‘Extreme’ Hagwon Adverts Start Korean Education Debate


The Korean addiction to private for-profit cram schools, know as hagwons [학원 – 學院], is well know both in and outside Korea.

At the start of each new school year, South Korea becomes flooded by hagwon advertisements and, in an increasingly tough economy, some hagwon are resorting to new tricks to win would-be students over with controversial advertising campaigns.

The adverts excessively emphasise competition with peers, implicitly suggesting that friends – and even family – are obstacles to successful study.

The non-profit organisation “World Without Worries About Private Education” argues that this kind of irresponsible marketing puts even more pressure on students and their parents, and calls for a change in an environment of limitless competition which pushes children to the edge.


Translation of above images(clockwise):

Megastudy (left):

Now the new term has begun
you will start spending
more time with your friends
saying it’s for your friendship.

Every time you do that
the study you had planned to do
will be postponed little by little
But what to do…
you can’t postpone the College Entrance Exams.

Don’t start wavering now,
your friends will not do your study for you.

Advertisement (upper right):

Let’s make them study to death!!

(English and Maths classes)

Advertisement (lower right):

‘Only send them home to sleep’

(After-school all-subjects study class)

Comments from Naver:


This crazy country… They have no philosophy no thought, young people don’t even know what they want to become, their parents are telling them do this do that with their way of thinking frozen back in the 90s, it’s all gonna result in a futile effort


Teach them some manners too, not just this crazy study. This is not a developed country at all, civic consciousness here is really rubbish.


This is why Korea is the No. 1 among OECD countries in numbers of suicides… tsk


The most appalling thing is that there are many students who have no dreams.


private education… one day it will become death-education

[Korean Chinese character (hanja) joke: the sa character 私 meaning private was changed to death sa 死 character]

wpep**** :

We have to first get rid of the stereotype of not being able to succeed in life without getting into a prestigious university.

ente**** :

I wonder if there is any other country like this in the world..

nave**** :

I saw an advertisement for a boarding hagwon boasting that they do study military style… ke

wpep**** :

Korea still has a long way to go to become a developed country

sara**** :

‘Let’s make them study till death’ that thing is just really wrong. You people! It’s disgusting, you make it look like there is a crazy amount of passion in this, but it’s just plain fake, monstrous thinking. You need to start by getting some education yourself.

tend**** :

You should try making your own child study till death… the child will grow up suffering many mental problems… the best kind of education is encouraging children to study by themselves, and even if a child is not good at study, we can always just help her/him develop his other talents. This way we will be able to raise another Yuna Kim and Ji-sung Park to entertain us.

ktng**** :

I’m not gonna raise my kids like this.

ksg3**** :

Old Germany also had a cramming system of education, like us. As a result of this, a monster called ‘Hitler’ was born. That’s why Germany changed and improved their education system. Korea also urgently needs to change this education system which only makes students cram and buries children who have talent in another area.


As a high school student you normally get up at 6am and get back home at 11pm after finishing ‘self study’ ke [note: staying at school for evening ‘self study’ after class is compulsory in Korean high schools and some middle schools]. After having shower and packing your school bag it’s already midnight ke After that you have to study until 2-3am, if you fall asleep you are screwed.


You kids are still too young to really know why you have to study like this right? When you get older you will realize that school time is the most comfortable time of your life. You really have no other worries apart from mid-term test, final test, and the College Scholastic Aptitude Test.

wlsw**** :

The lifestyle of high school students is – getting up at 6am > arriving at school at 7am > school from 7am to 11pm > getting home at midnight. Hagwon on days off, evening self-study at school during weekdays. Fuck it, I just wanna die.


Get up at 5am, until 7am do yesterday’s homework and solve problems in workbook, by 8am eat breakfast, brush teeth, wash yourself, go to school, school until 9.30pm, then hagwon, then eat quickly within 20 minutes, do homework until 1am, sleep, end. What’s this, I just wanna die. Damn, it’s almost 3am, have to go to hagwon [in the morning]. This is my cousin’s daily schedule. Since last week, my cousin is no longer with us.

sswo**** :

Get up at 6am, morning study till 7.30am, eat breakfast and go to school by 8am, school until 5pm, come home, rest for 30 minutes, if there is private lesson, have private lesson, then study until 2-3 am at night. That’s my younger sibling’s (middle school 2nd grade) schedule.

mita**** :

I never went to hagwon ke ke and I have no regrets. I just went to school and then hung out with friends. If I hadn’t studied like that, there would have been only rivals left around me now…

yyuu**** :

