The dropout rate of schoolkids who fail to adapt to schools is just one to two percent, according to the Ministry of Education, but research by the Chosun Ilbo shows it to be nearer four percent.
"Considering that the average dropout rate of pupils in the OECD is 13 percent, that is pretty low," a government official said.
Government statistics do not capture the reality because they fail to count the students who had already left school. A team of reporters of the Chosun Ilbo and Yoon Chol-kyung of the National Youth Policy Institute cross-examined various data obtained from Statistics Korea and other government ministries, and found another 280,000 children or adolescents who left school, four percent of the total population of school-age children.
There were 7.13 million students from elementary school to high school as of 2012. They were born between 1994 and 2005. But only 6.85 million were accurately accounted for.
Some 6.72 million are in ordinary elementary, middle, and high schools nationwide, and 80,000 are in special education, vocational, or alternative schools or hospitalized for long periods. Another 30,000 are studying abroad, and 20,000 are either in juvenile correctional facilities or on probation.
So where are the remaining 280,000?
Besides, indicators of Korean schoolchildren's happiness are very low. In the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, Korean schoolchildren's interest and confidence in math were in the bottom group of the world. In the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment report, Korean schoolkids' satisfaction with school ranked 36th among 38 countries studied.
Meanwhile, the suicide rate of teenagers continues to rise. The average OECD suicide rate of people between 10 and 24 dropped by 16 percent from 7.7 per 100,000 population in 2000 to 6.5 in 2010. But in Korea it soared from 6.4 to an alarming 9.4, or 47 percent.
Chun Se-young, a professor at Chungnam National University, said, "It is time to comprehensively review the school curriculum and schooling system in general and carry out necessary reforms."