SEOUL, South Korea – The South Korean education system has been praised and highly ranked on a global scale. Education is taken very seriously in South Korea by parents and children alike. While some countries struggle to make education universal, South Korea has the opposite problem. Education in South Korea appears to be more of an expectation rather than a privilege or right. South Koreans are so educated that the workforce cannot accommodate them all.
Education is greatly valued in South Korea and a tool for gainful employment and marriage, so great importance is placed on educational status. South Korean students begin preparations for university entrance exams as early as primary school. They then spend their high school years attending cram school after regular school to study even more. Cram schools have more instructors than actual schools have teachers, which shows the strong demand for cram schools. South Korean students study at cram school until the government mandated 10:00 p.m. curfew.
South Korea has seven out of every 10 high school graduates going to university. The percentage of college bound high school graduates rose from 40 percent in the early 1990s to 84 percent in 2008. There are not enough jobs in South Korea to meet the education surplus with the estimated 50,000 college students per year that are in excess to the job market’s demand. The strong economic growth South Korea has experienced is the force behind the education boom and now there are consequences.
The mass of South Koreans going to university has led to an underutilized workforce. The already very low fertility rate in South Korea has dropped more as education is chosen over raising families. Economic growth suffers from the 40 percent of overeducated graduates who defer entering the workforce to complete their university education. As a result, labor input has had a negative contribution to GDP growth for the past four years.
South Korea has a university enrollment of over 70 percent of its high school graduates and the government has concerns about the damage the education obsession could cause socially. The pressure placed on South Korean students has led to elevated levels of suicide.
Young South Koreans up to 24 years old had a suicide rate of 9.4 per 100,000 in 2010, which is almost 50 percent more than the rate in 2000. The South Korean suicide rate is the highest of all countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
The elderly in South Korea have a poverty rate of 45 percent. A major contributing factor is that they used up most of their money to fund their children’s education and could not save up enough for retirement. Low fertility rates in South Korea also result from the limit of children families have due to education being so expensive. South Korea has a birth rate of about 1.2 births per woman, which suggests some couples may be using family planning to budget education costs.
The South Korean government has been working towards decreasing the education fever to prevent adverse effects to its economy and population. The hiring process in South Korea has been traditionally based on the social bias towards academic credentials. Companies are being pressured by the government to hire workers based on merit rather than what university they attended.
Former South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak created a program to make vocational schools more prestigious and encourage more students to take up a trade. The goal is for students to become masters of trade to diversify the economy and lessen the inflow of overeducated graduates into the workforce.
– Brittany Mannings