Nowadays you only see kindergarten children in the playgrounds.

joow**** :

I few years ago I saw a slogan on a hagwon bus saying ‘ Grandmother, I will not come to visit you this Chosok holiday!’ That gave me goose bumps. Hagwons trying to estrange even family relatives.

rosu**** :

Parents think that if you go to a vocational university you screw up your life.

qkrw**** :

My cousin, who emigrated to Canada, used to go to school only from 8.30am to 2pm. In their neighbourhood you could find Taekwondo or piano academies but no study hagwon. He just enjoyed his free time, and studied well by himself. He got into a medical university, the name I can’t recall, but it was a renowned university. That’s something that Korean students can’t achieve even while studying at school from 7.30am to 10pm and after that going to hagwon or having private lessons ke ke ke What’s the problem here? ke ke ke

gaps**** :

‘Korean students waste 15 hours a day studying at school and hagwon, learning things they won’t need in the future for jobs that don’t even exist’. – Alvin Toffler

wntk**** :

I attend 5 different hagwons after school… I get home at 3am… My mum and dad are already sleeping… It seems like study is my parent…. I just want to live.. I don’t do it because I want to study… I just want to live…

dleh**** :

I’m go3 [high school 3rd grade, the busiest time in a student’s life]. All the students around me are really studying hard. But if you ask them what they want to become, they all say they don’t know. This is a really serious problem.

tbfm**** :

The reality is that even if you study with your nose at the grind stone, you will still end up doing a job you hate and living your life like a robot ke

syw9**** :

You know, at our school we study even P.E. from a textbook. What do you want? — In Korea it’s only foodstudystudystudyfoodstudystudysupperstudy studyhagwonsleep. — This is the reality.

wpep**** :

Had Einstein been born in Korea, he would have become just another neighbourhood dentist.

wjdt**** :

People now perceive school as hangwon and hagwon as school.. The importance of hagwon has gotten bigger..

sino**** :

 My elder sister got into Korea University [note: one of the SKY universities, SNU, KU, Yonsei, – the three most prestigious universities in Korea]. So I will tell you this.. If you ask my sister what she wants to become, she doesn’t know. She is just caught up in increasing her spec.. What should I say? My sister, who is clever enough to get into a prestigious university, doesn’t know what her dream is. But despite that, she just keeps worrying that she might fall behind the competitors and just worries about building up her specs… If you look at her, it looks like she is caught up in some kind of competitive obsession. It seems that students who are good at studying are not happy. It’s really funny isn’t it. Korean education produces ‘clever fools’ who don’t even know what their dream is.


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  • One for all

    Dear Korea,

    Please listen to your children! How many more have to take drastic action before you wise up?

    • chucky3176

      I think lot of parents also agree with their children, but as soon as they see their neighbor’s and friend’s kids getting the lead with their extra schooling, the parents also feel the pressure and feel guilty that they’re not doing everything they can to help their own kids compete. So even if they don’t agree with the system, they still make their kids do it.

      • Kate

        Funny, I was tutoring a Korean Manager this morning who was saying the exact same thing during conversation.

      • Kate

        Oh and already 1 1/2 weeks into me living in Korea and have already been stalked down the street—–seriously was afraid the guy was going to rape and kill me but my husband showed up to pick me up in time…what’s up with the rapeyness of this place?

        • harvz

          Just shut up.

          • Kate

            Its called a minimize button on the upper right corner for all the commentators you dont like Jackoff.

      • One for all

        I hear that a lot from my friends and colleagues with children. They absolutely hate the fact that their kids go through this ‘torture’ but don’t seem to be willing to buck the trend.

        I once had dinner with a family in Anyang…Mom, dad, boy (middle school), and girl (high school). The parents had the rule that the kids had to be home from hagwon by 7pm and do 2 extra hours of studying during weekdays, followed with sports/leisure activities in the weekends. The high school girl did choose to study during her weekends as well (I thing she did an average of 5-6 hours on saturday and the same on sunday), but her younger brother was not the least bit interested in his academia…..just PC games and his phone.

        I was pleasantly surprised to find out that both siblings were the top performers in their cohort and are doing well (big sister is now studying a STEM subject in a British university, although she had to do a foundation year to allow her to become familiar with the British HE system, and younger brother wants to go to KAIST).

        I understand that not all kids can reach this level of achievement especially in such a relaxed environment, but I believe the parents were right in not over-pushing their kids beyond their limits.

