12:10 pm - 06/06/2011

Exam pressure can drive S. Korea teens to suicide

The crushing pressure on South Korean teenagers to perform well in exams can leave some students so distraught they feel life just isn't worth living.

Dozens of teenagers kill themselves every year -- often around the time of an annual college entrance exam -- amid fears they didn't do well enough to enter the college of their dreams.

In one recent shocking case, a 16-year-old in the southwestern city of Mokpo doused himself with gasoline and set himself ablaze in the street.


He left a note saying he had done badly in tests and felt he had let his parents down.

The number of school-age suicides rose from 100 in 2003 to 202 in 2009, according to education ministry statistics.


Dozens more attempt to kill themselves but survive.

Another survey showed about 20 per cent of high and middle school students feel tempted to commit suicide, higher than 17.4 per cent among adults in one of the world's most suicide-prone countries.

South Korean teenagers have long studied late into the night to stay ahead in the rat race for admission to top universities seen as offering them a head start in life.

Education is highly prized in South Korea and plays a major role in determining job and marriage prospects.

Angela Kwon, a high school senior in Suwon just south of Seoul, attends school classes from 7.00 am to 4.00 pm.

Then she studies at a $1,400-a-month private cram school until 10.00 pm night -- before returning to her boarding school and swotting until 2 am in the library.

Even at weekends Kwon, like many of her age, spends most waking hours at the library and the cram school. She catches up on sleep when commuting.

Government data shows the average high school senior sleeps about five hours and studies more than 11 hours a day.

"Sleep has been so elusive for years...many of my friends say they are tired of feeling exhausted all the time," said Kwon, 18.

"I and my friends sneak out of school to watch a movie once every few months, but we feel extremely guilty."

Kim Hye-In, a high school senior in Suwon, said she and her friends wear rubber bands round their wrist and snap them periodically to keep themselves awake.

"Waking up in the morning after sleeping four hours is the hardest part of my day," said the 18-year-old, who usually studies until two in the morning to try to get into a music school of her choice.

"There's no freedom in my life now. We doze off during a class and often get beaten when caught by a teacher."

Today's children are "in a constant state of extreme exhaustion, sleep-deprivation and depression", said Park Jae-Won, head of Seoul's Visang Education Research Centre.

"Many parents push children to study at an increasingly earlier age regardless of their brain development...even causing depression or attention deficit disorders as a result," he said.

Bae Joo-Mi, a clinical psychologist at the Korea Youth Counseling Institute, said the number of calls for help has grown over the years.

"In the past, the competition kicked off in earnest in middle or high school, now it starts in elementary school," she said, adding it was inevitable for youngsters to feel more distressed and depressed.

"Callers in the past usually used to say, 'I feel so blue' or 'I feel so depressed'. But now they say 'I'm overwhelmed. I just want to die'," said Bae.

According to a recent survey by the National Youth Policy Institute, 71 per cent of South Korean teenagers said they were happy compared to 92 per cent in China and 75 per cent in Japan -- also well known for competitive education.

Education authorities have started, albeit in a limited way, to address the problem.

Seoul's education office said last November it would test all school students for depression and offer counselling for those deemed at risk.

The project suffered from a lack of resources and therapists. But education authorities also lamented that many parents refused to let their children get help for fear they may be stigmatised as mentally disturbed.

"Very few of the students deemed at risk actually end up getting counselling because their parents are unwilling," said an education ministry official who declined to be named.

There are some improvements. The official said 4,300 schools -- 38 per cent of the country's total -- now offer basic screening for depression and refer those at risk to professional counsellors, compared to 96 schools in 2007.

"Our kids are so crushed by the pressure to be excessively competitive and be successful at any costs...we can't afford to let the pressure keep crushing them like this," the official said.

