The Korea Herald


[Journalism Essay Contest] Winners in social science category

By Korea Herald

Published : May 29, 2019 - 15:01

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Following are the winners of the 2019 Herald Journalism Essay Contest organized by Herald Edu in May. -- Ed.

[Part 1]

The Anachronism of South Korean Education

By Shin Seung-bin
Hankuk Academy of Foreign Studies

The South Korean television show SKY Castle recently caused a stir for its painfully realistic satire of the domestic education system. Many have understood the drama’s main criticism to be about the system’s excessive competitiveness. A closer look, however, reveals an equally compelling point about the predictable uniformity into which Korean education molds its students. In fact, if the impending “Fourth Industrial Revolution” -- involving increasingly capable machines -- really will reward innovative, resourceful minds disproportionately, South Korean education may be most at fault, not for being a pressure cooker, but for being a cookie cutter.

Take, for example, the top students depicted in the show. Nearly all of them are after the same goal: to enter Seoul National University, or another top school. In order to get there, they follow a strictly prescribed academic path, sometimes with the help of industry professionals called “coordinators,” who have mastered the formula for success. Of course, being a TV show, SKY Castle spices up this monotony with murder intrigue and paternity mystery. But in their highly predictable education, the characters of SKY Castle are an accurate reflection of their real-life counterparts.

Indeed, Korean education rarely deviates from the relentless cycle of rote memorization and regurgitation on tests. The tested knowledge is systematically homogenized across the nation, dictated as it is by the Suneung, the all-important college entrance exam. This method of assessment -- the multiple-choice question test -- is faithfully reproduced on a smaller scale as midterm and final exams in schools. Rare are activities or assessments that require students to critically analyze, reconfigure, synthesize, or even create knowledge.

Such a model of education, whereby there are a set of correct answers to be passively assimilated, may have been acceptable centuries, or even decades, ago. Now, however, as we find ourselves on the brink of a massive technological shift, it is dangerously outdated. Quoted in the New York Times, researcher Jeremie Capron has said, “We’re starting to see robots and automated systems penetrate every sector of the economy.”1 The result, according to Deloitte’s Anna Lindberg, will be “a reduction in repetitive, predictable tasks – and in their place, uniquely challenging and unpredictable tasks will remain.”2 In other words, in the near future, human workers will mostly be needed on problems with neither answer keys nor solutions manuals. The dreaded question is, Is the upcoming generation of South Koreans ready?

By now, we all know how competitive Korean education is. Few, however, seem to recognize how anachronistic it is. Nevertheless, the problem is well worth recognizing, for if Korean students are going to have it tough, they ought at least to be toughened up for the world that lies ahead.

The Downsides of Internet Censorship

By Seo Shi-hyon
Gyeonggi Academy of Foreign Languages

In February 2019, the current South Korean government announced that they will begin censorship on every access to the multiple domains using ‘https’. In other words, the government would be blocking the individuals’ access to certain websites by monitoring over their Internet connection records. This kind of way to censor the Internet not only violates the right to privacy, but also is against the system of liberal democracy.

To illustrate why this policy is becoming a hot potato, let me first explain a little bit about https. Simply, it is a secure connection with encrypted data, and hackers cannot collect data in the middle of connection through https. However, this time the government’s so-called ‘https ban’ method allows a quick check of the website before they are encrypted. Hence, if a website is checked and regarded as illegal, the connection would be blocked and eventually censored.

The initial cause that made the government implement such policy was the increasing victims of revenge porno on illegal porn sites in South Korea, which we are all aware of. To some extent, it is understandable that the government adopted such method; first, it is the government’s priority to protect their nation from damaging contents, and the spread of https according to advancing technology has made it difficult to block foreign illegal websites that contain illegal footages in the times of http(not https).

However, the reason this method is still problematic and why the public are raising voice to oppose to such method is that ‘blocking illegal websites or illegal porno’ is not the only case. The government getting access to individuals’ Internet websites and browsing records means that the government will be able to guess the purposes and thoughts one has intended. In regards to this, according to the Constitution of the Republic of Korea, it is stated that ‘all citizens shall not be invaded by the secrecy and freedom of their privacy(clause 17)’, and ‘all citizens shall not be infringed by the confidentiality of communications’.

