Hell Joseon: Questionable Aspects of Korean Education in Dramas & Films
As a teacher and someone whose life revolves around education, the presentation or representation (not going through the nuances of both words) of the Korean education in dramas and films have always fascinated me and drove me to write a number of articles on the topic. As fascinated as I might be with the media’s take on the Korean education, being unable but to see it through their eyes, I still cannot help gaping at the screen when some topics are stressed in almost every single work. Despite knowing that media is subjective and selective and that it presents one perspective, being exposed to the same ideas over and over again makes me question their validity. In this article, I’ll be going over some aspects of the Korean education as shown in dramas and films and which I find quite outrageous.
- Uniform – Man, come on! It has nothing to do with liberalism and personal freedom! If you’ve ever worked in education you’d know that a mini skirt in a mixed school is a BIT of a distraction. And in dramas, you can see how female students are punished for wearing skirts shorter than the regulations and how they try to use any opportunity to go against that regulation. Punishing rebellious teenagers might not be the best solution to the problem. Counselling and awareness might help students understand the importance of such regulations, which leads us to the next issue.
- Student-Teacher Relationship – Putting all the inspiring stories of the School series, especially 2013 and 2015 seasons, aside, if you have 40 students in your class, you cannot develop personal relationships with them. You cannot build love and trust and therefore you cannot get through to those students. When a teacher has 40 students in each of his/her classes, has more than one class to teach and tons of other tasks to fulfil, that teacher should not be expected to create miracles through being the trusted adult who can actually talk to the students and be listened to. Here we are left with a major problem, students have no adult to trust or talk to, bearing in mind that teenagers mostly refuse to trust in their parents. Teaching being a lifestyle and a mission does not mean a teacher can fulfil his/her mission if all circumstances are in the way.
- Number 1 or Nothing – Encouraging students to study more and improve by focusing on competition might be really helpful for some; it works for me but might suffocate others under its pressure. And when a whole society changes to centre on number 1 in one category, academic grades, and disregards, humiliates and rejects everyone else, we have a serious problem. It isn’t only K-drama, statistics show increasing rates of suicides amongst Korean students. The student is being brainwashed that he is doomed if he is not the top in everything. Family tells them so. Society tells them so. Universities say so. Work industry says so. According to very limited standards, millions of students are evaluated and once a student realises he cannot be that specific best, he gives up. He gives up because he can predict the life ahead of him. Because he has been told by everybody ever since he was a child that if he does not graduate from one of the elitist universities, if he does not get a job at one of the grand companies, if he does not have an imported car, if she does not wear brands, if, if, if… they will never be accepted in society and will never be happy. Same pressure leads sometimes to bullying, an issue repeatedly presented in Korean dramas to a scary extent.
Dramas try all the time, which is something I highly praise and value, changing that singular image of success and happiness. They offer different pictures of happiness in the Korean society itself. They shed the light on individual talents and stress the importance and beauty of doing what one loves. School 2017 is the most recent drama featuring students who found their dreams away from the academia despite the social expectations. I pray and hope that such efforts do not end as TV scripts.
I love school works. I love the friendship between those teenagers, the sweet first love stories, the passionate hearts, the wild dreams and the will and drive in their hearts. Every educational system has its problems. I am not trying to present a scientific analysis here nor do I claim to know what goes on in the Korean classrooms. But I know that if such problems truly exist outside drama scripts, something should be done to keep South Korea as one of the greatest educational forces in the world.
Check these interesting articles on suicide in South Korea if you are interested:
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