Korean Students: Overeducated and Overwhelmed

Korean Students: Overeducated and Overwhelmed

pink pangea foreign correspondent In Korean society, education consumes a major part of a child’s life. A youngster may put in his regular public school, and then his mom will ship him off to a hagwon (for-profit private English academy) three evenings a week. And, of course, math or science academy fills the other two evenings. On top of this already too-tight schedule, he may be forced to spend a couple of additional hours on Saturday morning at one of these academies!

It’s understandable that parents in South Korea want to provide the best education for their child. However, it seems the child’s overall happiness and personal interests suffer in today’s educational rat race.

In some of the classes I teach, it’s quite noticeable that the inner spirit of many of my Korean students seems rather dampened. Their energy and concentration are nearly drained, and sitting through an evening of English lessons is the last place they want to be!

Some Korean parents forget that nurturing one’s personal interests is an important part of a child’s emotional and spiritual growth.

Even when they get whiny about the lesson, I definitely empathize with them. I teach adolescents and remember those years. While there were struggles, there were many enjoyable times. In particular, the freedom and friendships is what helped get me through middle school.

My parents wanted me to do my best, and I always made the effort to do so. However, they knew that free time and pursuing one’s own interests were important, too. I remember spending blissful hours engrossed in a good book or working on sketches.

I feel that some Korean parents forget that nurturing one’s personal interests is an important part of a child’s emotional and spiritual growth. (And especially crucial to one’s self-esteem.) When we are absorbed in a hobby it allows us to relax, put our minds at ease and rejuvenate. Children need these same things as well. Unfortunately, in a country obsessed with academic intelligence, IQ scores and college admissions, devoting time to personal interests is often ignored.

Korean Students: Overeducated and Overwhelmed

On past essay assignments, my Korean students have written about feeling very stressed about academics and grades. I remember reading an essay from one girl, who was already concerned about getting into a prestigious university and becoming a doctor (mind you, she was just 14 years old).

Due to the high expectations placed upon Koreans to find the perfect job and the ideal mate, and to achieve superb academic scores, some people become unable to cope emotionally and mentally. According to Human Rights Monitor South Korea, the country has “…the highest overall per capita suicide rate” when compared to other Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries. The website also states that one of the reasons for the country’s teenage suicide rate is the stress of school admission and grades.

This should be the catalyst for some tweaking, not just in the South Korea’s education system, but also between parents and children. While education and doing one’s best are important responsibilities for a child, after-school academies should not eat up the entirety of one’s free time.

Due to the high expectations placed upon Koreans to find the perfect job and the ideal mate, and to achieve superb academic scores, some people become unable to cope emotionally and mentally.

Korean parents may fear that if their child’s time is not focused on homework and studies, then their child will care less about his education. Another reason for parents’ devotion to after-school academies is that many parents send their children to them because other students are enrolled. Thus, parents feel “parental pressure” within society to emulate what other parents are doing–even if it’s not necessarily the best thing for their own child.

A high IQ score is no guarantee for happiness and inner fulfillment. However, if a happy medium can be found between personal interests and academics, maybe Korean students will feel a renewed sense of their inner spirit.

Korean Students: Overeducated and Overwhelmed

About Rebecca Biage

Rebecca BiageRebecca Biage currently works as an English Teacher in Suwon, South Korea. Her passions include traveling, writing, and reading. She also posts a variety of items on her blog.

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