SEOUL (Reuters) – It was created as a biting satire of South Korea’s notoriously competitive education system, but the country’s most popular cable TV drama has inspired some fans to ignore its warnings and instead double down on their pursuit of success.
FILE PHOTO: Parents pray for their children’s success in the college entrance examinations at a Buddhist temple in Seoul, South Korea, November 15, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo
“SKY Castle” follows several ambitious families as their drive to send their children to the country’s best universities and secure lucrative jobs leads to identity fraud, suicide and murder.
The show’s name comes from a fictionalized version of luxury residential community in Seoul’s suburbs, but is also a nod to the acronym “SKY,” which refers to South Korea’s top three universities: Seoul National University, Korea University and Yonsei University.
It’s the most-watched drama ever to air on South Korean cable networks, according to Nielsen Korea, and has found a wide following in China.
As the series came to an end this week, however, there were signs the show has led some South Koreans adopt some of the more intense educational measures the creators intended to criticize.
Sales of the “studycube”, a 2.5 million won ($2,235) wooden closet less than one square meter in size where students can hide themselves away to focus on their homework, for example, have soared eight-fold after it was featured in the show, according to the company which makes it.
“I saw the studycube on ‘SKY Castle’ and bought it of my own will to create a suitable studying environment for me,” said 16-year-old Lee Do-gyeong, who is hoping to be accepted to one of Seoul’s top veterinary medicine programs.
Demand for specialized university entrance coaches has also increased, after the show depicted a university admissions coordinator going beyond school records to guide everything from sleeping patterns to friendships.
Lee Man-ki, director of Uway Institute of Educational Evolution, plans to increase the number of courses for aspiring college prep consultants by 50 percent.
All of this runs contrary to what the show’s creators intended, “SKY Castle” chief producer Kim Ji-youn told Reuters.
“This news of a flood of orders for studycube or people eagerly searching for study coordinators are what the script writer wanted to avoid the most,” she said.
“The script writer, who also went through her child’s university admissions process, wanted to give the audience awareness of excessive education fever.”
READING IN THE TOILET
Studycubes sparked debate when they first appeared in South Korea seven years ago, and their appearance in “SKY Castle” led to fresh questions over the country’s high-pressure education culture.
Lee Do-gyeong, the high school student, said she was looking forward to studying in cube’s sound-proof seclusion, but she acknowledged that if parents forced their children to use the room it could be “nothing more than a rice chest,” a reference to an infamous incident where an 18th Century Korean prince was locked away in a rice chest to die.
Choi Ki-ju, the chief executive officer of studycube maker EMOK, said seclusion can help students focus without distractions.
One customer compared using the studycube to reading in the toilet, Choi said.
“This is simply accurate, don’t we concentrate better when we read books in the toilet?” he said.
“LIFE WILL GET EASIER”
The sense of competition in South Korea has only intensified amid one of the worst job slumps in years.
The 97,000 jobs added in 2018 was less than one-third the number created the year before, and marks the worst performance since 2009, according to data from Statistics Korea.
“As there are fewer jobs, intensifying competition to secure those seems to be appearing in the college prep process,” said Kim Jung-woo, an economist at the Korea Labor Institute.
“The widespread perception among Korean society that people can work only if they graduate university is the fundamental cause of this excessive education fever.”
On top of high school classes that run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., many children in South Korea stay at school for hours of self-learning everyday. Some take classes in private academies called “hagwon” until late at night, including weekends and even holidays, in a bid to get into the best schools and universities.
According to a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 23 percent of South Korean students reported studying more than 60 hours per week, nearly double the OECD average of 13 percent.
South Korea’s expenditure on educational institutions is around 5.8 percent of the country’s GDP, one of the highest among OECD countries, and nearly half of tertiary education expenditure is funded by households, compared with an OECD average of 22 percent, the report added.
Three-quarters of students said they expect to complete university education, above the OECD average of 44 percent.
South Korea’s education ministry in late January announced a plan to promote employment of high school graduates, saying the prevailing perception of university enrolment as the only way to success has created excessive competition and an overheated private education industry.
The ministry wants to reach a 60 percent employment rate of vocational high school students by 2022, aiming to reduce unemployment of college graduates as well as labor shortages in smaller businesses that university graduates turn their noses up at.
Pressure at school and worries about jobs are seen as major contributors to South Korea’s high youth suicide rate.
