, she'd prefer to study in the U.S. For one, she liked being able to choose courses. Most of all, she wishes that the CSAT allowed retakes like the SAT. "We only have one (chance)," she says, "and if we fail it, it's over."

No Balance

Students call it the 'four in, five out' system: Four hours of sleep gets you in a top university. Five hours of sleep won't cut it.

? Young South Koreans are more likely to graduate from high school than those in any other developed country, a testament to the Asian nation's intense focus on academics over the past 25 years. Around half of those born in the 1950s never completed secondary school, but 97% of those born in the 1970s have done so, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

? South Koreans are also among the most likely to earn university degrees. Beginning in preschool, parents and teachers work to prepare children for the all-important College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT), a one-shot exam that determines whether a student will end up on one of the SKY campuses -- "a South Korean student's crowning life achievement," according to the Asia Times. The competition and the stakes are so intense that many students routinely describe high school as the most miserable time of life.

? Whether at cram schools, with tutors or at some regular public schools that make students study until midnight, high school students live by the popular saying, "four in, five out." It means those who sleep four hours a night will get into a top university, while those who dare sleep five will not.

? Some South Korean parents are beginning to ask whether the rote, rigorous system is worth it. A spate of student suicides was reported during last year's CSAT. The Financial Times and New York Times over the past year have reported on the phenomenon of families, or at least mothers with their teens, heading to the U.S. or Europe for high school so that their children can lead a more balanced life.

Tags: North Central, Education

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