Exploring the Unknown

Exploring the Unknown
Representing the 99%!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

An 'A' To Die For - Suicide in Education

With a stronger economy, South Korea has placed emphasis on education as the key to their overwhelming success. However, at what cost are these new pressures having on the children who have been entrusted with its economy’s future survival? In the early 1990's South Koreans spent nearly 7.5 billion Won on their children's extra curricular education. South Korean children and adolescents are being sent to language hagwons ranging from English to Japanese. In addition children are also sent to music, math and science hagwons. This, on top of their civil education has resulted in Korean youth starting academic careers from the age of five years old. Failure is not an option and the end results are devastating effects on those children and adolescents who can not keep up with the "rat race." One such effect is suicide.

 Academic and Beauty Pressures in South Korea

Photo © Globe & Mail
According to James Card, a freelance writer in South Korea, "statistics are unclear as to how many students end their lives because of education-related stress. Numbers from the National Statistical Office indicate that more than 1,000 students between the ages of 10 and 19 killed themselves from 2000 to 2003. In another report supplied to the education committee of the National Assembly by the Ministry of Education, 462 students (both primary and secondary) committed suicide in the last five years. Two surveys, one by the Korea Teachers and Educational Workers Union, the other by the Korea Youth Counseling Institute, found that 43% to 48% of students have contemplated suicide." (Asian Times, Nov. 30, 2005)

As an employed or potential ESL Teacher, the importance of empathy towards your students far outweighs the need for strict obedience in classrooms. Anyone who has worked in South Korea can attest to the seriousness taken by not only parents and the directors of hagwons, but by the children too. On one such occasion whilst handing back corrected test results in one of my own classes (a vocabulary test), only one of my students did not receive a perfect score. Upon realizing this she burst into tears. Being somewhat naïve to the social pressures on youth in South Korea I failed at that moment to take seriously why she was obviously so upset over one mistake on an otherwise perfect test. It was only when her friends, through broken English, told me that her parents would be upset with her that I began to truly understand what it is to be an ESL teacher here in South Korea.

Photo © Quartz.com
Children and adolescents alike are faced with a multitude of social dilemmas today, educational achievement being one of the highest. Educators need to learn and use cross-cultural empathy to better understand and work with different ethnic groups. Be it on a one on one basis or through a class room setting, anyone coming to South Korea has to ask themselves what it is they are trying to accomplish here. Being open minded and understanding of another culture is paramount in everyday situations within your own country. It is suffice to say that being so in a foreign country where you are in fact "the other" couldn't be truer.

Photo © iamkoream.com
Of course we are not here to be entertainers either. Nor would your employer appreciate you turning every class into a private comedy act for their amusement. Indeed, it isn't that you shouldn't teach your classes; rather it is how you teach it that could make the world of difference. Putting yourself in your student's place and understanding the pressures on them both in school and at home will not only allow you to plan your classes more effectively, but also, it will allow you to be there to support the students who are not doing as well and who may require remedial work.

Photo © Classcraft
After all, keeping in mind that not every student signed themselves up to learn English in the first place, why not make it something that they can look forward too. There is nothing in your contract that states that you can't make it an enjoyable experience and most importantly, a non-threatening one.


Card, James. (2005). Life and Death Exams in Korea. Asia Times.com

Nota Bene: The above article was originally published in 2006 through Suite 101.com now known as Suite.io.  

Corbin, M.R.J.  (March 26, 2006), Suicide in Education.  In ESL.  Creative Marketeam Canada Ltd. Suite101.com.  Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

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