Last week an article appeared on the Daily Mail’s website explaining how a new phone app had been created in South Korea to try and prevent the excessive number of student suicides that the country suffers from. The article was skeletal in its description of exactly how this application would operate, but it still managed to strike a chord.
Korea’s suicide rate ranks third highest, which truly questions the quality of life in this hypercompetitive society. The nation is obsessed with obtaining a higher education both for themselves and for their offspring. Students study for long, tedious hours throughout their education in the lead up to the test that decides their fate. The College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT), which are held in November, determine whether the student has accomplished their lifelong goal and achieved a place in a top institution or if they have failed. This is when many school kids crack under the pressure and the suicide rate takes a dramatic increase. In 2014, an outstanding 118 students took their own lives.
Unfortunately, the government’s meek attempts to curb this catastrophe appear to be unsuccessful. A high school student that I teach told me that she starts her day at 7am and doesn’t finish studying (this includes school and hagwon), until midnight on most weekdays. Her weekends are also littered with academies, tutoring and homework. When I asked her what she does in her free time, she told me that she sleeps. Immediately, I thought of my own childhood where free time was spent playing with friends and homework was an afterthought. These are times that I look back on with happiness, and I wonder what Korean’s feel when they remember their own youth. It’s not just high school students who are subject to this rigorous education system. All the way to elementary school the students will complain of sleep deprivation and their gruelling timetable.
As a hagwon* employee, I am contributing to this atrocious education system. My involvement incriminates me, as I am using the system to my advantage. However, as I watch the students file into my academy and sit gossiping with their friends, it appears that English hagwon might be a moment of respite in an arduous day. I can rest easy at night knowing that during my class these students, who are otherwise burdened by education, can actually enjoy learning and allow themselves to be children. I like to think of my classroom as an escape; the children arrive early and stay late not to study but to talk, laugh and relax. Therefore, shouldn’t the government be allowing children to experience more joy, in order to step away from suicide, rather than an app to catch them when they are inevitably pushed too far?
*A hagwon is a private institution that happens after school.