I am happy to announce Amnesty PLUS's first think tank report, created by our student research scholars. Amnesty PLUS initially posts Human Rights related news that needs awareness or creates campaigns. In late 2021, Lauren and I decided to make a task force. The task force collected academically exemplary students from international schools in Korea to create a think tank paper. After running the think tank paper with our task force first, we learned some lessons on how to run these projects. After experiencing some success, as shown in our final product, we look forward to expanding these types of reports with our general Amnesty PLUS research groups. A big shout out to Lauren, our task force director, and congratulations again on your acceptance to Princeton University.
Happy New Year.
Thank you, Ministry of the Interior and Safety's Minister Chun Hae-Chul, for the warmhearted letter delivered on the last day of 2021! Looking forward to another amazing year, 2022.
Every 10th of September is a World Suicide Prevention Day. Around September, the world focuses on the suicide rate ranking, and countries with high suicide rates are highlighted under the spotlight of concern by the international community.
Over the past decades (1985-2019), South Korea’s suicide per 100,000 people per year remains third place around the globe, and South Korea’s suicide rate’s ranking over the past decade always remained in the top 20th. Suicide Prevention Day is back again in 2021, and unfortunately, South Korea’s suicidal rate remains a concern for global and domestic communities.
Alongside, it has also become a red flag for every federal government administrations. According to the report conducted by a government branch in South Korea, the Statistic Korea, South Korea has ranked 1st for having the highest suicidal rate out of OECD Member countries founded by their most recent report.
By only looking over the suicide-related statistics, people may assume that South Korea has a weak health or education system, but there is a surprising irony between the correlation with the health/education ranking and suicide rates in Korea. Referencing the statistical database for health and education ranking worldwide, South Korea ranked in the top tier for suicidal rates. South Korea has also ranked in the top tier for the health and education categories. In the 2021 Mid-Year, South Korea ranked 2nd place for the healthcare index with a rate of 82.36, and for education, South Korea ranked 5th with their education system worldwide.
Through this ironic correlation, one age group is distinctive, the youths of 15-19. In 2019, the WHO (World Health Organization) announced a report on suicide rates per 100,000 population in 15-19-year-old students. South Korea ranked in the top 30th worldwide and ranked in the top 13th with the Asia and Oceania region filter in the dataset. The ranking goes up even higher when the dataset excludes small islands.
The question arises: if South Korea, one of the developing countries in the world, has an extraordinary healthcare and education system, why would there be such a high suicide rate, especially among the age group of youths when they are such an early stage in life?
When South Korea is ranked high in education worldwide and has one of the highest IQs, these exceptional rankings come with dark and dreadful truths. South Korea is all about the numbers and grades of a particular student. Hence, in High School report cards, every extracurricular activity, grade, and behavior score is scored by numbers or ranking rather than listening to specific stories that each student demonstrates throughout an academic year. The consequence of a number or ranking scoring system is that it creates peer pressure and parent pressure among students. On student community websites, it is easy to spot students who are posting their concerns. Those concerns vary from parents yelling at students putting heavy pressure on their performance score at school, all the way to stories like faculty members publicizing a test score to create peer competition behaviors to encourage students to study harder under pressure.
When students enter high school, they automatically become robots with no specific personal passion or story to study for the Korean SAT and get high-performance scores on their report cards through grades and extracurricular activities. These students tend to become robots because the education system itself provides extreme pressure on Korean students. For instance, if the United States offers multiple SAT or ACT exams per month to all high school students, South Korean SAT only happens once in November per year open only to high school seniors. They are under the impression that they have one chance to get an excelling score, or they end up retaking the senior year to study for the Korean SAT again to get a better score. These pressured academic systems in Korea were created because college admissions mostly look at students’ Korean SAT scores that were given only a single chance and students’ ranking in school to admit students into their school.
Comparably the United States college admissions allow students to write supplemental essays with personal passion and stories, express themselves through extracurricular activities’ descriptions, and provide multiple chances or even super score their SAT or ACT scores. Juxtaposing these two countries, South Korea seems to be more about rankings or statistics of a student. In contrast, the United States is open-minded -- allowing students to freely express their passions, as it is not all about student’s academic performances, such as GPA.
By interacting with Korean high school students, I have personally learned that to win the competition on scores, they are forced to attend Hagwons, or “study place,” which is the Korean term for cram schools. These hagwons are ruthless and expensive. No matter which level of education they are in, Korean students are forced to experience hagwon due to such competitive tension in academic fields. If vacations are meant for resting, building networks or passion, or personal development, vacation means hagwon time all day long for Korean students. The Borgen Project found that there are more than 100,000 hagwons domestically, increasing every year.
