Daily Video

January 24, 2011

South Korea’s ‘Education Fever’

School never ends for most students in South Korea. When they’re done with their normal school day, most go to more private tutoring until late into the night. Vacation and weekend days are also filled with schooling, studying and even virtual tutoring to help students get a leg up in a hyper-competitive education system and job market.

Observers have dubbed South Korea’s competitive education system “education fever.” But, students’ dedication shows in test results: South Korean 15-year-olds rank second in the world in reading in fourth in math, while teens in the U.S. are 17th in reading and 31st in math. President Obama has frequently presented South Korea’s education model as one to be copied by U.S. students, but some experts wonder why.

Suicide and depression rates are highest among South Korean teens, and many suspect it’s because they are under so much pressure to perform well academically. Most South Korean families place great emphasis on school performance and spend about 10 percent of their income on their children’s tutoring and schooling.

Some South Koreans are analyzing and re-defining what it means to be successful, since so many young people are becoming overwhelmed and exhausted by the demands of school. But for now, the country’s “education fever” continues for most students.


“We need to rethink our views on success. It is now time for South Korean society to allow diversity about what is successful. Being happy is also success.” – Bae Eun-Hee, national assemblywoman, Republic of Korea

“When young students are lagging behind in their classes, they get blamed by their parents, and they blame themselves. And, sometimes, they blame themselves so hard, that it’s going to lead themselves to suicide.” – Lee Doowon, economics professor, Yonsei University

“Education is a channel for your social mobility. And if you want to become somebody in society, you want to go to a better college, better school, and study certain areas which will bring you higher status, and probably high income.” – Kim Kyong-Dong, Korea Development Institute

Warm Up Questions

1. Where is South Korea?

2. What impact can a good education have on a person’s life? Do you think education is important? Why or why not?

3. Generally, where does the U.S. education system stand when compared with other countries’ systems?

Discussion Questions

1. Why do you think the U.S. is worried about competing with other countries in education? Why does it matter?

2. Do you admire South Korean students? Why or why not?

3. Based on the classroom scenes you saw in the video, how is a typical class in South Korea different from your classes? Which model do you like better? Which model do you think teaches better? Why?

4. Do you think President Obama’s call to make U.S. schools more like South Korean schools is smart? Why or why not?

Additional Resources

Video Transcript

In South Korea, a ‘Fever’ for Higher Education

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