A tragic incident occurred on Wednesday, November 15, 2023, when a high school student jumped off a building in Seoul, South Korea, on the day of the college entrance exam. The student, identified only by his surname Kim, was found dead at the scene by the police. The motive behind his suicide is still under investigation, but some reports suggest that he was under immense pressure to perform well in the exam.
The College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) is a standardized test that determines the admission of students to colleges and universities in South Korea. It is widely regarded as one of the most important and stressful exams in the country, as it affects the future prospects and social status of the students. The exam is held once a year, usually in November, and lasts for about eight hours. More than 600,000 students took the exam this year, amid the Covid-19 pandemic and strict health protocols.
The Impact of CSAT on Students’ Mental Health
The CSAT has been criticized for its excessive influence on the education system and the society of South Korea. Many students spend years preparing for the exam, often attending private tutoring classes and cram schools after regular school hours. The competition is fierce, as only a small percentage of students can enter the top-tier universities, which are considered to be the gateway to success and prestige.
The pressure and anxiety that the students face can take a toll on their mental health and well-being. According to a survey conducted by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs in 2020, 38.9% of high school students reported having suicidal thoughts, and 4.8% of them attempted suicide. The survey also found that the main causes of stress for the students were academic performance, college entrance, and career choices.
The Need for Reform and Support
The government and the education authorities have been trying to reform the CSAT and the college admission system, in order to reduce the burden and the inequality that the students face. Some of the measures that have been implemented or proposed include:
- Allowing multiple attempts and retakes of the CSAT
- Introducing a rolling admission system that considers the students’ grades and achievements throughout the high school years
- Expanding the quota and the diversity of the applicants for the top-tier universities
- Providing more counseling and psychological support for the students and their parents
- Promoting alternative paths and opportunities for the students who do not pursue higher education
However, these reforms have met with some resistance and challenges, as they involve changing the deeply rooted culture and expectations of the society. Some experts and activists argue that the CSAT and the college admission system are only the symptoms of the larger problems of the education system and the social structure, which are based on competition, hierarchy, and conformity. They call for a more fundamental and holistic change that can foster the creativity, individuality, and happiness of the students.