Korean kids do their own research into their slave-like study habits

Posted on : 2014-12-09 16:33 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Project finds even elementary school kids drinking energy drinks to study late into the night

“Go to sleep at 2:30 am and get up at 7:00 am. Get to school at 8:00 am and get home at 3:00 pm. Study for three more hours at the English institute and have dinner. Study at the math academy until 10:00 pm. Go home and do the homework for the English and math institutes, practice piano, and study Chinese characters and Chinese language until 2:30 am.”

This daily schedule was drawn in a circle the size of a steak platter by a student in the sixth year of elementary school in Seoul’s Gangnam district. The student’s day is divided into just six categories. The routine is repetitive, with only four and a half hours of sleep each night. It‘s the kind of schedule that would even be hard to maintain for a student preparing for the university entrance exam.

On Dec. 8, 23 students in their fifth and sixth years of elementary school released a report titled “Korean Children Speak.” The students had been selected as young researchers by Child Fund Korea.

The results of the survey that the children conducted themselves, interviewing 110 of their peers living in Seoul and Chungju, North Chungcheong Province, provides a candid look at how “Korean children are unhappy because of their studies” - which is the subtitle of the report.

“The kids in my neighborhood live really strict lives. If they have a lot of homework from their institutes, they have to skip a meal or go to bed late. One of my friends thinks that getting five hours of sleep a day is a lot. The average time kids in my neighborhood go to bed is 1 am. It’s hard to finish their homework earlier than that,” wrote an elementary school student whose daily life is more like that of someone cramming for the university entrance exam.

One of the items on the questionnaire asked students what was something surprising they had done for their studies. The students’ responses to the question tell a sad tale of the stultifying schedule and the exhausting academic pressure they feel.

Students wrote that they had only gotten three hours of sleep, stayed up until 4:00 am, broken plans with a friend, studied in the subway, studied from the moment they woke up, studied at the library until it closed, and drank energy drinks.

On average, children went to bed at 12:09 am and got up at 6:52 am, getting six hours and 43 minutes of sleep. This is way below the 9 to 10 hours of sleep that the Korean Sleep Research Society recommends children should get each night.

When asked why they studied, children provided a variety of answers, including to help them get into university and choose their job (52.7%), to develop their talents (40%), and because of fear their life would be a failure (31.8%).

Each week, children only had an average of 25.3 hours that they could spend as they pleased.

“I’ve taught north and south of the Han River, and there are some major differences in these areas. Not everyone is like this, but I’m sorry to say I’ve seen children in Gangnam, south of the river, that do nothing but study out of fear that they’re going to be left behind,” said an individual named Kim, 31, who has been teaching at elementary schools in Seoul for eight years.

“Even when children are talking to each other, they share their concern that their classes at their institutes are not moving fast enough and that they are going to bed too early,” said Oh Eun-chan, a researcher at the Children’s Welfare Institute, which is operated by Child Fund Korea.

“Children need to be provided with opportunities for self-actualization and personal development so that they can understand the purposes and reasons for studying. They should be provided with adequate time for sleep and for leisure activities,” the young researchers wrote in the conclusion of their report on their peer group in an appeal to adults.


By Choi Woo-ri, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]


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