The Korean Education System Needs to Focus on Entrepreneurship

South Korea is famous for educating its youth.  However, this fame is not always positive.  The Korean Education system is all about exam results and getting into the best universities in Seoul.  This is a history in Korea where the only way to improve your life was through passing exams.  Those that passed these exams were given land and social status.  Therefore, the power of education and exams is deeply rooted in Korean culture.  Today, this deep focus on education and exams still exists.  Everywhere you go in Seoul you will find English Hagwons and self-study rooms.  It is normal to hear of stories of students staying all day at school and taking private classes.  The amount of money spent on a child’s education has increased every year.

Korean Education Focused on Getting into SKY

SKY UniversityThe goal of all this time spent studying is to get into one of the three prestigious schools.

These three schools are referred to as SKY.  They are the top three Universities in Seoul.  They are comparable to getting into Harvard in the US or getting into Oxford in the UK.  Graduating from one of these three schools almost guarantees a job, but more importantly, gain respect and admiration from their family and friends.  In order to enter SKY, one must take the day-long national test called Suneung.  Suneung prep is big business in Seoul.  Parents in Korea spend lots of money getting their children the best test prep tutors possible.  Therefore those that have the funds to get their kids the tutors they need, have a huge advantage over low-income families. Last year having a degree from one of the SKY University didn’t just get you the best job possible, it also got you the best marriage proposals.  However, these three schools combined only enroll around 15,000 students per year.  There are 3.5 million high school graduates per year.  This means that a student has a .004% chance of getting into SKY.

Working for a Korean Conglomerate

ChaebolFor those that have graduated from SKY.  There is a high likelihood they will end up working for a Korean conglomerate.  70% of CEOs from large Korean companies have graduated from SKY.  The dream job, of course, is to work for one of the top Korean conglomerates called ChaebolsChaebols are basically “rich family clans”.  They include big Korean corporations like Samsung, LG, Hyundai, Lotte, SK, and KT.  Working for these companies might earn you social status but most employees are overworked and have a hard time climbing the company ladder. Most have to stay late during the night until their higher-ups leave the office.  Productivity remains low because even if they don’t have work to do they must put in at times 80 hour weeks.  Most of the Chaebols workers only care about keeping their job.  Most follow orders and dare not think outside the box.  They are company workers and will most likely stay company workers for life.  The risks of starting a startup in Korea is too risky for most.

Working for the Korean Government

Korean Office JobIn order to get a job with the Korean government, one must pass the civil service exam.  Working for the Korean government means you will have job security for the rest of your life.  Studying for the exam takes at least 3 years and only 1 in 40 passes the exam.  Of the more than 200,000 that take the test, only 5,000 will get hired. These are low to mid paying jobs that they will have until they retire.  Therefore the pay is not the motivating factor for working for the Korean government but rather the security.  Working hours are just as brutal, however, in 2018 the Korean government lowered its maximum working hours from 68 hours a week to 52 hours.

A Change is Need in the Korean Education System

These two options do not sound great.  But these are the kinds of jobs that Korean students are studying 80 hours a week for.  There simply aren’t enough jobs to go around.  Korea needs to nurture future entrepreneurs that will create the next Samsung or Hyundai.  Entrepreneurship in Korea is the key to creating jobs.  Currently, nearly 1 in 4 Koreans aged 15 to 30 are out of a job.  If you ask a typical high-school student on what they want to do when they grow up, most will say a government worker rather than a CEO.  That is not a dream.  Korea needs to focus more on innovation and entrepreneurship because this system of education can’t last.  Instead of spending thousands of hours studying for a standardized test, they should be using their creativity and imagination to bring about new ideas and inventions.  The more Korean startups mean a higher chance for one of those startups becoming a unicorn.  The future of Korea rests in their hands. A change has to come.