Tuesday, December 11, 2007

From such great heights

On December 7th the students who took the Suneung, or college entrance exam, received their marks. The media duly published photos of happy students who were college bound.

I couldn't help but think that they were missing out on the reactions of the majority of the test takers, who didn't do as well as they'd hoped. It seems those kinds of students only get noticed by the media if they kill themselves in the time honored manner of leaping from buildings.* At four AM Monday morning, the Joongang Ilbo reports, twin sisters in Changwon did just that.
The twin sisters had been under enormous stress lately, worrying about their scores on last month’s national College Scholastic Ability Test. The stress may have been enough to cause the high school seniors from Changwon, South Gyeongsang to plunge to their deaths from a high-rise apartment building. “I wish you happiness with mom and brother. Sorry I wasn’t a good daughter,” one of the victims wrote in a text message to her father’s cell phone just before committing suicide, police said.
I doubt there will be much happiness in their family's life for some time to come. The article brings up new changes in the grading system, but adds
It is not known if the grading system had any impact on yesterday’s victims, who were discovered by a newspaper delivery person in front of an apartment building at about 4:10 a.m. yesterday.
Nice wording there: impact.

The aforementioned building
The police confirmed that the victims were twin high school seniors, both 18, who went to school in Changwon. The twins had been in agony since they received their test scores last week, according to an initial investigation by police. The sisters left home after receiving the test results and had been missing for two days, police said. The personal belongings of the two sisters, who were not identified, included a cell phone and a watch that were found near an emergency exit staircase on the 25th floor. A window was open beside the stairs, police reported.

It turns out these girls were not the only victims of the suneung this year.
Police noted that a Seoul student, who had taken the CSAT three times, also jumped from a tall building last month shortly after taking the test on Nov. 15. The student was worried about test scores, police said.
As this article elaborates, in Seoul's Ichon-dong at one in the morning on November 17, essentially the day after the test, the 21 year-old student jumped from this building.

Apparently there are complaints about the vagueness of the new suneung grading system.
Parents’ groups have protested against the new CSAT grading system and some have threatened legal action. But as yesterday’s tragedy appears to show, for some students the CSAT remains a life or death matter.
I don't think it's only students who feel that way.

Parents praying at Bongeun Temple on November 10

There have been other candlelight gatherings regarding the suneung as well, though the one pictured below was a protest against the suneung after a girl in Namwon killed herself on November 5, 2003 (the picture of the open window above was where she jumped from).

I wrote about a student killing himself on the morning of the test two years ago; more died before that, and more will continue to die in pattern so predictable that you can set your watch by it.

* Which leads to the media declaring such apartment buildings to be degenerate threats to the welbing of children and the construction ministry announcing new regulations for the reconstruction of such buildings requiring a death record check which needs to be notarized in the hometowns of every resident in the complex before a reconstruction permit can be issued.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We started hosting an exchange student from Seoul 4 months ago who described to us the educational environment in Korea... and, as an American, I had no idea the kind of pressure these teenagers go through. I mean, one test determines the rest of your life? At least, that is what it seems like to many of them. Your future success depends on the name of the university on your degree, which depends on the score you get on this test. Some of the greatest people I've ever known became great after many repeated failures... but, it seems, in Korea there is little room for failure. From what I can tell, the social structure plays into it as well... if you fail, people look down on you. Because it takes connections to get good jobs, you can't afford to disappoint those "connections". In America, if you fail, you just find another opportunity. I'm sure that's possible in Korea, but it seems much more difficult, and the children do not seem to be equipped with that kind of thinking. All they see and know is this test. It is everything to them. They haven't been shown a perspective of growth through failure, and finding other ways to success.