Hence, even if the government’s intention was to protect their citizens from harmful or illegal Internet contents, the method of https-banning is sure an invasion of right to privacy because of the fact that South Korea is a liberal democratic country, and there is even a concern that this will be the beginning of the whole Internet censorship of the government.

In regards to the Internet censorship, after Wikipedia switched to HTTPS-only content delivery in June 2015, the Turkish government banned the access to Wikipedia through Turkish IP address in 2017. The official announcement of the Turkish government about the prohibition of Wikipedia was that, because Wikipedia is suspected of cooperating with many terrorist organizations against Turkey, it is inevitable to forbid any access to the website. Toward such declaration of the government, the public responded negatively, saying that the prohibition is actually an infringement of individual’s right to know which is included in the basic human rights. Eren Edum, a Turkish writer and politician even mentioned that the ban is putting "Turkey in line with North Korea”.

Governmental censorship means breaking the rule of liberal democracy. South Korea is a country that pursues liberal democratic values since the country was first established. And in any liberal democratic country, basic human rights have to be preserved, especially, the right to know and the right to have privacy. Information on the Internet is not beneficial and helpful to everybody, and there is always ambivalence. However, we should remember that we should not infringe on human instincts and freedom.

For the Creation of a Contemporary Political Utopia

By Kim Su-jin
Seongbok High School

Finland (1st place), Costa Rica (13th place), United States (18th place), South Korea (56th place), India (127th place), and Yemen (146th place). Can you guess what these ranks stand for? In fact, these figures represent the rank of various countries based on their happiness index. 56th place among 150 countries is quite disappointing, isn’t it?

Happiness is the ultimate goal for every human being. However, the standards and norms of what happiness actually is differ from one person to another and can be affected by numerous factors. Humans are social animals, as Aristotle once wrote, and we live in a society, interacting with others constantly. Therefore, it is obvious that one’s happiness is largely determined by the roles and features of the society one belongs to. In other words, having a utopian country requires idealistic systems of politics, economy, society, and education. In this essay, I’d like to shed light on ways to make Korea a contemporary political and diplomatic utopia.

We already experienced the rapture of political utopia in the winter of 2016. Candles were lit in rallies protesting the political monopoly. It was a step forward for the 55 million people of Korea, and we saw a new potential in realizing an ideal form of direct democracy. Now is the time for us to channel this energy towards creating an idealistic political system.

Regardless of the form, all political power and authority is granted by the citizens of the nation. We delegate our presidents, senators, and numerous other political figures to use this authority to represent each and every one of us. However, sometimes these delegates seem to engage in all kinds of corruption and grafts as they look out for their own benefits.

In order for Korea to become a politically utopian nation, political corruption should be annihilated and strict institutional strategies should be provided to inhibit all political misconduct. Specifically, assets and military service records of public officials must be revealed to the public wholly and transparently. In addition to the revelation of these personal records, each government institution must also reveal its annual budget and its exact use to the public. Only in this way will we be able to exterminate political irregularities and promote a sound political structure.

In terms of diplomacy, it is important that we find a diplomatic ‘golden mean.’ Since Korea is surrounded by four great powers: USA, China, Japan, and Russia, it is crucial that we make specific plans on how to cope with problems that may arise in handling diplomatic relations and to solidify these relations. For instance, with the USA, we must strengthen our bond based on the solid military alliance and the FTA and act as a mediator between North Korea and America for a possible peace treaty. With China, Korea must promote amity by accelerating Strategic and Economic Dialogue(S&ED) between high-ranking officials. Another necessity is pursuing economic balance by facilitating the fulfillment of the FTA between the two countries. These points illustrate that diplomatic tactics are vital in international relationships.

To take another step closer to realizing a contemporary utopia, it is inevitable that one wonders what the most desirable political and diplomatic systems are. Thus, we talked about how political reform should take place and what tactics we should keep in mind when engaging with the powers of the world. Based on these principles, the idea of a utopia may not just be a far-fetched dream if we decide to change the present little by little. As the saying goes, “little by little the little bird builds its nest.”

