Are you happy?
By Choi Tae-hwan
``Are you happy in life?" ``No, not at all, I feel terrible." ``Why are you so unhappy?" ``Don't you know why?"
Can you guess who the speakers are in the above dialogue? The answer comes from a TV commercial which is in vogue in Korea right now. Parents ask children to look at their futures, but ``parents of students” ask them to see only the present. Parents ask children to enjoy getting along with others, while parents of students ask them to move ahead of others. Parents ask children to pursue their dreams, while parents of students ask them not to spend time on dreams.
How about you? Would you consider yourself a parent of a child or a parent of a student? The start of a true education for your children is by returning to your role as a parent and shunning the role of a student’s parent.
``How do you feel this morning?" ``I feel terrible" ``Could you tell me why you feel so bad?" ``Well, because I must go to the academy (private tutoring institute), even on weekends. ``When do you feel happiest?" ``Oh, without a doubt _ when I don't have to go to the academy."
So many students of my classmates feel exactly the same way as the above student. It is regrettable that almost all students respond to this question by saying, ``I feel terrible." Students are naturally sick and tired of being driven into being academic machines, doing nothing but studying for exams from early morning till late night every day. Students are tired of continuously spinning their wheels, like squirrels going round and round to many different academies for the sole purpose of memorizing, cramming, and preparing for all kinds of exams.
A recent study found that Korea’s 4th to 12th grade students scored lowest among OECD countries on the subjective happiness index, scoring 65.1 out of a possible 100 points.
For example, of the six items contained in the subjective happiness index, Korean students scored low in the degree of satisfaction of life, health, sense of belonging and loneliness. In particular, they scored the lowest among OECD countries, (53.9 percent) in the item, ``I am satisfied with my life," which means that one of every two students is not satisfied with their life. On the other hand, Koreans scored higher on the following items: ``I am not healthy subjectively" (26.5 percent); ``I don’t feel a sense of belonging" (18.3 percent); and ``I feel lonely" (16 percent), scoring second among the OECD countries.
What has caused Korean students to feel so unhappy? It goes without saying that Korean students are said to be driven to an examination hell, which requires them to devote themselves to attending many academies in the early grades of elementary school. They have little time to spend on developing their creative and critical thinking skills, nor on enjoying their personal life and school experiences.
That is to say, Korean students are thought to be under great stress due to a strict studying regiment. Needless to say, Korean students experience stress from studying, regardless of their years. More importantly, the higher their years, the higher their degree of stress, with almost half of elementary students being stressed out due to studying.
Another strong influence is the large number of parents who drive their children crazy by forcing them to attend academies regardless of their interest and motivation. It is not uncommon to hear parents say, ``you should not think about the future but the present, stop spending so much time with others, do not dream but strive to survive in this stark competition by using all means possible to get ahead of others.”
It is said that Koreans have struggled to survive in such a stark reality of society in which competition and exams are regarded as the key factors in and around their lives.
We take it for granted that children are taught to survive by reminding them of the words ``competition" and ``winning," as opposed to ``cooperation" and ``coexistence." As a result, our children learn to become ``me-centered," rather than developing a ``being-in-others' shoes" mentality, which is thought to bring about all kinds of negative side-effects in school classrooms such as bullying and violence.
Now is the time when we need to get our children back on the right track, so that they can be freed from the yoke of studying and fly wherever they choose in order to think more creatively and independently, to enjoy their school lives, and to feel true happiness, as opposed to always being in the doldrums.
The sooner this is done, the better. I hope all Korean parents with children in school will become true parents rather than school parents, both for the sake of their children and a brighter future for Korea.
The writer is an English teacher at Jeonnam Middle School in Gwangju. He can be reached at email@example.com.