Meanwhile, South Korean parents spend over $15 billion on private education annually, about triple the average rate of OECD countries’ spending. Hagwons are the places that jail you into a small room for studying. Adults who present themselves as qualified teachers force pieces of information into a student’s brain, even if they are not ready for it, because they must learn the content early to achieve higher scores than their peers, which gives a better chance at college acceptance. This strict academy culture has also become a concern for the government as they were jailing students over midnight, continuously studying. Thus in 2009, the Department of education limited hagwons only to be open until 10 pm.
As some may have already predicted, these regulations by the government were not powerful enough to fight against the strict culture of hagwons. When I messaged one of my Korean high school friends to check in on what they were up to, most of them were stressed about hagwon work over school homework, and when I asked about the 10 pm regulations’ effectiveness, here is what they replied. “Owners and faculties of hagwon simply ignore the policy. To avoid getting caught when police check-in, I even saw teachers suddenly shutting everything off to pretend to be innocent.” Other friends added, “My hagwon just ignores them and gets caught. The penalty is weak. They pay little penalty fines out of the massive money they make through our parents.” At that moment, I knew the South Korean government had a weak regulation on the darkness of the country’s education culture.
Many parents believe that this is not an issue because they care about their children being the best among their peers, regardless of the dangers these cultures are causing. Based on the report announced by Statistics Korea, suicide is the age group 10’s number one cause of death, and it has been growing steadily every year. In 2019, a group of teenagers stressed out of these dark education cultures created a report for the United Nations and complained through the United Nations directly because they all thought the current government’s response to these issues was not responsible enough to resolve the problem. After hearing these teenagers’ stories, these students stated that some UN diplomats cried after listening to their depressing education practices. These reactions to their culture vividly expose what kind of difficulty that these students are experiencing during their early stages in life. Nobody should cry after listening to someone’s daily life in their school, and it proves what kind of crisis South Korea may be in. Still as for 2021’s suicide prevention day, there were no direct responses or release of new teen suicide prevention programs to decrease students’ tense stress on these severe education cultures or decrease the teen suicide rate.
Scores, performance reports, and high-school statistics will not judge an individual’s life. There are so many stories and uniqueness for every single student behind those numbers. There should be no cases where students are so pressured that they end up giving up their lives to choose peacefulness under death. The truth is, I had time to draft this article because I am an international student, not a Korean high school student. If I were a high school student attending Korean High School, I might not have even gotten a chance to draft this article because I am pressured to improve my academic scores rather than express my passions through writing. This problem is not an instant fix because it has already taken the place of being culture among students. It is a long-term problem requiring sophisticated solutions provided by schools, communities, and the government to resolve this issue slowly and make culture disappear steadily. This means that the longer the country decides to delay the case, the longer students will be stressed, lengthening the time to resolve this issue. It may have become the time for South Korea’s education system to be open-minded. They listen to students’ feedback instead of parents and make an effort to create a comfortable environment for students who are all unique with their own passion stories.
For American students and their families, November represents a season of generosity, rest, and coming together. For Korean students and their families, November represents a season of heightened stress, anxiety, and depression. On a very special Thursday in November, American students step back from increasingly demanding school expectations and practice thanksgiving. On a very special Thursday in November, Korean students experience the culmination of their formal schooling on the most trajectory-shaping day of their lives: suneung.
Suneung is the College Scholastic Ability Test, commonly known as the “Korean SAT”. On the 3rd Thursday in November each year, the fate of every single student enrolled in an accredited Korean school is decided. Claiming that a standardized test is the most important day in someone’s life might feel like an extreme claim reserved for the privileged first-world. I get that. However, the startling suicide and depression rate following the release of these test scores tell a different story. The Korean SAT not only shapes the path of a student’s life, but in some ways, it affects whether students continue to live their lives at all, both figuratively and literally.
Reports released following Suicide Prevention Month this past September, compounded by the disruption to schooling and uncertainty brought on by two years of the global pandemic, render this year’s test particularly concerning. According to the most recent report conducted by Statistic Korea, South Korea has ranked 1st for having the highest suicidal rate out of OECD Member countries. In 2019, the WHO (World Health Organization) announced a report on suicide rates per 100,000 population in 15-19-year-old students. South Korea ranked in the top 30th worldwide and ranked 13th with the Asia and Oceania region filter in the dataset.
