For one day a year the entire peninsula of South Korea comes to a screaming halt. For one day a year elementary and middle schools open late, airports and train stations change their schedule, post offices and government buildings, the stock exchange remains closed until after 10am, losing the country a bob or two and police are ordered to escort any delayed student to his/her school. A population of almost fifty-million stays locked up and off the road for up to three hours. This is the day that nothing is allowed to stop the countries high school students getting to their final exam, an exam that determines whether they make it into university or not. Whether they become a have-not or a never-had, a dreamer, a worrier, a beggar or another victim who takes his own life in some dark dingy basement. This day is the most important day in life.
With 80% of Korean students expecting to get into a university the competition is intense. Other countries seem to weather this event much more easily. The options available are still the same, Korea offers a huge range of courses to cater to almost any candidate, but it is for those positions which will hand its recipient an almost guarantee of a stable and prosperous life that is most at stake. Those relatively few placements for prestigious universities like Seoul National etc., are the ones that become like the golden ticket to these poor suffering little sots. So what can the country do to make it feel even terrifying?
The authorities think that by closing down all other businesses and organisations and threatening those who have no need to venture out during these precious hours is helping, but this of course can only add to the stress and fear that these already uptight and exhausted kids are going through. Knowing that the streets are like a ghost town because nothing is allowed to stop you getting to your exam will only intensify the significance of it all, and that won’t do anyone any favours! The students are smart enough to know, I hope, that they know that getting into university is important, they know what’s at stake, they’ve been studying since they were two-years old.
The education in Korea is like no other in the world. Students rise early and study late, some working more than eighteen hours a day, not including the hours they put in doing their homework. The government sees this as progress and what needs to be done to compete on the world stage, it has after all grown from being one of the poorest countries during the 1960s to now being the 13th largest economy in the world. But that growth was primarily down to an increase in mass production, cheap labour and industry, not in the fields that many potential university students hope to study in, namely Law, Medicine and Diplomacy. These branches of education are considered the most affluent above all else. Using your brain so that you don’t have to use your hands; getting someone else to do the manual whilst you sit and watch and reap the rewards of your accountancy firm, law practice or dental clinic etc. The parents pray that their sprog will succeed, some bowing mindlessly three-thousand times in Buddhist temples or churches in the hope that their God will hear their pleadings and bargainings over all others who are stood by your side, but there can only be one winner and that is the one who employees these young upstarts and forces them to work every hour of every day for a little sparkle of silver and the promise of a day-off when their grandfather kicks the bucket.
All this stress, hope, praying, yearning and begging to get into an average university to study something you have no interest in really, to then get a job where you will bossed around by someone who sees you as just another drone willing to do his bidding and be told that your weekends are in his pocket because he is your supervisor and he wants to go off singing with his little concubine. So, what’s the hope?
Don’t be told what to do or which field to apply in, this is your life, your future, you’ll regret spending twenty years behind a desk with nothing to show apart from insufferable piles and the constitution of someone twice your age. Don’t listen to those family members who say what you want is beyond your talents and is impossible in this country.
- S. Korean parents turn to crime over school access (straitstimes.com)
- South Korean parents turn to forgery for school access (gulfnews.com)