Korean teenagers rank at the top in the OECD when it comes to academic performance but are among the unhappiest in the club of rich countries. They also start private tuition earlier than in any other country, suggesting that public education is failing them, talk less to their parents and spend the least time exercising.
The OECD announced the 2015 PISA Student’s Well-Being report last week based on surveys on 540,000 15-year-olds around the world. The categories were performance at school, life satisfaction, social life at school and use of time outside of school, and they ranked their responses on a scale of 0 to 10.
The Korean youngsters scored an average of just 6.36 points, trailed only by Turkey (6.12) as the poorest assessment of their well-being.
Compared to 48 countries including non-OECD member nations, they still ranked at the bottom. The most contented teenagers live in Finland, the Netherlands, Iceland and Switzerland, which are all small and have a high per-capita income.
Koreans spend the longest hours studying, with 23.2 percent putting in over 60 hours a week, almost twice as many as the OECD average of 13.3 percent.
And they start trudging to crammers at the age of nine, sooner than anywhere else. The average age was 11, and young Icelanders started the latest at 13.
Korean youngsters are highly driven to get high grades, with over 80 percent saying they want to be top of their class or the best at whatever they do. Across the OECD the average was a laid-back 59 percent and 65 percent.
Many Korean students are anxious about it, with 75 percent saying they fear poor grades compared to the average of 66 percent, and 69 percent concerned about the difficulty of their tests, compared to a 59 percent average. On the other hand, youngsters whose parents take an active interest in their grades said they are happier than those whose parents do not.
Interestingly, according to the executive summary for Korea, “students who spend more hours learning in and outside of school reported a life satisfaction level that is 0.5 point higher than students who study fewer hours”.
In other words, the longer the youngsters study and the more they conform to expectations to do well academically, the better they feel. They also experience a greater sense of belonging at school than youngsters in other countries.
But they spend very little time engaged in physical activities, with only 46.3 percent playing some type of sport either before or after school, ranking at the bottom. One out of five do not spend even a day exercising the minimum of 60 minutes, like walking and cycling, just below Japan (26.9 percent).
They also spend less time with their parents. Only 33 percent of parents said they talk to their children every day about how they are doing in school, and only 53.7 percent of parents said they make sure they talk to their kids every day.
Only around 70.2 percent of the youngsters sit down to at least one meal a day with their family, compared to the OECD average of 82 percent.