Numbers aside, I feel the weight of this exam on the shoulders of my peers, as I am a Korean high school senior myself. Depression and suicide have become so common amongst fellow teenagers that students will talk about suicide as if it’s just part of the daily news as if it’s a “viable” option if their scores do not pan out. The spike in depression and suicide rates begins before the test date. Students will study so intensely for the exam, often in isolation and going days without sleep, that mental breaks occur under duress.
As I write this article, I am more thankful than ever for the privilege of attending an international school since the fourth grade. Even then, my young mind was so eager to escape the rigidity and pressure I experienced in Korean elementary school. My friends who attend Korean school have just one more day to see whether their years toiling away in a hagwon, Korea's lucrative industry of “cram schools,” will deliver a test score that will land them into Seoul National University, Korea University, or Yonsei University — the elite “SKY” institutions.
Korean students like myself who are attending international school face our own pressures as we prepare to apply to overseas colleges. My burden is comparatively light, considering many American universities have made standardized tests optional this year. Even if I do take a standardized exam, I have multiple testing opportunities. Yet, the rates of depression and suicide among Korean teenagers do not distinguish between the nature of one’s school.
Korea’s startling mental health statistics, especially among young people, lead many to speculate that South Korea must have a weak health or education system. Ironically, South Korea has been top-ranked in both categories. In the 2021 Mid-Year Report, South Korea ranked 2nd for the healthcare index with a rate of 82.36 and 5th for education worldwide. Plus, South Korean parents spend over $15 billion on private education annually, about triple the average rate of other OECD nations. So it seems that economic opportunity in Korea is not to blame. That’s because the pressures students experience around their education is just as much of a cultural issue as it is a logistic one, and it starts in early childhood.
The cycle of pressure experienced by this age group begins at home with parents who want their child to be the best. It continues in hagwons and schools with teachers ranking students relative to each other and publishing that information publicly, not just within the school but across the region. Then, students are conditioned to put pressure on themselves as they literally compete with their peers at every turn. Before entering high school, I always thought of peer pressure as being forced to do something to fit in. But for my friends attending Korean school, the pressure comes from watching other students stand out due to their success.
As if the pervasive cultural, family, and peer pressures are not enough to significantly compromise a teenager’s mental health, the competitive nature of the school system also compromises the quality of relationships in students’ lives. A fellow student who was once a friend in elementary school became my competitor the moment a hagwon ranked us against each other. Our talks of having joint study sessions and forming shared study guides went out of the window. Not only did we stop discussing academics together, but we eventually stopped confiding in each other at all. God forbid I slip up and become vulnerable with him. When students like us feel that we can no longer confide in their peers or parents about this issue, our mental health becomes even more challenged even more in this isolation.
When students enter high school, they automatically trade their personal passions and interests to only study for the Korean SAT. This would actually be detrimental to my chances of admission to a U.S. university. The American university admissions process allows students to write supplemental essays with personal passion and stories, express themselves through extracurricular activities’ descriptions, and provide multiple chances or even super score their SAT or ACT scores. As for Korean universities, the test score is all that matters. And as for respected Korean careers, the tier of the university is all that matters.
Students my age often turn to Naver communities, which is like the Korean version of Reddit, to voice their concerns. As recently as last week, I read a post about faculty members publicizing a test score to amplify peer competition. Some posts are far darker, with students publishing their suicidal thoughts. These forums get a new post every hour, especially with Suneung Day approaching. Sadly, we know what will happen on the other side of this year’s Suneung Day. Some students will fail and commit to goshiwons, tiny bedrooms that students use as homes intense studying, for another year. Some students will pass and breathe a sigh of relief, and some other students will fall deeper into suffering.
This is one cycle that I sincerely hope will not continue. When will we stop publishing reports and actually make a change? While the American college testing system is imperfect, one thing it has gotten right is offering multiple test dates for students throughout the year and allowing students to test before senior year. If the Korean system simply offered multiple test dates and allowed students to test prior to senior year, it would be a major win for students’ health. Perhaps schools can also consider making the SAT optional because, frankly, Korean students are at a disadvantage when they enter the university because high school taught them how to pass one single test rather than how to think critically and creatively solve problems.
Education is meant to be a tool, not for survival, but for personal development and discovery. Otherwise, what else is all of this for?
It’s been 20 months since COVID-19 began calling the viability of our livelihoods into question. No matter how creative and adaptable the market tried to be, the result appeared to be the same: failure. Stock markets fell, businesses closed, and mass layoffs were rolled out for those that stayed open. Combined with mandates to stay at home and avoid contact with people, relationships were strained and depression rates rose.
