Kim Min-joo, an 18-year-old student, feels extremely exhausted at the end of each day, swamped with a slew of things to study. She finds little time or energy to share even small talk with her family and friends.
She is one of many final-year high school students undergoing one of the most grueling periods in their lives to survive the fierce competition for entry into universities. In Korea, admission to top-tier universities is regarded as the first step toward a successful career.
“I keep on studying to prepare for one trial examination after another before the real state exam comes. After school, I go to hagwon (private academies) to hone my knowledge in math, English and Korean, and then come back home after 10 p.m.” Kim, a student of Angok High School in Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province, told The Korea Herald.
“With many things to study even on weekends, I now have no time to chat and play with my younger siblings. More than that, I have little time to talk with my parents. I only talk with them briefly while eating, and that is all.”
Like Kim, many teenagers feel unhappy as they are under high pressure to perform well at school, with their parents pushing them to join elite higher educational institutes to access the upper echelons of society.
According to a survey released on Wednesday by two civilian institutes, the happiness index for Korean teenagers was the lowest among the 23 OECD member states for the third consecutive year.
The “subjective well-being index” for Korean students between the ages of 10 and 18 was 65.98, far lower than the OECD average of 100, the survey showed. The index for Spanish teenagers was the highest with 113.6 points.
The Bang Jeong-hwan Foundation and the Institute for Social Development Studies at Yonsei University jointly conducted the survey on 6,410 teenagers in March and April.
In the survey titled the “2011 well-being index for Korean children and adolescents and its international comparison,” they checked six items related to well-being. They include teenagers’ “subjective health,” overall satisfaction with their lives, sense of belonging, adaptation to their surroundings and whether they feel lonely.
Experts said the pressure on Korean teenagers to score high marks at school and the cutthroat competition for college entrance appears to be the primary reasons why they feel unhappy.
“Teenagers are in the process of establishing their own identities. But they are too busy with studies at school and hagwon,” Youm Yoo-sik, sociology professor at Yonsei University, who led the survey, told The Korea Herald.
“There appears to be no connection between their lives at school, home and hagwon. There should be a measure to connect them so that they can feel more secure.”
The survey also measured Korean teenagers’ “educational achievements” and “behavior and lifestyle.” For the two items, Korean teenagers ranked first among the OECD states with 127.8 points and 129.3 points, respectively.
On the item of “material well-being,” Korean teenagers ranked fourth with 110.7 points while they ranked 13th with 102.6 points for health and safety.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org)