According to Statistics Korea, 31 percent of total deaths of children aged 10-19 are from suicide, the biggest cause of death among the age group.
The Institute for Social Development Studies’ Research has reported that 40 percent of South Korean high school students who were particularly concerned with their grades have experienced suicidal impulses, while the country’s children and teenagers’ life satisfaction is the lowest among the OECD.
Still, for many seeking a better life in South Korea’s cutthroat economy, the top universities are still seen as the best bet.
“Even though (“SKY Castle”) may be extreme, it is still worth it to enter the top universities,” said Kwon Seung-ok, a mother who said the show inspired her to hire a university consultant for her daughter ahead of entrance exams this year.
“That will lead to better opportunities and better employment. Life will definitely get easier.”
Reporting by Joori Roh.; Editing by Josh Smith and Lincoln Feast.
People wave flags atop cars in traffic during a demonstration to voice support for the people of Palestine, at Toronto City Hall in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on 15 May 2021.
between pro-Israel and pro-Palestine protesters in Montreal was condemned by
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
city police force intervened and declared the protests illegal after tensions
heightened and clashes broke out.
strikes killed 42 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, the worst daily
toll in almost a week of clashes.
– Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Sunday condemned the violence and
“despicable rhetoric” that marked several weekend protests throughout
the country, after clashes between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian protesters in
worst violence in years, sparked by unrest in Jerusalem, is raging between the
Jewish state and Islamist militants.
strikes killed 42 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, the worst daily
toll in almost a week of deadly clashes.
after protests in Montreal, Trudeau condemned what he said was “despicable
rhetoric and violence we saw on display in some protests this weekend”.
Everyone has the right to assemble peacefully and express themselves freely in Canada – but we cannot and will not tolerate antisemitism, Islamophobia, or hate of any kind. We strongly condemn the despicable rhetoric and violence we saw on display in some protests this weekend.
insisting on the “right to assemble peacefully and express themselves
freely in Canada”, Trudeau stressed in a tweet that there was no tolerance
for “antisemitism, Islamophobia, or hate of any kind”.
on Sunday, Montreal police used tear gas following clashes between pro-Israel
and pro-Palestinian protesters.
hundred demonstrators, draped in Israeli flags, had gathered in a central
Montreal square to express solidarity with the Jewish state.
‘Protesting is a right’
the protest started peacefully, tensions ratcheted up with the arrival of
pro-Palestinian demonstrators and clashes soon broke out.
SPVM, Montreal’s city police force, declared the protests illegal, and squads
of riot police intervened, using tear gas to separate and disperse the two
groups, according to an AFP journalist at the scene.
police spent much of the afternoon in pursuit of the pro-Palestinian
protesters, who spread out and regrouped in commercial streets in the city centre.
the clashes, Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said on Twitter that
“protesting is a right”, but that “intolerance, violence and
anti-Semitism have no place here”.
Montreal is a city of peace.
thousand pro-Palestinian demonstrators had gathered on Saturday in central
Montreal to denounce what they said were Israeli repression and “war
crimes” in Gaza.
Israel”, some protesters chanted, while others held up a banner that read,
“Stop the genocide of Palestinian children”.
protests happened the same day in multiple Canadian cities, including Toronto,
Ottawa and Vancouver.
“A new app is offering you the chance to do just that.”
When writer Brandon Wong recently couldn’t decide what takeaway to order one evening, he asked his followers on social media app NewNew to choose for him. Those that wanted to get involved in the 24-year-old’s dinner dilemma paid $5 (£3.50) to vote in a poll, and the majority verdict was that he should go for Korean food, so that was what he bought…
NewNew is the brainchild of Los Angeles-based entrepreneur Courtne Smith. The app, which is still in its “beta” or pre-full release stage, describes itself as “a human stock market where you buy shares in the lives of real people, in order to control their decisions and watch the outcome”. For many of us that sounds a bit ominous, but the reality is actually far less alarming. It is aimed at what it calls “creators” — writers, painters, musicians, fashion designers, bloggers etc. It is designed as a way for them to connect far more closely with their fans or followers than on other social media services and, importantly, monetise that connection…
Whenever a vote is cast the creator gets the money minus NewNew’s undisclosed commission… In addition to voting, followers can also pay extra — from $20 — to ask a NewNew creator to do something of their choosing, such as naming a character in a book after them. But the creator can reject all of these “bids”, and if they do so then the follower doesn’t have to part with the money…
Co-founder and chief executive Ms Smith, a 33-year-old Canadian, has big plans for NewNew, and has some heavyweight backers. Investors include Peter Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal, and the first outside person to put money into Facebook. Others with a stake in the business include leading US tech investment fund Andreessen Horowitz, and Hollywood actor Will Smith (no relation to Courtne). Snapchat has also given technical support.
