Education International
Education International

South Korea: Four students take their lives under stress of exams

published 21 November 2014 updated 26 November 2014

The recent suicides of four South Korean high school students once again have many asking what can be done to address the issue of high-stakes university entry exams and the overwhelming pressure placed upon students.

The 13 Nov. was a date circled in red for students across South Korea, a date that for many would decide their future; a date that places extreme stress on young shoulders. The annual university exam, known as Su-neung, which determines the university a student can attend, is so serious that airplanes are prohibited from flying through the Korean peninsula airspace during the third period of the exam focused on English testing.

The expectations and pressures of this year’s test were too much for four students, who on the days before and after the big exam took their lives.

The latest deaths represent a much bigger problem in Asia’s fourth-largest economy, which has for the last eight years held the top stop in the world for suicides. Records show that more than 14,000 South Koreans ended their lives in 2012, and that suicide is the number one cause of death for those aged 10-30.

A poll conducted amongst South Korean youth earlier this year revealed that more than 40 percent of respondents cited that the pressures of school and future uncertainty fuelled depression and suicidal thoughts. In 2011, the suicide rate for people between the ages of 15-24 hit 13 deaths per 100,000.

The problem of suicide runs through all ages in South Korean society, but is prominently attributed to societal pressures of getting into the best schools, finding the best jobs, improving appearance and having the best marriage.