[Part 2]

Kneeling: A way of raising social awareness

By Jung Yu-sun
Kyunggi Girls’High school

It was July 6, 2016, when a police officer shot a black man to death because he feared that the man was trying to use his gun. An ordinary license check turned into a bloody disaster in just 40 seconds. The black man who was shot seven times was Philando Castile. Castile was just taking out his license rather than pulling out his gun but the police immediately shot him without hesitating. However, after 27 hours of deliberation, the juries announced that the police was innocent. Seeing this result, Colin Kaepernick, an infamous NFL player expressed his outrage and posted a video of Castile dying unjustly in the driver’s seat after being shot. “We are under attack!” Kaepernick wrote. He was protesting against the unfair judgments that were being made between the police and the citizens on the issue of police brutality.

One day, the NFL responded to Kaepernick’s protest by banning him from going out on the field, so he just sat on the bench during the national anthem without his uniform. Many found Kaepernick’s action of sitting on the bench very rude to the military veterans. Some asserted that his action disrespected the flag even, which represents every American citizens’ freedom and liberty gained by the veterans who served and sacrificed themselves for their country. So, for the fourth preseason game, he made a transition from sitting to “kneeling” on the floor to show more respect to those military veterans.

Although some still criticized him for his action, kneeling during the national anthem isn’t disrespectful. It’s a protest with its origin in religion. In 1960, a small group of Atlanta students came up with what would become known as kneeling. At the time, most churches in the Deep South were strictly segregated, with closed-door policies barring black Americans from worshiping with white congregations. Seeing this as an insult to both racial justice and Christian brotherhood, every time the students were rejected from the churches, they would kneel and pray in front of the church as part of their non-violence protest. Kneeling showed their humbleness and their love for the church rather than aggression and hatred. They were not demanding for legal changes, but rather begging the churches to see that segregation was not-so-Christian. Over time, most churches abandoned official policies of racial exclusion and almost 60 years later to this day, many people still protest by kneeling. Kaepernick too, chose to kneel not out of irreverence toward servicemen or hatred of country, but out of love for his own country. Kneeling is a patient, peaceful, and almost religious protest. Therefore, kneeling is one of the sincere expressions of patriotism that results from love, not disrespect.

Surely, Kaepernick could have chosen a different approach, but would it really have brought a result any less controversial? There are always those who are willing to chide others, and considering his celebrity status, it is with uncertainty whether things would have turned out any different. At least with Kaepernick, he effectively used his status to raise awareness of the issue. It generated conversation among those who were previously indifferent about the issue in terms of police brutality.

Instead of blaming and gossiping about a celebrity who has put his career on the line for the betterment of society, would it not be wiser for us to do something ourselves? What have we done? Only time will tell whether America will truly fulfill its promise of liberty and justice for all, and this can only be achieved by determination and will of the people.    

How everyday language can set people apart

By Chon Ye-jin
Sanghyun High School

In many countries, it's not hard to see high schools along the streets when one is walking down the road. However, when one looks around they will notice something weird: there's two kinds of schools in Korea; girl's high school and high school.

The difference between the two schools is that one is only for boys and one is for girls. However, like it's seen, girl's high school is clearly marked in its names, unlike high school (male). This clearly shows how Korean people puts male as a default gender, while female is always the secondary option. This is derived from the long tradition of Confucianism in Korea; Men were always more valued than female. It is also seen in modern-day appellations in workplaces, too. Doctors (male) are called doctors while female are called 'female doctors'. On the other hand, gender discrimination is not always done in a single direction: People tend to think of a young woman holding a metal tray when they hear the world 'nurse'. This is why the term 'male nurse' is widely used. Men, in some cases, get discriminated because their workplace is considered too 'girly'. Doctors, no matter what gender they are, should be called doctors, and single-gender high school should clearly indicate in their names what kind of students they accept. One gender should not be a default over another.

This kind of uncomfortable language is not only found in sexually discriminating ways, but also in racist ways, too. The term commonly used in skin care products: 'whitening' is an easy example to find. It is easily seen in the back label of foundations that says 'whitens your skin to be prettier’. This is a racist expression because it makes it sound like one has to have a white skin to be 'beautiful'. Another word that's associated with racial prejudice is 'skin color' in Korea. Since the country is single-raced and have light-beige colored skin,, it's not hard to find color pencils and utensils that are labeled 'skin'. However, this plants a misconception that all skin is cream colored. Therefore, there has been a movement to change the term to describe light beige skin to 'apricot'. As language plays a crucial role in our social interactions, making a change in everyday languages we use can dramatically change the cognition of a certain notion.