        I believe in the use of academies, what I don’t believe in is the over-zealous 18-20 hour study days that these poor kids have to endure……..I wonder what it’ll take before parents decide to change

        • Kate

          Probably their kids offing themselves. Which point all the studying in the world means zelch.

          I live in Korea too and have a child and would never ever do what many korean parents do in terms of pushing their child to suicidal thoughts over a schedule that is so soul crushing and hopeless they think its better to die because who wants to live life like that? But then my child never has to go to a hagwon ether. I’m a native english speaker and she also has her korean family, so she hears english/korean all day long. My child also has the benefit of having a mum and dad that have been western educated and as she gets older, she will have the opportunity to go to school in the west. Anyway I truely do feel bad for all ages of koreans in this intense socially competitive atmosphere.

  • YourSupremeCommander

    Kim Jung Un is cool.

  • A Gawd Dang Mongolian

    Yes! Study yourselves to death! Then you’ll have a generation whose only skill is studying! Wait no that’s a bad thing.

  • We can all bash Korea’s education system for being inhumane, but the truth of the matter is, they’ve managed to go from a war-torn country to an economic powerhouse in record time…

    • Benjamite

      It was appropriate back then, but now they need to slow down and reassess the country’s true needs.

    • Kevin Miles

      They did that because they made good quality products at relatively low prices. The education system has been an obstacle to both social mobility and further economic growth.

      • Lack of social mobility, I can somewhat agree with, but I think issues with economic growth are related to the huge wealth gap (and the “monopoly” over everything that a few companies share)… The education system in Korea does at least one thing right: it churns out some of the hardest workers in the world.

  • x1sfg

    At least those guys can read and write near their grade level, and do math. I had someone ask me what “<" was… "Doesn't it go with <3? Why is it 2300 and not 3?"


  • Yu Bum Suk

    The only thing that will stop this is changing the government testing system, and until that happens all this talk is pointless.

    • chucky3176

      Without a government standardized testing system of some kind, how you’re going to decide which students out of the flood of millions who would apply, to get into SKY universities? Even America had to put racial quotas on Asian students in their top universities, because people like these Koreans would do anything to get into those schools.

      • Yu Bum Suk

        That’s not to say they can’t change the standardised tests, and introduce a subjective element. For example, if they replaced the multiple-choice reading questions of the English component with speaking and writing questions it would automatically render most secondary-level English hagwons obsolete. If they eliminated foreign teaching positions from technical high schools – where they’re pointless – and opened up positions at marking centres (after giving the waegookins a thorough grammar test) they’d get a lot more bang for their buck with the same quantity of human resources, and they way students learn would change drastically.

        I’m sure it would be possible to make dramatic changes in other subject areas, too.

        • chucky3176

          As soon as you said “subjective element”, I knew it’s not going to work. Unless the tests are standardized with fixed answers to the multiple questions, ‘subjective elements’ will open the system to charges of corruption. Even if there are no palms that grease the hands, the very thought that there is someone subjectively evaluating the tests, will make hyper competitive Korean parents, very suspicious and there will be flood of charges of corruption (even if, let’s say for the sake of argument, there are no corruption). Before long, the credibility of the very system itself will become undermined. I don’t think the Western system of university selection will be able to curtail the demand for education in Korea.

          • Yu Bum Suk

            And I knew that as soon as I wrote “subjective element”. However, in the case of English, if that element were a bunch of waegookin at a marking centre it would be a lot more difficult to level such an accusation. Most Canadian provinces do exactly this for academic subjects and while results could potentially vary a few percent from marker to marker, people generally accept it. Anyone who’s marked thousands of papers (such as me) knows that it’s pretty easy after a while to set a standard based on an average score of 65 or 70 or whatever and distribute marks accordingly.

      • Peter

        What are you talking about? Care to provide a citation? The end of affirmative action in states like California has led to exactly the opposite result: the over-representation of Asian-Americans in elite universities, as a percentage of US population. It’s a success story. The main obstacle to non-Americans winning a place in such institutions is language ability–witness the reform of the GRE exam, to better assess this skill. As others have said, cramming will not get you into American higher education, and it will not prepare you for the sort of work awaiting you. Instead of hagwon, consider investing in intensive English lessons.

        • Peter

          And, of course, $$$$. US higher education is incredibly expensive, even without currency conversion.

  • no need to worry its just rote memorisation in high school and bachelor degree, even if you are just an average scorer. The real difficulty comes when you want to extend your study to master/phd, that require creativity, something no text book and your great memorisation capacity can help you with. Rote learning doesnt make you creative, it makes you less.

