Competition: a contest between rivals. It indicates a sense of equality; That you stand shoulder to shoulder to the opponent you face. But when that opponent is society, is it truly a competition anymore? Education in Korea is no mere competition. To say that it is would be disingenuous, no downright disrespectful to the blood, sweat, and tears spilled by students. It is akin to war. “Fight it, endure it, you can’t fall” (Cha Gil Young). If you do, society will pillage you of all your reputation, opportunities, and dreams. You will be forgotten like a war-torn territory. Having no value to give, your allies fade in the distance. You become alone, dejected, and abandoned. Though through nightless years, the tests, and battles behind you, you emerge victorious. You can pillage society of a fruitful job, a mass of wealth, and possibly happiness. But what a foolish distant dream we yearn for as a cut-throat victory will cost as much as you gain.
The sweat that these students pour into their preparations to some may seem inhuman. They participate in rigorous 13-hour marathons. Only to fruitlessly yield strategies and information to fight in the upcoming test. The 13-hours repeat, seemingly endlessly. A monotonous schedule. Wake up, study. Begin school, study. Lunch, no, study. Freetime, no, study. This culture of endless studies and work drains students of the will to continue. Unlike western schools, Korean students are unable to maintain a balanced lifestyle. They mentally and physically overwork themselves. But frankly, what other option is there. A student’s time is held hostage by society. What else can students do other than guarantee their victory in this academic war through absolute hard work?
Proponents of Korea’s boot camp, like the education system, suggests that this grueling schedule strengthens students. But students who flare too hot will only shatter upon their tempering—invoking a feeling of loneliness stemming from a void of interaction. A sense of bleakness derived from a genuinely suffocating pressure of academic success. A spiral of emotions, where a distant cacophony draws closer. A dissonance of oxymoronic ideas only draws them deeper. No one will throw a rope to relieve them from this dark and eerie mind space. They can only hope never to see the bottom of this spiral—unfortunately, those who do encounter desolation. The state of absolute emptiness, paired with the ringing noises of despair, drive students to the edge. The cacophony of thought breaks down to a single line of action. End this noise, how? End themselves, how? With a noose on their neck or a blade through their abdomen. The solution? Suicide. Korean education builds a persistent sense of stress in students, which causes them to crack. The pressure they experience causes them to develop suicidal thoughts. Approximately 50% of Korean students have admitted to having suicidal thoughts. Suicide is also the leading cause of death among people aged 15 – 24. But then again, when holding a boulder of pressure, students either stand or crumble if those around do not assist.
The pristine white walls gleam in perfection. The concrete floor coveys a cold dread A school, no a factory. The blade of education cuts into students’ individuality-manufacturing them into disfigured squares to be packaged and sent to society. They are no longer Ha-yoon, Ji-yoo or Ha-rin. They are numbers, statistics and an analysis on paper. Their identity fades into the sea of masked humans. Each of them is tagged by performance and efficacy. When it is time to remove the mask, the numbers become meaningless. It is not statistics of students that dictate the future, but the students themselves. So in this frantic chase for the highest number, the coveted 100, education has forgotten its purpose. It is not to prepare students for itself, but instead the future. The combination of destructing individuality and isolating one’s entire being onto a single score caused this ineffective system to be created. Students procure a tremendous amount of information in their high school year but lack the necessary skills to apply it correctly. They are not exposed to group work, discussion, and presentations. These skills are essential to build early on as they are used frequently during jobs. The Korean education system focuses more on memorization than critical thinking. Although it is not how much knowledge you have, but how it is used, which is essential.
Blood spilled from suicides, sweat spilled through tiring days, and tears shed because of a forgotten identity.
Education in Korea is no mere competition; it truly is war.