Out of the darkness of depression facing business owners, the Fail Expo program of the Ministry of Interior and Safety (MOIS) shines a light. First co-hosted by MOIS and the Ministry of Startups and SMEs (MSS) in 2018 as the first expo of its kind in Korea, the upcoming 2021 Fail Expo will mark the 4th annual round. The 2018 and 2019 expos aimed to raise awareness about government resources and to create a space for business owners to share about overcoming their failures. The overarching goal of the expo’s main program was to bring small business owners together and to create a more open atmosphere that encourages them to remain persistent by challenging themselves again in the face of adversity.
The Fail Expo not only helps entrepreneurs strategically but also anyone facing emotional struggles. Hosted only in Seoul, the first year of the Fail Expo garnered support from more than 50,000 people. Rather than only granting money or other resources, this expo focused on rehabilitating attendees through emotional support so that they would continuously stand back up out of depression. From 2019, the Fail Expo program spread to regions all over Korea to spread the culture of encouraging and supporting the success of individuals nationwide.
After impacting tens of thousands of business owners through both online and offline events in its first two years in existence, the Fail Expo 2020 was already on track to expand its reach. Furthermore, due to the unexplored terrain of the global pandemic, the 2020 program gained a new wave of interest from business owners navigating the new set of challenges posed by the global pandemic. Private and public institutes also introduced autonomously planned programs to expand participation nationwide based on local needs. The result was transforming the social perception of failure as an opportunity to develop and advance toward one’s goals rather than give up or halt progress.
Since 2020, increased cooperation among local governments and public and private institutions diversified the offerings of the Fail Expo program to be year-round, across a variety of regions, and both online and offline. Over the past 4 years alone, this program has supported more than 1.5 million Koreans and hopes to become utilized by more foreigners in the future.
The spokesperson of Korea O2O Future Vision Association, a consulting company that is advancing the Fourth Industrial Revolution, expresses their thoughts on the Fail Expo:
“The Fail Expo program has helped our organization to overcome the fear of failure. We got to experience a supportive and accepting atmosphere and challenge ourselves to continue growing our business again.”
The Fail Expo 2021, set to take place this December, will be unique due to stronger partnerships between local governments, central government agencies, and public and private social organizations. Program resources will be even more accessible through expanded online channels. The event comes as a collaboration among 3 local governments of Busan, Daegu, and Jeju; 14 social support institutions addressing issues across youth, gender, employment, startups, and small businesses; and the Ministry of Interior and Safety (MOIS), Ministry of Education (MOE), Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF), among others.
The 2021 Fail Expo will also offer support in areas of life beyond business, including relational counseling and financial counseling. Central government agencies have designated ten experts to provide counseling and policy information and selected 50 program ambassadors, known as “Again人(DASI-IN)'s”, to support this program. Among the ambassadors are ten professional counselors, as well as journalists, content creators, and social influencers. As ambassadors (Dasi-In) of Fail Expo, they are providing online counseling to support people’s efforts to overcome failure and communicate the stories of those who have overcome their obstacles through compelling content shared in real-time.
So far, collecting the wisdom of citizens through deliberate discussion of challenges and issues has identified 75 policy priorities related to the topic of defeating failure. Out of those policies, 35 have already been incorporated into central and local government policies. This constitutes a major accomplishment in changing the social perceptions of failure across society. As for the 2021 program, there will be a stronger focus on identifying policy priorities through policy deliberations and discussions held by 17 participating organizations. There will also be expanded public participation through an online collection of opinions and agenda proposals.
The success of the Fail Expo program sends a powerful message to the public. It is true that most of the time, government and business sectors disagree with each other, whether because of tax policies or or other regulations. At the end of the day, however, both are committed to serving the public. Governments raise the quality of life through policies while businesses profit on providing goods and services that promote the public’s happiness. The collaboration between businesses and government may sound unfamiliar, rare, and unique, but it is necessary to happen, and it should happen more often. When the majority of the people are struggling, the people who can help should do so. COVID-19 has brought people together through collective hardship, and it is crucial that we come together to alleviate those hardships.
The Fail Expo program is committed to doing exactly this through small business grants and professional advice.This program acknowledges the premise that granting money is not always the solution. Sometimes, it should be noted that people don’t want billions of dollars. More often, an average amount of money to rehabilitate, paired with a significant amount of professional consulting or emotional support, is more crucial to a company’s long-term success. After all, if entrepreneurs are not in a healthy emotional state, the likelihood of using the funds sustainably decreases. Most importantly, the program offers support through a community where people share openly with each other and build their hope and passion during these trying times.
Indeed, it is true that failure hurts. However, many philosophers and psychologists say people learn from failures, which is a milestone to success. According to B.F. Skinner, who was a renowned behaviorist and professor of psychology at Harvard University: "A failure is not always a mistake; it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying.