Saker was Australia’s bowling coach when Bancroft was caught trying to rough up the ball with sandpaper during the third Test against South Africa.
While refusing to be drawn on who knew what, Saker said “the finger-pointing is going to go on and on and on”.
“It’s like the underarm, it’s never going to go away,” he told Fairfax Media, referring to a 1981 incident when Trevor Chappell bowled underarm to ensure New Zealand lost a one-day match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The notorious delivery is still cited in New Zealand and in cricketing circles as a prime example of unsporting conduct.
However, the ball-tampering scandal – dubbed “sandpapergate” – had a greater impact on Australian cricket, with the then-captain Steve Smith and his deputy David Warner suspended for a year from all cricket and stripped of their leadership roles.
Darren Lehmann also quit as coach and all the top brass from Cricket Australia left after a scathing review blasted their “arrogant and controlling” win-at-all-costs culture.
No one else among the team or coaching staff was held to account but Bancroft’s remarks in an interview with The Guardian newspaper hinted that the team’s bowlers at least knew about the plan.
“Obviously what I did benefits bowlers and the awareness around that, probably, is self-explanatory,” he said.
Saker added: “There was a lot of people to blame. It could have been me to blame, it could have been someone else. It could have been stopped and it wasn’t, which is unfortunate.
“Cameron’s a very nice guy. He’s just doing it to get something off his chest … He’s not going to be the last.”
In response, Cricket Australia said that if anyone had new information, they would look into it.
Saker said he was not opposed to a fresh investigation but added “I just don’t know what they’re going to find out.”
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Washington – Miss Mexico was crowned Miss Universe on Sunday in Florida, after fellow contestant Miss Myanmar used her stage time to draw attention to the bloody military coup in her country.
Sunday night marked the Miss Universe competition’s return to television, after the pageant was cancelled in 2020 for the first time due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Andrea Meza, 26, finished first ahead of the Brazilian and Peruvian finalists in a flashy televised event, hosted by American actor Mario Lopez and television personality Olivia Culpo.
Former Miss Universe contestants Cheslie Kryst, Paulina Vega and Demi-Leigh Tebow (who won the title in 2017) served as competition analysts and commentators, and a panel of eight women determined the winner.
Dressed in a sparkling red evening gown, Meza tearfully walked the catwalk as Miss Universe for the first time, before rushing back for a group hug with the other competitors.
Meza beat more than 70 contestants from around the globe in the 69th installment of Miss Universe, which was held at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida.
In the days leading up to the final competition, Miss Myanmar Thuzar Wint Lwin, who made the top 21, made waves when she used her time in the spotlight to bring attention to the coup in her country.
“Our people are dying and being shot by the military every day,” she said during her biographical video, which showed photos of her taking part in the anti-coup protests. “Therefore I would like to urge everyone to speak out about Myanmar.”
She also won the award for best national costume: during that competition segment on Thursday, she wore an outfit beaded in traditional Burmese patterns and held up a sign that said, “Pray for Myanmar.”
Myanmar has been in uproar since February 1, when the army ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
At least 796 people have been killed by security forces since then, according to a local monitoring group, while nearly 4 000 people are behind bars.
Miss Singapore Bernadette Belle Ong – who did not make the top 21 – also used the national costume portion to make a political statement.
Dressed in a glittering red bodysuit and matching thigh-high boots, she turned around to reveal her cape – in the colours of the Singaporean flag – was painted with the words “Stop Asian Hate.”
“What is this platform for if I can’t use it to send a strong message of resistance against prejudice and violence?” she wrote on Instagram alongside pictures of her outfit.
The United States in particular has seen a surge in anti-Asian violence in the past year, which activists have blamed on former president Donald Trump’s rhetoric, especially his repeated description of Covid-19 as the “China virus.”
The pageant has also drawn criticism in the past for objectifying the contestants.
In recent years, the competition has shifted image, focusing more on female empowerment and activism.