Another example of bigotry in Korean language is about the handicapped. A word used to describe the disabled people in Korean is translated to 'person with handicap' while the term used to describe the nonhandicapped is 'sane'. This naturally shows how disabled person is interpreted in modern society: abnormal and insane. By using 'normal' as the antonym of the handicapped, people are leaving out many handicapped people out there to become 'abnormal' and 'weird'. Therefore there has been a movement to change the term to describe the 'normal' person into 'non-handicapped'. Nowadays, the cognition about the use of the word 'normal' has developed in a positive way and the majority of the society are aware about the topic.

Even though we all are aware of the fact that we shouldn't set apart anyone and make fun of them, our language that was used from long history includes discriminations of all kinds. Through campaigns and the efforts in public education, these kind of language is getting abated. However, there are still violent and hurtful language being used in our society and we should be aware of our wordings. No default should be set in common language, and people should consider their words before they speak it out. Inconsiderate usage of language might be a slip for someone, but it can leave a deep wound for someone else.

SKY Castle reflects reality of Korean educational system

By An Soo-bin
North London Collegiate School Jeju

Starting from November to February, Koreans have been fixing their eyes to their television watching the overheated black comedy drama, ‘SKY Castle’, which portrays the current education system of Korea. It achieved the highest views in JTBC’s broadcasting history. According to Nilson Korea, it states that the highest viewership record is 23.8%. The record is astonishing not only because of the numerical values, but also the genuine content that is not common in the field. In real life, nearly everyone watched this program, as it became the uprising social issue.

The drama handles educational craze in Korea, and specifically features obsessed high-class parents to get their children admitted to the prestigious universities. They live in the affluent, luxurious residence called ‘SKY castle’, which only allows wealthy and honorable families that work in the admired professions. Their primary goal is to support their children in best conditions possible while they do not give a toss to money. The way to express the parents’ overflowing ambitions is through education.  One of the most memorable scenes is Cha Min-hyuk (a prosecutor and a father of two sons) operating a metronome to force their children to solve difficult math questions in a limited amount of time. In the suppressive environment Seo-jun and Gi-jun couldn’t solve the problem in 4 minutes. Then, he suppresses them to kneel to the pyramid sculpture and says: “Your grandfather, who washed other people’s clothes all his life, lived at the very bottom of the pyramid.  But myself, being a prosecutor, climbed up the social ladder.” At that point, he bawls at him furiously and says, “I’ve already laid the groundwork. If you try a little bit harder,  you’ll be able to climb to  the top with ease. Can you do that,  my son?” Finally, , he gets a promise  that he will do everything to  achieve his father’s goal.  

This scene from episode 4 shocked the viewers, and made controversies among them. Even though it seems quite unrealistic and exaggerated fictional piece of drama, it is familiar and makes people feel a strong sense of Déjà vu. “Have I seen this before?”

Perhaps, majority of students might have been in the scene several times before, in real life. Korean students study in coercive environment, absorbing passive knowledge from ‘Hagwon’, the private institution where most of the students go to after school. Thus, tiger parents discipline their children to become top students in the school. The main purpose of the families is the same; enroll offsprings into three major universities, known as “SKY” (Acronym for Seoul National University, Korea University, and Yonsei University). They cling to the top universities because education is a tool for achieving greater wealth and authority in Korean society. Like Cha Min-Hyuk in the drama, parents in real life believe that the students must reach the peak of the pyramid by stepping others, which is the only way to success.

However, episode 14, which ends with the supporting character, Hye-na commiting suicide showed astonishing ending to the viewers. Some argued that current education system cornered an ordinary high school student to a tragedy. Therefore, it gave clear perspective about happiness and made them to question themselves; Is outstanding academic ability a must to become happier? Are the prestigious universities and admired professions the only way to become successful? By suggesting philosophical questions, this soap opera provided a milestone to bring a change in Korean educational system.