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South Korea is home to a thriving $20 billion private education industry. But 15 hour school days and academic pressure on students are beginning to take its toll, and the authorities are finally taking notice.
“You get compared and because everyone does so well I feel pressured to do better. There’s a lot of psychological pressure”, says one Korean student. Here, making it to the top has become a national obsession. Schools stay open until 11pm, whilst half of teenagers report suicidal thoughts, mostly blaming school pressure. 19-year-old Jae-woo describes the stresses that accompany study for exams: “There’s no me… I can’t do things I like. When I’m prepping for exams, who I am just gets lost”. Feeding off the system are entrepreneurs like Cha Gil-yong, a celebrity teacher who dons wigs and wacky costumes in online lectures. At any one time 300,000 students are logged into his website. “I try to entertain them and keep them from nodding off by wearing these wigs. Students really enjoy it”, he says. Now, authorities are finally realising that the price of success may be too great, and are sending out patrols to enforce school closing times. Yet top performing students are even beginning to have plastic surgery in order to improve their job prospects. In a country where failure is not an option, how far will students go for success?
ABC Australia – Ref. 6529
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