Excessive competition leads to tragic incidents
A case of matricide allegedly committed by a schoolboy sounds the alarm for the nation’s achievement-oriented and competition-driven education system. Such a tragic incident is not new to Koreans. But the case is shocking as the high school senior is suspected of killing his mother apparently for her excessive zeal for her son’s success in the college entrance exam.
The case is a classic example of a social malaise arising from people’s obsession with scholastic achievement. The victim was certainly one of the pushy “tiger” mothers who are never satisfied with their children’s school records no matter how high their scores are.
Investigators quoted the 18-year-old suspect, known as Ji, as confessing that he killed his mother at their home in Seoul in March as she constantly hounded him to come first nationwide in the College Scholastic Ability Test. She wanted her son to gain admissions to Seoul National University, one of the country’s most prestigious higher learning institutions.
It is not right to put all the blame on the mother. But it appears that she had gone too far in pressing her son to excel over all others. The insatiable desire for her son’s scholastic success seemed to be partly responsibility for causing the tragedy. Of course, the boy’s horrendous criminal act cannot and should not be justified under any circumstances.
However, the student must have been under extreme stress over his mother’s never-ending push for excellence. She had often refused to feed him or forced him to stay up all night to study harder. He even came to manipulate his ranking in a mock college entrance exam in March to list him as 62nd among 700,000 fellow candidates. Finally he murdered his 51-year-old mother for fear that she might find out his real ranking ― around 4,000th.
The episode should serve as a warning to the grim reality that puts an overemphasis on competition for college entrance exams. No one can deny that students have been driven to the winner-take-all mantra. They have come under the weight of heavy study burdens.
Now it’s time to overhaul the education system. The authorities should no longer delay reforms to ease competition and focus more on character development. It is urgent to extricate children from the heavy workloads for exams. Students need to learn how to develop creative thinking and problem-solving abilities. School education should be aimed at helping students develop democratic values so that they can become decent members of society.
More than anything else, the nation should create a new social atmosphere in which people are not judged by their educational background but by their abilities and integrity. This is easier said than done but without triggering this social change Korea can never bring hope and a better future to younger generations.