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  • commander

    Already went through fiercely competitive high school years, I want to say schools which are assessed as the number of students with admission notices from prestigious universities, a.k.a. SKY, tend to put quantity of educational hours over educational quality, an inefficient approach that only serves to exhaust students and provides no leisure time.

    Teachers have low teaching abilities which force students to memorize texts instead of engaging them to understand underlying logic.

    With curricula of subjects hardly changed, teachers, which give lectures to several classes each day for a long time should be master in their teaching subjects, but the reality runs squately counter to it.

    Boosting educational quality will give more breathing room for students who are exhausted to revolve around homes, schools and crams institutes.

  • blahblah

    How long are they going to let suicide be the leading cause of death for young people before they realize there is something wrong with the system? I get that S. Korea doesn’t have many resources outside of people so it will always be competitive to get jobs. But all the focus on outside appearance and specs are creating a whole new generation of kids who not only lack discipline outside being crammed in a book and also lack creativity and compassion due to the competitive society they live in. It’s not looking pretty. I feel sorry for those children who are being crushed under the weight of their parents pressure….. but there are just as many kids who are basically not disciplined at all and sent to hagwons and never really have deep relationships with their parents or others once they start school and then rebel because they don’t know limits. Put both of those kinds of kids in the same environment and you get bullies and bullied and it’s creating this whole mess.

  • kfkfkeke

    this is sad… korean people need to chill and enjoy being young.

  • Benjamite

    Perhaps a mass non-violent sit-down protest would get the ball rolling. All the students sit in the playground field night and day rain and shine and have a hunger strike until news cameras arrive and police drag them away with parents screaming and crying. They can hold signs saying they’ve had enough of this kind of education. The hunger strikes don’t stop until limits are placed on the hagwons and mandatory night school is abolished. Korean students FIGHTING!!!

  • Benjamite

    How can any group of people expect change when they won’t sacrifice something, be it family, job, etc. The status quo is killing Korean students EVERYDAY and robbing the potential of this great country!

  • freyr

    Poor kids. Just because competition is the trend one should put family and friends before competition. This led to a happy life. What children should have. Look Nordic country where education is pure joy. That makes good citizens.

  • PixelPulse

    I wonder which generation is going to try to make a change to these extreme studying and competitiveness.

  • redgirls

    Where is the school of hard knocks, Makes You think.

  • chucky3176

    LOL.. I knew this story would hit this site sooner than later.

    If those students were seen holding up the Nazi flags and saluting in Nazi salut, the reactions here would be…. ?

    … they are just being artistic?

    I don’t think so. They’d be accused of racism and fascism. Remember, it wasn’t long ago when Korea used to have Nazi themed bars which were severely criticized by morally incensed Western expats who accused Koreans of being incapable of empathizing with sufferings by others.

    How ironic, this empathy thing. So is the extreme double standard.

    But since these are just harmless Japanese fascist flags, they are cute, artistic, cool, and totally OK. I mean, everybody loves those anime loving harmless polite Japanese holding and waving the Rising Sun flag in front of cameras, chanting to Koreans to get the fuck out of Japan, right? Oh yes, yes, I know, we mustn’t demonize all Japanese people as haters, since only a very few minority even come close to being Nazi like.

    Japan has marches with these flags that go around advocating killing and massacring of Koreans and demanding severing of diplomatic relations, with hardly a debate in Japan. But here we are in the ROK, Koreans making a big deal about a bunch of group of some stupid student attention seekers, trying to make some kind of a statement (whatever that is). I mean who gives a fuck?

    • chucky3176

      Sorry, this post was inadvertently posted in the wrong article. This was meant to be posted under the article about the Korean students waving Japanese Flag and saluting like Nazi’s.

  • Whirly Pop

    The smartest kids I know didn’t really attend any after school class, they only had very supportive and encouraging parents. Like I’m not even sugarcoating anything.

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  • Waygookin

    In Korea, people are judged on how long they study (or work), not how well they study (or work). You assume that spending lots of money = gaining lots of success.

    Students attend hagwons until late into the night, and then sleep through their free state education. They miss vital things in their school because their parents gave priority to after-school classes. In missing their state schooling through sleeping in class, the parents subsequently feel the need to spend more money and more time in hagwons. The cycle gets worse and ironically, nobody actually learns anything worthwhile.

    Oscar Wilde said it best: “Nowadays, people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” It certainly rings true here.

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