Survey: academic stress threatening South Korean children’s very survival

Posted on : 2014-11-05 11:58 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Findings show that children have lowest life satisfaction of any OECD country

“When we ran an emotional and behavioral test of around 300 first-year middle school students during the first semester, there were 30 or 40 children that recorded high results for depression. In order to get ready for performance assessment, children have to get tutoring for everything, even jump rope. This means that they don’t have any free time to pursue their own interests, which ultimately leads to psychological problems.”

Just like this description of school life provided by a counselor at a middle school in South Gyeongsang Province on Nov. 4, many children who are born and raised in South Korea are unhappy. They are under a great deal of stress because of homework, exams, and other aspects of their schooling, and they have little time to spend with friends, exercise, or engage in other hobbies.

On Nov. 4, the Ministry of Health and Welfare released the results of the 2013 Comprehensive Survey of Children in Korea. The survey shows that the life satisfaction of South Korean children is lower than any other country in the OECD.

The quality of life of South Korean children - as subjectively assessed by the children themselves - received a score of 60.3 out of 100, the lowest figure among OECD member states. Aside from South Korea, Romania (76.6) and Poland (79.7) received some of the lowest scores in the category.

The primary reason for the low quality of life is extreme academic stress. Children’s stress levels increased from five years ago (2008 Comprehensive Survey of Children and Adolescents). Stress is on the rise both for children aged 9-11 (1.82 in 2008 to 2.02 in 2013) and for adolescents aged 12-17 (2.14 in 2008 to 2.16 in 2013). The stress scale ranges from 1 on the low end to 4 on the high end.

The main reason for stress, according to the survey, is the academic pressure faced by children because of homework, tests, and grades.

As life satisfaction falls, the child deprivation index rises. South Korean children received 58.4% on the index, which measures children’s leisure activities and their nutritional intake. This too was one of the lowest scores in the OECD. The only countries lower than South Korea were Hungary (31.9%) and Portugal (27.4%).

The area of deprivation identified by the most respondents was dissatisfaction about not being able to regularly take part in leisure activities such as music or sports (52.8%). A large number of respondents also felt dissatisfied about there not being enough birthday parties or family outings (22.4%) and wished they had more opportunities to have their friends over (21.1%).

“In 2011, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended that we correct the obsession with competition in the South Korean education system. In response to this survey, we will select the imbalance of academic work and leisure activity as an important item on our agenda,” said Song Joon-heon, head of children’s welfare policies for the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

The results of a survey on suicidal behavior by children were also published. 3.6% of the children between 9 and 17 years of age who participated in the survey said that they had thought seriously about suicide over the past year, and 25.9% of those who responded affirmatively to that question said that they had actually attempted commit suicide.

4,007 households with children under the age of 18 - including 1,499 households below the poverty line - were included in the 2013 Comprehensive Survey of Korean Children.

“Studies show that professionals and other people whose careers are highly competitive are more likely to put a lot of academic pressure on their children. These people fail to consider that there might be other ways to succeed aside from studying. With the child suicide rate going up, people need to realize that everyday academic stress has a bearing on children’s very survival,” said Jeong Ik-jung, professor of social welfare at Ewha Womans University.


By Park Su-ji and Choi Sung-jin, staff reporters

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