Schooling in South Korea




shine courage rise and shine
grade strength get through
pine tick (2) dream (2)
brain mean (2) rise/rose/risen
temple nervous relentless
elite break (2) pave the way
pave blueberry employer
retire first class seal the fate
fate principal choose/chose/chosen
allow all over private (2)
focus block (2) catapult (2)
follow mark (3) First World Country
walnut tense (2) treasure (2)
raw principle raw material
rate collapse wish you luck
cope depend pay a price
wish compete expectation
tuition airspace come to a standstill
noise disturb modernity
ensure flashing in no time
quiz tough (3) distribute
pray ground multiple choice
suicide forehead wind down
elite achieve social standing
seek fraction stand/stood/stood
divine relieved in any case
hope emerge alternative
slog painful exhausted


Video: Schools in South Korea



Rise and shine. It’s six in the morning in Seoul. Today is the day for the Hwang family. Shi Hwan is in his last year of high school and about to take his final exams. The family has worked toward this day all his life.

“I wish you lots of courage,” Shi Hwan’s father Erwa says. “You will be tired, but still, may you find the strength to get through the day.”

Mrs. Hwang, Mother: “I make him blueberry juice each morning, with walnuts and pine nuts — they’re meant to be good for the brain. But I think Shi Wan doesn’t like it; he drinks it for my sake.”

The blueberry juice was meant for Shi Hwan to top his class. Many parents in South Korea send their parents to the best kindergarten . . . the best primary school . . . the best high school . . . all so they can get perfect grades.

Shi Hwan, High School Student: “I’m nervous. I can feel in my whole body that I’m about to take the exam.”

For Shi Hwan, everything depends on this day — maybe even his whole life. Only those who get top marks are allowed into one of the elite universities that pave the way to a dream job.

And that’s important because many in South Korea tend to stay with one employer until they retire.

On the day of the exam, a few ticks, right or wrong, can seal the fate of an entire life.

Shi Hwan, High School Student: “I don’t want to go to just any university; I want to be able to choose one. And to fulfill my dream, I need to get the best marks.”

The competition is formidable: seven-hundred-thousand (700,000) students vie for the few places at the top universities.

We visited Shi Hwan in his class a few days before the big exam.

Each student now has an eighteen-hour day: get up at six, go to school all day, then homework, followed by private tuition, till midnight.

Shi Hwan, High School Student: “I’ve really worked, even during short breaks and lunch. I live to study — I only have a few hours to sleep.”

An entire class, dead tired.

This relentless focus on education has catapulted South Korea into modernity, and made it a First World Nation. It regularly tops international school tests.

Soo-Cheol Choi, Principal: “I don’t see an alternative: we need first class education. South Korea has no raw materials — our treasure is education. It’s the only way we can compete.”

Studying until they collapse.

But the unbelievably hard-working South Korean students also pay a high price: the country has the world’s highest rates of youth suicides — around two-hundred each year.

Many can’t cope with the stress and high expectations of their families.

It’s the day of the exams.

Students from the lower classes wish luck and the many mothers and fathers too, each in their own way.

The students come from all over Seoul for the exams . . . the city comes to a standstill. Public offices, banks, shops all open an hour later so that the roads are free for the students.

Later Seoul’s airspace will be completely blocks, so that no airplane noise will disturb the test. Even the police standby to help latecomers.

Police Officer: “If the students are late, they can signal to us, and we ensure free roads with our flashing lights. And they can make it to school in no time.”

In the classroom, mobile phones are collected. Exam papers distributed.

Everything is multiple choice: math, Korean, English, physics. Students are quizzed about everything they have learned, right since kindergarten.

It’s also a tough time for parents. For weeks, thousands of mothers have been praying at the Jogye Temple in Seoul for their children: three-thousand times with their forehead on the ground.

It’s meant to bring luck.

It certainly means painful knees.

To have a child at an elite university raises the social standing of the whole family. Even Shi Hwan’s parents, practicing Christians, seek divine help at their church.

Erwa Hwang, Father: “Our son has given his best, but it’s only a fraction of what can be achieved. So in any case, we need the help of God.”

So did all the prayer, hoping, blueberry juice help?
In the afternoon, the family waits in front of the school gate, both tense and relieved that the exam is over.

Shi Hwan emerges completely exhausted.

“How was it?” his mother asks.
“I just want to relax,” he answers.

Shi Hwan wants to spend a few days on Korea’s east coast to wind down.

But he won’t have much time. If everything goes well, he will be slogging again at the coveted university of his choice.


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1% South Korean pupils (and adults) get up early in the morning, and go to bed late at night. Is this right or wrong? Why is this the case? Why do they do this?

Do families in South Korea support their children’s schooling and studies very much? What are some examples?

10% In Korean society, there are many different ways to succeed in life. Is entirely true, mostly true, yes and no, in the middle, perhaps, it depends, partly true, mostly false or completely false?

What is the goal or ambition of most families for their children?

Is South Korea a wealthy, developed country? Is it because they have lots of oil, gas, gold and diamond deposits?

33% The students are all extremely motivated, enthusiastic, energetic and excited about school and studying and their coursework. Is this correct or incorrect?

Is the final exam day an ordinary day in South Korea?


How do you compare your schooling with that of South Korea? Is it exactly the same, similar, different or very different? Describe your schooling experience.

Do or did you and your friends enjoy school? Could it be improved?

How important is education in your society (to achieve “success” in life)? What sort of career do people aspire to?

What might happen in the future?

What should people and governments do?

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