South Korea Put to the Test for High-Pressure Exam; “Rigorous thinking, reading and writing too often is simply not expected. What needs to be debated is the quality of education once the students are admitted”

South Korea Put to the Test for High-Pressure Exam

By Park Chan-Kyong on 1:19 pm November 7, 2013.

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A mother prays for her son’s (bottom L) success in the college entrance examinations at a Buddhist temple in Seoul November 6, 2013. (Reuters Photo/Kim Hong-Ji)

Seoul. South Korea fell silent for annual college entrance exams Thursday, rescheduling flights and restricting traffic as 650,000 students sat a test that will define their adult lives in an ultra-competitive society. Preparation for the crucial exam starts from primary school, and so does the relentless pressure which has been blamed for everything from early burnout and teenage depression to suicide.Success in the exam — meaning a secured place in one of South Korea’s elite universities — is seen as the key to everything from future careers to marriage prospects.

With so much riding on the outcome, the day of the test — simultaneously in 1,257 centers nationwide — sees the entire country go into “hush” mode.

The transportation ministry bans all airport landings and departures for a 40-minute period to coincide with the main language listening test.

The military also reschedules airforce drills and live-firing exercises and traffic is barred within a 200-meter radius of the test centers.

Public offices and major businesses, as well as the stock markets, opened an hour later than usual Thursday to help keep the roads relatively clear and ensure the students arrived on time.

Anyone who did get stuck could dial the emergency number 112, and request help from police cars and motorbikes on standby to rush them to the centers.

At Seoul’s Pungmoon Girls’ High School, junior students put up good-luck banners and lined up to shout encouragement as their seniors entered the exam room.

For the equally-stressed parents, for whom their child’s result will partly be seen as a mark of their parental aptitude and devotion, there was little left to do.

Mothers, one flicking through her Buddhist prayer beads, prayed outside the Pungmoon school gate, while others went directly to temples in search for some divine intervention.

The approach of the exam day tends to renew a perennial debate in South Korea about the country’s obsession with education and the pros and cons of the college entrance system.

The bottom line for many is that the examination itself is fair. Everyone takes the same paper, which relies on the multiple choice system to prevent subjective marking.

Security is absolute, with the hundreds of exam setters sequestered for more than a month in a secret location, which they are only allowed to leave once the test has been taken.

They are kept in total isolation, denied phone contact with their families and with everything down to their food waste subject to rigorous examination.

But if the exam treats everyone equally, critics say preparation favors the rich, and can be ruinous for poorer and middle-income families.

According to the Education Ministry, South Korean parents spent 19 trillion won ($17.5 billion) on extra tuition for their children last year — equivalent to about 1.5 percent of the national GDP.

Students average five hours sleep a night as the test nears — a level of physical fatigue that, coupled with the mental anxiety, leads to a discernible spike in suicides around the exam period.

Educational reformers also voice concern over the validity of the exam and the sort of students it produces, pointing to the lack of importance given to creativity or critical thinking.

An editorial in the New York Times on Thursday called the South Korean exam “brutal” and noted that the system goes into reverse after entering college, where graduation is almost guaranteed with even minimal study.

“The paradox is these ridiculous tests don’t necessarily lead to demanding college classes,” the editorial said.

“Rigorous thinking, reading and writing too often is simply not expected. Doing away with rigid entrance exams is just the first step. What needs to be debated is the quality of education once the students are admitted,” it added.

Agence France-Presse

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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