All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy? Not for Korean students?

As a Korean international student, I could not help but feel heartbroken by the article “The All-Work, No-Play Culture of South Korean Education.” Although South Korea is known for its good quality of education among developed nations, its excessive emphasis on exams often makes the lives of students miserable. Suicidal rates among teens are high, and the leading cause of suicide is due to stress from exams and school work. Specifically, the annual college scholastic ability test poses a lot of pressure on high school students.

In a typical high school class, teacher-student interaction looks like giving and receiving knowledge. Teachers deposit their knowledge to students, and they rarely discuss. Freire (1990) described this type of education system in his book “The Pedagogy of Oppressed” as banking education. Students are passive agents who teachers must deposit knowledge into, which limits students’ freedoms and creativity. This really falls into the Korean education system where students experience a lot of pressure and stress from schools, and their future career paths are already set by their parents and teachers. Students have limited choices and are oppressed to follow the school curriculum focusing on getting a high grade on the ability test. The values of students are measured on their grades on the test, and even teachers treat students based on their grades. It separates students in class, school, and even society on a larger scale.

This kind of education system also creates another hostile environment for those who are not good at taking tests/exams. There are some students who have knowledge but not excel at tests. They are the students who have test anxiety. The Korean education system does not take this into account, resulting in limiting potentials of students with test anxiety.

It might be unrealistic and difficult to change the system all at once. However, as Freire (1990) argued, we can still create a better school environment by encouraging open-discussions between students and teachers. Instead of depositing knowledge into students, teachers can actively involve students through student engagement activities, which will motivate students to learn independently. Accordingly, students will feel more autonomy and power in their life decisions. Although in the end, students might have to take the ability test, genuine dialogues between teachers and students will alleviate stress and anxiety regarding the test. Students will be no longer passive agents and feel less oppressed.


Freire, P. (1990). The Pedagogy of Oppressed