The Fail Expo 2021 already has countless people involved in this event for support. Event ambassadors have shared more than 200 stories and have already been offering professional and civic bits of advice. This trend makes it worth looking forward to how the upcoming program will help citizens struggling as we near the end of this year.
The Fail Expo program is truly open to everyone, regardless of your citizenship or visa status. Please visit the homepage (www.failexpo.com) for more details on Fail Expo 2021. Online programs are available for everyone.
With election season on the horizon, republics around the world are bringing attention to the issue of voter turnout rate. According to Pew Research Center and Election Project Organization, the United States had an approximately 48% voter turnout rate in every national election since the 1990s, while more than 239 million people were eligible to vote. In some countries, however, voter turnout is not an issue at all. In South Korea, the average voter turnout rate since the 1990s has been 75%, and according to Brooking’s Institute, Australia has had a whopping 90% voter turnout rate.
The secret? Election Day is a nationally observed holiday in these nations. Countries like Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Costa Rica, and Mexico also showed high voter turnout rates by having holidays. Such low voter turnout rates in the United States have various reasons why many Americans decide not to vote, but one main reason is not giving them time to vote and cast their ballots. Every U.S. election happens on Tuesday, whereas other countries make their election day either Sunday or a holiday. The average working American only gets 30 minutes for lunch, and still, many decide not to eat lunch because of their intense corporate workload. These hard-working Americans honestly don’t have enough time to wait in an endless line on a busy Tuesday to cast their ballots.
The issue of voter turnout rate gets even more complicated given that working class Americans are disproportionately inconvenienced by election days and times. Elite Americans are much freer to schedule their daily plans, and they aren’t pressed for time to vote since they are the highest members in companies where average Americans work. As they are much more flexible, they have much higher chances than average Americans to cast ballots. The result is that most election ballots will be filled with more wealthy Americans’ votes than average Americans trying to create a political landscape that would benefit riches rather than middle or poor.
Will any employees shout at CEOs and chairpersons for not coming to work and deciding to vote instead? The answer is probably no. Will employees be yelled at by their boss for emptying their seats for hours, even if they cast their ballots? The answer is more likely to be yes. These contradicting scenarios happen on every election day. According to the Census Bureau, registered voters stated “conflicting schedules” to be the most common reason for not voting in 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014 election days, and it was the second most common in the year 2016. With these trends, 2020 data is likely to show similar results.
Even with these clear data, the United States still had election days as a working day for decades. It has consistently shown a disappointing voter turnout rate, which causes apoliticism. As average Americans are not eligible to vote, of course, many Americans fall into apolitical tendencies where they think their ballots won’t affect them anyway; hence they don’t give interest in political fields during their busy days.
The main reasoning behind this massive turnout rate difference is the culture of elections. For numerous decades, South Korea and the United States’ election day differed considerably. In the United States, it was a working day where citizens were still expected to show up at work, and to vote, they needed to wait for hours in front of the polls. Thus, it was a typical, boring, tiring day for citizens. In the meantime, South Korea enjoyed the election day culture that we had as a holiday for past decades. As South Korea had election day as a holiday, people had more interest in politics, and the government advertised and encouraged voting by setting up numerous voting booths where citizens could vote quickly. Even if it was a small village, every town had a voting booth set up in town halls or city hall offices. After the quick casting of voting ballots, the street was full of families taking a car and enjoying the rest of their holiday by taking a relaxing family trip away from the busy, crowded working days. When the clock reached 6 PM, news media would start broadcasting election results live. Those news media had eye-catching visuals that would attract citizens to pay attention to the results and stay interested in Korean politics. South Korea’s election coverage was eye-catching to the extent that it was also noted by international news media such as CBS, ABC, Foreign Policy, Herald, etc. During the 2017 presidential election in South Korea, I remember talking to my father about each candidate’s political strategies and their effects. Then we were trying to order a fried chicken to enjoy the election coverage. When I made that call, the chicken place said, “since it is election night, we were so full with orders, it will take hours to deliver your chicken to your house.”
As seen, South Korea made election day a relaxing but exciting holiday where people can actively participate in political discussions and enjoy the election day holiday with their close ones. In the meantime, the United States has a leading power and influence over other countries. Still, it seems like the United States may be behind the trends in building strategies to collect all citizens’ opinions during elections, and the ongoing election system may only spotlight one elite side of many diverse Americans’ thoughts in politics. Of course, there are no guarantees that making an election day holiday would change the turnout rate immensely, but looking at the polls and stories from other countries, it is sure worth the try.