I recently finished watching the KBS drama, School 2013. The drama is about a class of second-year high school students and their two homeroom teachers under the South Korean education system. It is drama-packed with real issues millennials and teachers are facing in school, such as student violence and bullying, suicides, and parent-teacher relationships. Although it is classified as a drama, the concerns and situations that occur in School 2013 are real and actually happen.
School 2013 was the most popular drama of the year. It captured the audience with its accurate depiction of students and problems associated with the education system. While South Korea has its fair share of flamboyant high school story lines, School 2013 offers a refreshing insight into the lives of South Korean high schoolers.
While watching School 2013, there were many striking insights. There were several scenes that made me stop to think.
Believe me, I am a fan of school dramas. There is just something very inspiring about the story of how a teacher changes the lives of his or her students for the better. The main teacher character in school dramas is always one who is very passionate about his or her students. This teacher character will eventually wedge him or herself into the lives of the students on an intimate and personal level.
The homeroom teacher in School 2013 is a woman named In Jae (Ms. Jung). In every episode she is seen texting her students, asking why they are not coming to school or where they are. I personally find this very, very awkward and it even feels as if Ms. Jung is just being plain creepy. I cannot imagine receiving a text message from my teacher. The very thought of it seems ridiculous, but it happens a lot in School 2013. The students even send Ms. Jung texts when she doesn’t show up, leading me to the conclusion that such a teacher-student relationship can be considered normal in South Korea.
A teacher like Ms. Jung would simply not work in the American school system. Although her intentions are good, many of her actions overstep her boundaries as a role of a teacher. In the last episode, a student suffering from an abusive father decides to drop out of school. The second teacher, Mr. Kang, is desperate to help him and offers financial assistance. In response, the student asks him, “You pay for my tuition this month. What about the next month? What about next year?”
This question falls down on me like a bucket of cold water. The teacher can’t save the student from his or her situation. The teacher is not going to adopt him or take care of him for the rest of the student’s life. That is going above and beyond what a teacher does.
Teacher vs. Tutor.
Ms. Jung is a homeroom teacher while Mr. Kang is a famous private tutor who becomes a contracted second homeroom teacher. The difference between their teaching styles is evident from the get-go. They have opposite teaching philosophies. Ms. Jung believes in long-term education like theories that can be applied to any given situation and helping her students realize their dreams. Mr. Kang believes in standardized testing and studying for exams versus studying course material.
The reactions to their different teaching styles vary. While many students like Ms. Jung as a person, they believe her class is a waste of time. This is because Ms. Jung’s lessons do not prepare them for exams as well as Mr. Kang’s classes. Needless to say, all the parents prefer Mr. Kang’s teaching as well, leading to my next point…
Back in the day, if I returned home with a bad report card, I am the one who gets in trouble. School 2013 shows a shocking revelation of parental reactions to low grades. Instead of the student getting in trouble, these South Korean mothers will go to the school and have meetings with the teachers and principal. They would be angry that their child received poor grades, and insist that it is a result of the teachers’ incompetence or unfair tests and marking schemes.
In South Korea and many other Asian countries, the students – and ultimately their parents- are “customers”. A school’s prestige is ranked based on the grades of their students and their admittance rates to Universities. The parents have a strong influence over the hiring and termination of teachers, as well as the materials that are covered in class. I believe School 2013 does a great job at showing the tension between parents and teachers, and the struggle for teachers to remain unbiased. At the end of the day, whether it is the school or a private tutoring school, it seems like the parents are king.
What is the point in teaching them what is right at school? At home, they are always right.
I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say students studying in parts of Asia receive more stress than American students. The truth is that school in South Korea isn’t a 9 – 3 type of commitment. Students get to school at dawn and stay until it gets dark out. They have late-night study sessions, extra lesson preps, and after-school cram schools on top of normal class hours.
I wish I was born as a 20-year-old. Before then, there is no life anyways.
School 2013 shows many students struggling with their grades and the intense pressure to do better than their competitors. These competitors are none other than the other students in class. One student passes out after studying too much and mixing energy drinks. One student caves under the heavy burdens of grades and his overbearing mother, leading him to the school rooftop. The massive emphasis on grades and how they seemingly correlate to a student’s future and worth as a person constantly resurfaces as a theme in this drama.
If you study well, then you are considered a human being. If you do not study well, then it’s no use even if you are kind. Good personalities are no use as well.
School 2013 does not focus a lot on love, but it does center around a deep friendships, mostly between the male students. The bromance was very strong in this series, especially among the two main protagonists who suffered from a tragic fight in middle school. The reason this drama barely touches the themes of love is probably due to the goal of displaying a realistic view into South Korean high schoolers. More than anything else, students worry about quantitative measures of success and career choices as a result of a system that applauds results and ignores morality. An oppressive mixture of external burdens from parents, teachers, classmates, and society are continuously pulling on students as they try to deal with everything else adolescents must endure through. These students are represented as a generation of youth who know where ethical lines are drawn, but are easily swayed to cross over these lines in exchange for a promised, brighter future.
You have to look closely to see its loveliness.
You have to look longer to realize that it is lovable.
You are also like that.