Students hold placards expressing their feelings about living as youths in South Korea
South Korea’s eight-year-old third graders rank at the top internationally for physical environment, but near the bottom with countries like Ethiopia for happiness, a research study shows. The low levels of happiness were attributed to heavy academic stress due to excessive private education and a lack of time spent with family.
The international relief and development group Save the Children and the Seoul National University Institute of Social Welfare published the results on May 1 of a report titled “An International Comparison of Happiness among Third-Year Elementary School Children.” For the study, a total of 56,000 children aged 8, 10, and 12 were surveyed in 16 countries, including Algeria, Colombia, the United Kingdom, Estonia, and Germany, after which 17,496 eight-year-olds were selected for in-depth analysis.
The analysis findings showed South Korean third graders ranking 14th for happiness, slightly ahead of Nepal in 15th and Ethiopia in 16th. In terms of time use, South Korean third graders devoted a lot of time to after-school education (third place), and ranked a dead-last 16th in percentage of time spent talking or hanging out with their families. They also ranked 12th for leisure activities, including spending time with friends and sports or exercise.
The third graders’ unhappiness continued at school. South Korean third graders came in last place for satisfaction with their grades and their relationships with their teachers. They also ranked near the bottom in their agreement with the statements “I am respected by my teachers” (14th), “I am treated fairly” (14th), and “I like going to school” (15th).
While the third graders ranked near the top for satisfaction with their physical environment, the resulting happiness levels were low. South Korean children ranked first when asked whether they had clothing, computers, and a TV, but came in 14th for satisfaction when asked how happy they were with the money or items they possessed.
South Korean children also showed lower levels of happiness as they progressed from third grade to their first year of middle school. Their satisfaction ranking for five areas, including relationships with friends and school life, dropped from 13th at age 8 to last place by the first year of middle school.
“While the physical indicators are toward the top internationally, the happiness experienced by the children themselves is near the bottom,” said Seoul National University social welfare professor Lee Bong-joo, who oversaw the study.
“The only way to improve children’s happiness levels is to pursue changes in their social environment.”
By Park Soo-jin, staff reporter
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