August 13, 2011 08:18
Korea's fiercely competitive education system, which is heavily rigged against children from low-income families, is being blamed for a growing number of suicides among youngsters.
A handful of top students get into prestigious universities that guarantee them high salaries and social success, while the abilities of other students go largely unrecognized mainly because academic achievements and educational background are decisive factors for social success in Korea. Youngsters are told from an early age that only being No. 1 counts, and often lose hope when they fail to live up to those standards.
Many take their own lives. According to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, 735 school students committed suicide between 2006 and 2010, 12.9 percent of them due to poor grades. In a study last year by Statistics Korea of the reasons why youngsters seriously think about suicide, 53.4 percent cited poor grades and pressure from their studies.
Some students commit suicide because they fail to gain admission to a prestigious university. Yang Jung-ho, a professor of education at Sungkyunkwan University, said, "Teenagers are often influenced by their parents' view when it comes to choosing universities and jobs, so they tend to take extreme decisions like attempting suicide when they fail to meet their parents' expectations." Instead, he said, universities and jobs “should be selected based on the interests and levels of satisfactions of students themselves."
Around 700,000 students plan to take the university entrance exam this year, but only 10 percent are expected to get into four-year universities in Seoul. The remaining 90 percent who graduate from universities outside of the capital can expect to earn 16.4 percent less on average those who went to universities in Seoul, according to the Korea Development Institute.
In Seoul, the so-called "SKY" universities -- Seoul National, Korea and Yonsei universities -- each have only 10,000 places, which account for only around 1 percent of the total number of students who apply for university entrance. This has prompted more and more people to call for changes in the education system.
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