Source: channelnewsasia
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letseaticecream 6th-Jun-2011 01:06 pm (UTC)
I know this is way too common in Asia, but this is just so incredibly sad.
I'll never complain about my study-load again ;(
jaeluvsme 6th-Jun-2011 01:17 pm (UTC)
It's not a common thing in my country though. I've heard of a lot of cases where students in Malaysia go crazy, but not suicidal.
bgurl1210 6th-Jun-2011 01:10 pm (UTC)
This is so sad. You know it's happening but when you have the facts in front of you it's even more heartbreaking.
itangeisha 6th-Jun-2011 01:19 pm (UTC)
They have no time to live. Saw this with my own eyes.
It's saddening. A friend told me to meet after her 7am-10pm classes during summer, though it was late she only wanted to breathe. School never let them breathe.
Education office/ministry need campaigns about pressure idk... it really is scary :(
jasmineakaiumi 6th-Jun-2011 01:33 pm (UTC)
I know what you mean. Haven't seen some of my friends for a year because they're too tired after they get out of their hakwon at 10/11pm & need to study anyway.. :(
yamapi96 6th-Jun-2011 01:21 pm (UTC)
I know this feeling all too well. #mylife
crucifiedhearts 9th-Jun-2011 08:56 am (UTC)
I do to. I felt exactly this way last year when studying for my DAT. My friends thought I didn't think they were worthy of my time, my parents just kept wanting me to study more and harder, and I just found myself asking if it was all worth the anxiety and stress.
whitemoonx3 6th-Jun-2011 01:22 pm (UTC)
South Korea.

The place where people think about death the most. Kids, adults, celebrities. /shakes head
kimishim 6th-Jun-2011 01:23 pm (UTC)
This is so sad. I wonder how the teaching method is in Korea for students to feel that it's necessary to study for 11 hours a day. Do they just give them a shitload of information and tell them to remember it all?
taeconme 6th-Jun-2011 01:35 pm (UTC)
I think they do, actually. It's more rote memory than active learning.
oncloud999 6th-Jun-2011 01:24 pm (UTC)
I don't know, sometimes, I think people are forgetting how to be happy and just enjoy life. Not everything needs to revolve around studying and being successful. *sigh*
crucifiedhearts 9th-Jun-2011 08:57 am (UTC)
I think the youth often thinks this way, but it is the pressure from older generations (parents, etc.) that pushes them to this point.
bishieaddict 6th-Jun-2011 01:26 pm (UTC)
when I went through uni, I had the 4 hours sleeps...it's so tiring and exhausting and it gets downhill from there. I couldn't concentrate in class because I was too tired - then i have to spend more time doing my homework.
jeit91 6th-Jun-2011 01:28 pm (UTC)
yea my friend, who lives in south korea and is taking finals this week, messaged me and she said she was sometims very sad she was born in korea because it's very stressful, and my heart sunk...:(
crucifiedhearts 9th-Jun-2011 08:58 am (UTC)
poor thing, ugh, just want to hug her!
sashays27 6th-Jun-2011 01:29 pm (UTC)
i always read this, and feel so sad for them..
then i will start wondering where do sasaeng fans comes from, fans who goes to events like dreamteam, dreamconcert, every random events where we see HD FANCAMS. and mnet,mubank,mucore,inki... sukira, etc...
jasmineakaiumi 6th-Jun-2011 01:35 pm (UTC)
It's sad, my friend has been out of highschool for 2 years; everytime he fails the university exams to the top elite schools in Korea he takes another year off solely to spend every waking hour of every day studying for the next exam period.
I haven't seen him in ages, he has no time to meet anyone & even if he does he's too tired to even bother.
crucifiedhearts 9th-Jun-2011 09:00 am (UTC)
blegh, why doesn't he just study at an ordinary university then? why does is have to be elite???
yesungholic 6th-Jun-2011 01:38 pm (UTC)
"I and my friends sneak out of school to watch a movie once every few months, but we feel extremely guilty."

this shouldn't happen. there's a time to study and there's a time to have fun and hang out with your friends. I know senior year can be stressfull and it seems no matter how much people study it seems nothing is being memorized.
but this kind of pressure isn't healthy...I think they have to find a balance, and parents can't force children to study to 2AM or whatever. students are human too, rest and fun are needed!
u_know 6th-Jun-2011 01:52 pm (UTC)
Happens in India too :/
icedevil0289 6th-Jun-2011 02:00 pm (UTC)
yup. My parents always used to tell me, you think your life is tough, go study in India and you'll see how tough it is.
izon_no_niwa 6th-Jun-2011 01:53 pm (UTC)
the price to pay for success?
jela_ow 6th-Jun-2011 01:53 pm (UTC)
I understand that where you get your education is extremely important in Korea but I wish the government would recognize how this kind of culture is oppressive to students. I mean, there are other ways to promote and encourage education. Kids need time to themselves too.
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