16 January 2019

Competition and Cooperation in Korean Education

Education has become a principle duty for most of humanity. It is the major element for human growth and contributes to building a society. However, in the case of South Korea, social problems are coming from the current educational system, which is very competitive. Competitive education in South Korea has been influenced by neoliberal globalization, which has been spread widely throughout South Korea after the 1990s. Based on the neoliberal policies, markets should distribute the wealth efficiently and reasonably according to an individual’s effort.

By adopting the neoliberal ideology into policy, schooling in South Korea has now turned to a certain product and lost its fundamental purpose. It builds the relationship between suppliers and consumers saying that education is a service product, which has transformed the educational relationship into a commodity relationship. As a result, the benefit principle passed the burden of the educational expenses on to the people and the competitiveness of education was introduced by imitating the competitiveness of capitalism in education. The core of neoliberal education policy is to adopt education as an economic principle and introduce market economy principle such as freedom to compete.

The working principle of this academic society is not self-affirmation but denial of others. Moreover, it is competition with others, but not self-realization. Academic standing is the establishment of universal hostility; in other words, education is to create a competent servant which means to answer the question well. Negatively speaking, you do not ask questions, you have everything in your mind, you have to memorize it well, and then you can search it out. It is most likely a slave education, which is, in any case, you should not ask first, and you do what you say, and that is the essence of Korean education. The best thing to create such a person is the competition with an examination. Internally, we have to make sure that citizens’ education cannot be done at all times. We must make our colleagues enemies from our childhood. There is an examination system to prevent civic solidarity, a discussion for it, and communication for it.

The three presentations have been announced by the government as a reality of education in South Korea: uniform memorizing education, examinations, and competition-oriented education, with classes focused on the top few students, and vertical hierarchy. Therefore, the government promoted two different policies, which is the high school credit system and unverified recruitment. Jeong Je Young (2018; in Korean), professor in the Department of Education at Ewha Woman’s University, pointed out that the high school credit system is a system that enables students to realize the potential of students by selecting courses according to the career path of the students and providing individualized curriculum and to active student participation type classes such as class and project class. Moreover, the unverified recruitment which also known as blind recruitment in South Korea, was started from the idea and principle of giving equal opportunity to all people through fair procedures.

The research for this issue is conducted with a textual analysis of the 2018 Korean TV series Sky CastleSky Castle (2018) is a satirical drama that shows the educational and social irrationality of South Korea through the people who take their children to the prestigious universities and those who take on the task of passing down wealth and honor. Inside the series, lot of tragedies are happening and they are in a great shock at the time, but they still see the Korean society repeating the tragedy again. Even if a person dies because of the competitiveness in the education, the system never changes and the tragedy is inevitable.



On the surface, Sky Castle deals with the issue of competition and entrance examinations, but it is only one aspect and is not the cause of this drama. It looks at where the phenomena that appear to children come from. They are constantly looking at the tragedies that the system is causing and are experiencing close, but they are not going to fundamentally solve it. In addition, it makes the absurd system more public by treating the tragic heroes as even the losers of the competitive system. Eventually, the children die or become monsters in the world they have created. As Jeong (2018) reminds us, we live in a competitive system, we face each other day by day, and we have not looked at how the system works properly. Besides the residents of Sky Castle, there is one special character showing how competitive students are. It is called "A coordinator for university entrance examination."


In the series, only thirteen privileged people were allowed to meet the coordinators for their children. Regardless of huge amount of money they have to spend, they were providing information and tips for student’s target universities. Starting from their 10th grade, the students will get private lessons for the examination and also get opportunities to participate in the extra-curriculum activities which are necessary for the admission. The problem is that since this coordinator costs a lot of money which only plutocrats are allowed to access. It is showing how competitions inside the classroom are causing hierarchy and unfairness to other students. Moreover, they also do illegal things such as stealing the future exam papers to make their students to get good grades.

As a result of this research, I have come to realized that cooperation is more needed than the competition in Korean education, because cooperation makes people help each other to achieve a common goal instead of pitting them against one another. The meaning of cooperation is to work with others; it not only simply means to have a conversation with the others, but also to complete the task successfully with the combination of everyone’s work. Johnson and Johnson (1994) define cooperative learning as a situation in which students attain a goal, it is positive interdependence and students consider that they are only able to achieve their own learning goals when other members of the group also carry out the goal at the same time. To cooperate in learning is an instructional approach that makes students into small groups and encourages them to learn and complete what they have to do, and at the same time, to make sure that other members in the group are also completing the assignment.

[This essay is by Ji Woo Kim, a 2018 graduate of Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University with a major in Culture, Society and Media. She currently lives and works in Japan.]

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